Armor wasn’t the only weight dragging
Aylric into the depths. The entire longship was sinking. A huge vortex had
opened up during the bloody boarding by another vessel, and the Harvyr slipped
into the watery gullet as
easily as a raw herring down a hungry man’s throat. The other ship sat perched
on the edge of the vortex, her victorious crew peering at their enemies in
Clinging to the top of the mast, Aylric
still had air…but for how much longer? Harvyr’s fallen warriors had not been so
lucky. Along with the enemy’s dead and wounded, their corpses plummeted past him,
faces set in grimaces that showed their last seconds of life had not been
Aylric held to his perch with both legs
and removed his helm, and, with the aid of his sword, his breastplate. Next, he
sliced the thongs holding the leg guards. Lastly, he gripped the mast and
kicked off his heavy boots. Youth and agility abetted the warrior’s desperate
swing toward the boarding rope left dangling from the other ship. He leapt and
gripped at the right moment, just as the vortex closed.
A massive arm hauled the prisoner
aboard, and the arm’s owner held Aylric aloft like a prize catch. While the
loser hung there, the red-bearded chieftain, Gunnar, beat his chest in triumph,
and sneered crookedly into the youth’s face, roaring, “GUNNAR’S SLAVE!” to the cheers
of his comrades.
Gunnar’s triumph was short-lived. A huge
gray head rose above the ship’s cracked railing, and jaws lined with dagger
teeth gripped Gunnar
to yank him toward the gap. The braggart dropped Aylric, who lay there stunned,
watching him swing his sword uselessly at the sea dragon. The monster’s teeth
put a stop to Gunnar’s struggles. Still clutched in the hand of the severed
arm, the sword clanged to the gore-covered deck. Gunnar gave a gurgling moan as
the sea dragon tossed him high and swallowed him whole.
Aylric reached toward the arm and sword
to defend himself. Then he noticed that the hungry sea dragon was more
interested in Gunnar’s noisy shipmates falling over one another in their
efforts to escape. The young captive decided to remain where he was, prone and
quiet as a dead man.
So greedy was the sea dragon that it
gorged until it vomited undigested body parts. Swords and arrows merely bounced
off its thick hide, and scaly eyelids protected the otherwise vulnerable amber
eyes. Finally, the creature was satisfied, and turned its attention upon the
ship Targyr. Aylric almost laughed
when the amorous sea dragon rubbed its neck against the neck of the painted
prow and gazed longingly into the imitation eyes, curling a formidable body
around the ship in an attempt at seduction.
The beastly lover’s frustrated cries
nearly deafened the human survivor. Aylric almost wished the ship could
respond. Then he spied the horned helm lying not far from Gunnar’s severed arm.
One of the horns had broken off. He crawled to the horn, put it to his lips,
and blew with all his might. The sound rose above the wails of the creature,
eliciting a surprised “MEEP?” in response. Encouraged, Aylric blew the horn
again, but not quite as hard.
The sea dragon withdrew its bulk from
the vessel, and proceeded to do a series of dives and prodigious leaps of joy.
On the final leap, the creature displayed enough of its body to show that it
was most definitely male. Aylric couldn’t help but admire such an efficient,
though simple-minded, killing machine. A serrated ridge of tough armor ran
along the top of a gray-green body easily twice as long as the Targyr. Four
sturdy, web-footed legs with retractable claws were folded underneath.
The sea dragon, finally exhausted, swam
back to the ship to rub against the side opposite where Aylric lay. Waves
gently slapped the wood, which rocked the ship like a cradle.
for the vortex and this active monster, the water has remained as flat as a
lake on a summer’s day—odd!
Runes glowed on the dragon’s neck.
Reading them, Aylric realized just who this was: Harvyr. The youth sat up, shook
his head to clear it, pinched his
arm, and blinked several times. Poof! The runes did not disappear, but the
dragon did. They hung in the air and then dispersed into a rising mist.
Mist soon obscured the sun’s red eye and
the smell of greenery wafted across the water as the tide drew the dragon ship
landward. Aylric stood and stretched his long limbs, heading for the prow,
tossing scattered body parts overboard as he did so.
Unnoticed, a shadowy figure crept,
cat-footed, slowly forward from the stern, bending to retrieve Gunnar’s sword.
Hidden below in a tiny space, one other had survived—Gunnar’s daughter.
“I, Gunnilda, heir of Gunnar Larsyn, say
you are a dead man!” shouted the girl, springing at Aylric and swinging the
sword from behind—SWOOSH—just as he
bent over to retrieve the last body part.
Aylric dropped and rolled away from the
weapon which had nearly cut him in half. He kicked out at the girl’s legs ere
she could remove the blade tip from wood. Red-haired Gunnilda thudded to the
Gunnilda bit and clawed the stranger,
who pinned her beneath him. “Your magic may have given life to a sunken vessel,
but your life force cannot overcome and enter me. I would rather die!”
Instead of taking her then and there,
Aylric let Gunnilda wear herself out in venting her fury. Finally, the two lay
side by side, equally spent and breathless, until he said, “Listen, we’re both
in the same boat and headed for strange soil. Your father killed min