Mavrik rolled onto his back and stretched his 30-foot body out on the warm grass beside the hedge. He closed his eyes and sucked on the thighbone of his most recent kill. "Ah, cattle," he sighed contentedly. "So stupid, and so big." As he lay dozing a sense of danger came upon him. He rolled onto his stomach and sniffed the air. There was a faint smell of humans, but it was not close. He raised his head over the hedge to spy out the surrounding fields.
Crack! He snapped his head around to see what made the noise, but could see nothing but a black speck against the sky. He frowned, then gasped with horror. In an instant he was leaping into the air, his powerful wings pushing him higher.
Too late; the ballista shot passed easily through the wing membrane, shattered the small bones that gave his wings their shape in flight, and buried itself in the ground where Mavrik had lay and instant before. He roared in pain and tumbled to the ground. Flight was impossible.
Across the field came the angry shouts of the humans. He raised his head again and could see the ballista crew reloading the weapon. Nearer were many farmers with pointed tools. They were running toward the hedge. Mavrik considered his options; he could apologise for invading their land, or he could flame them.
He ran, long bounding leaps that carried him away from the humans. A quick glance over his shoulder made him redouble his efforts. Mounted Knights! They had jumped the hedge and were riding in a line toward him. Each bound made his injured wing hurt abominably but he dare not slow. A hedge loomed before him and he leapt. To his horror there was no ground on the other side, just a short cliff and the icy waters of the Whelming River.
He fell in with a great splash, swallowed a mouthful of water and felt the heat of his flame vanish. The last time this happened it took him days to get it back, but right now he had more pressing problems. He surfaced and looked at the knights standing at the top of the cliff. Mavrik knew he could not out run them, but as long as he stayed in the river they could not attack.
The cold water soothed his wing but he knew he could not stay there. Archers would be called up soon. He needed help fast. He ran through his mind all those who would aid him, but they were all too far away to be of any help, except for one. But would that wizard be home? He turned and swam downstream.
The knights trotted along the bank beside him, shouting and jeering. "Coward!" called one.
"Bugger off!" shouted Mavrik without stopping. "I haven't done anything."
"Come on! I can do you with one arm!" laughed the knight.
Cocky bastards, thought Mavrik. We'll see how they cope with this. The river emptied suddenly into the huge fens that surrounded his destination. A short drop that divided dry land from the bogs stopped the knights. Mavrik swam a short distance and turned to face them. He made a rude gesture but they simply laughed and pointed at the boats rounding the last bend before the fens. He sighed and swam faster, the noise of oars not far behind.
He wriggled his way between the rafts of flowering irises and ran over the small islands, always heading in a straight line. As he moved away from the fresh stream of the Whelming, the water went dark and started to stink. Not even the giant tides of the sea reached this far inland. He moved through mud so liquid he had to swim. His passage stirred up a long, grey ribbon to mark his path and caused bubbles of foul gas to rise to the surface. The boats fell behind, but they did not stop.
The water became clean again as he swam into the stream of another river, but it was still the colour of old tea. Mavrik guessed this was the stream of the River Erskine, which flowed from the button-grass peat highlands to the south. Not far to go now. Finally he could see his refuge: a large island with a stand of tall trees surrounding a tiny stone hut. He splashed ashore and ran to the hut.
"Pen!" he shouted, banging on the door with both fists. "Pen! Help!" The noise of the boats grounding on the shore sounded loud in his ears. He pounded a rapid tattoo on the door. "Help! Helphelphelp!"
A middle-aged man wearing a faded green cloak and faded brown trousers opened the door. "Yeah, all right. I'm here!" he said. "Now shut up." He sniffed at Mavrik. "Pooh, Mav! Have you been swimming in the fens? Why didn't you fly?"
"I can't," wailed Mavrik. "They broke my wing." He indicated with a nod the approaching men.
Pen looked at the men, then said, "Show me your wing." Mavrik stretched it out, wincing as he did so. Pen examined the ragged holes in the membrane. "Nasty. You've got some broken bones there. Oh no!" he breathed, and turned to Mavrik with a worried frown. "Your main wing-tip bone is fractured."
"Can you fix it?" asked Mavrik in alarm.
"No. It'll take weeks of serious medication I don't have," muttered Pen. He turned to the gathering men. "Good morning," he said brightly.
"You leave that dragon to us, Wizard," said one. "He owes us a debt."
"All I did was eat a stupid cow," said Mavrik.
"That was our best bull," said the spokesman. The others murmured angrily.
Pen looked at the dragon. "Oh, Mav! I can't believe you ate a bull."
"Bull... Cow... What's the difference?"
Pen stared at him for a few seconds. "You're very young, aren't you?"
Mavrik started to argue but the men advanced on them shouting angrily. He cowered down behind his friend.
Pen spun to face the mob and gestured at them. They stopped instantly, frozen in time. "I'm going to send you to when someone can help."
"Good." Mavrik thought for a few moments. "'When?' Don't you mean 'where'?"
"No." The wizard sighed and stared at the ground. "Your wing is bad. I don't think you'll fly again if the bones aren't set properly." He sighed again. "There's one more thing."
Mavrik's head sank to the ground, but his heart felt as if it had sunk even lower. "Just one?"
"I can send you, but I can't bring you back." Pen looked down at the miserable dragon. "You'll have to find a wizard to send you back."
"Back? 'Back' as in Back In Time?" Mavrik blinked. "What time distance are you talking about?"
Pen shrugged. "I can't say for sure. The spell will take you to the point you can get help. I don't know how far that will be." He squatted beside his friend. "It's either this or never fly again. No one here can help."
"You're very definite about that!"
"Yes," said Pen. "Name the people who will help you."
Mavrik looked at him in surprise. "Of course the Elves-" He paused, remembering his most recent dealings with Elves. "Oh yeah. All right then, the Dwaves- Ah. The men... jeez, the men hate Dragons." He looked at Pen "What about the Wizards?"
Pen just raised his eyebrows. "Besides me?"
Mavrik sighed deeply. "I tell you what, when this is over I'll not be touching meat again. I'll turn vegetarian." He paused in thought. "And chickens."
"I hate chickens. They have beady eyes."
Pen smiled slightly, then gathered the magic. "Are you ready?"
"No." Mavrik closed his eyes and sat up. "I'll see you later."
Pen concentrated and felt the cold blast of the Winds Of Time blow through the clearing. The ethereal breeze stopped, and a second later there was a noise like thunder. Pen saw the figure of his friend flash briefly and was gone, leaving behind an insubstantial figure like an after-image made of fog. It dissipated rapidly and left a circle of frosted grass.
"Good luck, my friend," he sighed as he turned to the frozen farmers.
To be continued