Long into the night Tagoreous thought about his new rider. He needed to consider her safety. He needed to consider her needs. She seemed to be a good young woman with a great disposition...considering what he had done to her so far. By morning, he had a better plan for his rider. He knew she would be hungry. The weather was also colder here. And, he knew she would want a bath and other clothes. With a little work she could fit right in enough for him to set her up in an abandoned cottage somewhere. That should help. He needed time to lay further plans.
He could feel her stretch and start to come awake. "Morning, Tag", she had a cheerful greeting. He was stunned at the cheerfulness of her tone. "Good morning to you, my lady", he smiled in reply. "I slept good, Tag". "I am glad I could help, my lady." "Are you hungry?" he asked, knowing the answer. "Yes, very", she quickly replied. "I have found a small pool and safe area nearby", he informed her. "It won't be safe later in the day." "Most animals have already been to it this morning", he was teaching again. "You can clean-up some there this morning". "I will fly overhead and check the area first". "Then you can have some privacy". She could not get over how thoughtful he was about her needs.
"I have a plan for your breakfast; and maybe some warmer clothes", he advised. She had her mind on being able to clean up some after the time in the dark caves. She felt she must be a sight by now. And she was more than ready when Tagoreous told her to climb on for the ride to the pool. The flight out of the cave was so powerful. His huge leathery wings reminded her of the pictures she had seen of bats. She remembered something about what great fliers they are, but her mind quickly focused on a small clearing with a pool ahead. Tag circled the area from high above. Then he circled low. He seemed to be looking, concentrating, tense. She suddenly realized that he did really care about her safety...that he was doing his best to take care of her. He came in and landed near the pool. "I will be nearby, my lady". You may have your privacy, but I will be watching for movement here from high above. I hope to have better for you soon", my lady. With that, he was gone in an instant, and she wanted to waste no time without him in this wild place.
Thankfully, her time at the pool was uneventful. Tagoreous took her back to the cave to keep her warm. She had always wished to have more excitement in her life. Now she just wished to stay in once piece and not become a meal for something. Tag came in and retrieved her when she waved him in. To be so large, she just could not believe the speed that he could use getting to her. She wondered about when he slept, if he ever got tired, and what he ate. She was afraid to ask him. He could be going out and eating the local farmers while she slept. She wanted to quit thinking like that, but she had to admit she was still somewhat afraid. "Time for something to eat", he chimed in. Then she remembered, several times he had seemed to read her thoughts. "You are safe with me, my lady", he volunteered. Now she knew he could also read her thoughts. She was overwhelmed. She started to hum a song...thinking the words. Maybe that would help. "I like that song, my lady".
He flew straight to the outskirts of a large monastary. "They have a vow of silence here, my lady". "Go up the way to the garden and take a basket", he instructed her. "Pick vegetables in the garden", he continued to explain carefully to her. "Don't pick more than you can lift, my lady". "Go up to the kitchen and give the vegetables to the cook". "Wash your hands there and go to the communial table". "Sit and hold your arms like you are cold". "I am cold, Tag", she tried not to complain, wondering what a dragon could do about it anyway except blast her like he did her car. "Sit and hold your arms like you are cold", he still instructed. "Someone will bring you a cloak that you may keep". "When you finish eating, take your dishes back to the Kitchen and see if they have something they want you to do", he was very precise with all this information. AnnLeigh wondered how he could get in a kitchen and see all this. Then she realized he knew much, probably from the time he was confined in the necklace. "Be nice to these people, please, AnnLeigh, for I am sure you will". "We may need to come back again sometime", he coached her. "You are a good person, AnnLeigh, so it should not be hard for you at this monastary", he had a point.
Everything was uphill...a long way uphill. She had been doing little walking for this much of a climb. She considered how much she could load in a basket and how far she could see the monastary still further up the hill. Here she was considering things she had never thought about in her life. Well, she did know vegetables. She found a nice basket, repaired, but sturdy, and walked over to one of the gardens. When she had the basket full, she found she could carry it. She started up the hill, pacing herself as she went. Still, she was gasping for breath as she got to the top. That must be the reason for the benches sitting at the door, she thought.
She opened the door and found herself in the kitchen. There was a smiling, little dried prune-face of a person reaching to take the basket. But not a single word was ever spoken. She was pointed to the dining area. She stopped and washed her hands in a bowl that the cook showed her. In the dining area, a large table there looked like it had been made of one large tree. Several other diners came in. Then the holy men. Food was served. Bread and a thick soup. She noticed no one eating. Shortly, another monk joined them. Everyone's head was bowed and a silent prayer was offered. Then all began to quietly eat. At least they did not talk. There seemed to be little in the way of manners as they sucked their soup and water up...clanged spoons in bowls, and burped. Maybe this noise was welcomed since they never talked. AnnLeigh did like the rest of them...kept her head down and ate...minus the burps. Some of the men were already taking their bowls and cups back to the kitchen. She followed and sat her bowl and cup on a table with the rest of them.
Then she held her arms as Tagoreous had instructed. The old cook showed her out the door. She was upset that maybe she had done something wrong. But she was instructed with hand signals to sit on one of the benches. It seemed that ten minutes went by, and AnnLeigh was getting cold just sitting. But she decided to do as she was told. Tag had said she might need to come back here. Suddenly, the door burst open. These people might not talk, but they were certainly noisy on everything else. AnnLeigh had worn a simple top and a plain skirt, almost like a kilt. And it had been warmer in her town. Where was she now? And, in what place in time? Everything looked like a description of some ancient age. She moaned at the thought.
She was brought back to this reality again with the old cook tugging at her. She had a very plain dark wool piece of clothing. And, she had a cloak. Both looked like they would fit AnnLeigh with no problems. She did not care if they were a gunny sack and rough blanket. She was getting cold. A cloud was passing overhead and taking what little sun there had been. The old cook stepped back inside with the items. AnnLeigh was tempted to try and ask what happened to what she thought she had just been given, when the door burst open again. The cook had a basket full of vegetables and a very large bowl, which she sat down on a harvest table near AnnLeigh. Then she pulled out a paring knife and handed it to AnnLeigh.
As AnnLeigh sat and peeled the vegetables, she hummed to herself. She enjoyed doing something almost normal for a change in this chore. The old cook would come out and retrieve the peeled vegetables and smile a toothy grin from time to time. AnnLeigh felt she could enjoy the company of other people, but not the vow of silence. She actually longed to get back to Tagoreous. She was surprised at that feeling. But her trust in him had grown. And there was that part about his grief over Felicious that really pulled at her heartstrings. She continued to hum quietly. She finished peeling what was in the basket as the old woman came out to check her progress again. When AnnLeigh was finished, she looked for a place to put the basket. The old cook pointed to a stack a little distance away where they looked like they were being rinsed from use. AnnLeigh headed over to the spot. When she returned to the table, the items of clothing were laying there. AnnLeigh looked for the old cook to thank her, but couldn't find her. How could she really thank her without talking. Then she remembered that there had been no thanks for peeling the vegetables.
She walked carefully down the path and off the hill. She felt that she had been gone from Tagoreous long enough. He was waiting at the bottom of the hill, around a bend, just out of site in a hedge area. "Please don't do that, my lady", he seemed grieved. "What, Tag?" "Please don't hum when you are away from me", he begged. "I am sorry, Tag, I don't understand". "I can't tell if you are in trouble and need me, my lady". This time she did understand. "You read my mind, Tag", she questioned. "No, my lady, just your general feeling". I can tell if you are in danger and if you need me", he explained. "But you don't actually know everything I am thinking, right, Tag?" "No, my lady". She felt relieved that she still had that privacy. But it was still difficult for her to understand what he meant. "People sometimes hum or sing songs about something other than their feelings at the time". "So you humming makes it difficult for me to know if you are okay or in danger". "I need to keep you safe, my lady". She was beginning to understand.
He sniffed the air, came around the hedge row, and once again lifted her gently on his back. In another second, they were airborne. She clutched the warm garments. The air was crisp, and she would need them soon. It was at this point that Tag said he had something he wanted to show her. Far from the monastery, and they were leaving it behind at amazing speed, was a mountain ridge ahead of them. AnnLeigh had learned that these were good places to find caves. She was learning so much with this educated dragon. Tag flew right to the entrance of one well-hidden cave, but immediately took off a short distance from it. The cave area was still in view. And AnnLeigh's eyes became accustomed to the dark, little wooded area in front of them and recognized a tiny, old cottage.
Tagoreous told the story. "The old woman who had this place, went into a distant village and died there". "No one knew where she came from, so everything is as she left it". "No one ever came to see her". "She had no children and no friends". "And certainly nothing worth stealing". "Few people are still living who even knew about this place". "And they won't come because they say it is populated with dragons in the hillsides". At that statement, AnnLeigh shuttered. "No, my lady, they left long ago. He hoped she wouldn't think to ask him why.
The little house looked like something out of fairy tales that AnnLeigh had seen illustrated. It needed tender loving care, but it had promise. Tag told her that it was safe to go into. He said there were no snakes. And the spiders were long gone because they no longer had anything to eat. She walked in and found a lantern. She could not manage to find something in the way of matches or a strike-box...so she asked Tagoreous for help. He took several pieces of straw from the roof and started a fire with them...then used them to light the wick. It did not occur to her where he might have learned to do this. She was just glad to have light. And it looked like the old lady had been fanatic about light. There was a cabinet full of fuel for the lanterns. AnnLeigh took the lantern and moved through the house. It was sad that the old woman had not shared her handywork with others. There were many creative things throughoutthe house. Tagoreous asked her if she could stand staying in this place with him nearby in the cave while he worked on getting the key to finding Felicious. "We are nowhere near Maldalarius, my lady", he assured her. "I just need time". "Yes, Tag, this is fine with me", she smiled. "I could enjoy this house for a time instead of that tiny apartment I had". With that, she picked up a broom and started to sweep. Tagoreous decided to let her have time to herself. He reminded her that she was safe here.
She worked long into the night until the lantern began to really flicker and she realized that she should rest. She had swept and dusted and looked at little treasures of the old woman that sat all over the cottage. Doing something familiar helped her. She had been in the tiny bedroom and realized that the bed would need airing out and shaking out the dust...she thought at first. Then she realized that the mattress was stuffed with straw. Maybe a new bale of hay? She would have to think on this. What was worse? Sleeping on this or on a hard cot like the ones they probably had back at the monastery? She would talk to Tagoreous about this. She stumbled into the kitchen and and climbed upon the sturdy dining table. She was tempted to go out to the cave and ask to have Tag cradle her again. But she felt he needed his rest. She rolled her eyes around the room and saw the ladder right against the wall. A lever made it pop out slightly from the wall to make climbing easier. Why hadn't this registered with her earlier? The light from the lantern was low, and the wick needed trimming. So she thought she would save this for morning. Some boards covered the entryway to this attic. Yes, she would wait.
She slept well that night. Even in the darkness, in a strange place, she could rest. She felt something like happiness in being in this place. Tag came up to her about that time. "You seem to like it, my lady". "The house belonged to a magician who went about often disguised, actually magically changed to an old woman, my lady". AnnLeigh waited to hear more, but there was no more information coming from this normally talkative dragon. "I wondered, Tag, for there were many things that just did not look like they had been a lady's in her little treasures", she added. He still did not offer any more to this conversation.
He flew her over a number of hills and to the outskirts of a town that was having a faire. So there were many strangers in town. She was surprised that he did not take her back to the monastery. He came to rest near a road that faced into town. At that point, he handed her some coins. "This", he said, "is what you pay for the stew". He had her look carefully at it. "And, this is what you pay for the mead". I don't drink mead", she said. "Be better if you did, safer, healthier", he made a grimace. "Okay, go to the well and the water is free". He took out an even smaller coin, almost rusted through. "Tip the person at the well for letting you use a cup", he advised. "They will be your friend for life". "No one else bothers to give them anything most of the time except a hard smack on the cheek". With that advice, he sent her into town for breakfast. She looked back and he was already gone.
She felt a little uncomfortable with these strangers, but her stomach was growling. She followed the scent to the booth where she found the stew. She had done well not talking at the monastery. She thought she would do that here, too. She motioned that she would like some stew. The cook asked to see her money first. She showed him her coin. He grinned and dished up a large portion of stew for her. He also gave her a piece of hard bread. She could see the well nearby. She went toward it and spotted tables. So she motioned for water. The boy was sullen, but got the water for her. She pressed the coin in his hand and motioned that she was going to take her stew and sit down at the table. He seemed unsure of getting his cup back. He was thin and very poor looking. AnnLeigh reached and broke off most of her bread and handed it to him, then motioned to the table again. He waved her on. She sat so that he could see her. Before she could finish the stew, she was filled up. She took the cup back to the boy and also offered him the rest of her stew. She figured that someone who used the same cups over and over without washing them would certainly not mind eating after her. He grinned a broad and told her many thanks. He tried saying it loud. He tried drawing it out for her. Then he took the stew and ate, waving at her as she walked away.
AnnLeigh walked around looking at this little village. The people used such crude English, that she could barely understand them. It was better that she did not talk. She would stand out too much for it. The shops had basic items, and each shop keeper also seemed to advertise other skills that he had like wood cutting, or house building, or dehorning bulls. This was such a different world. Except for the bookshop. That shop seemed to only be open by invitation. And on display at the front window in a tiny glass display (no picture windows here), she saw the most beautifully bound leather books. She had been too busy to look at any of the books at the cottage. There had been beautiful ones there with some words she did not understand. She should get back to the cottage and clean some more. Check the attic in daylight. She wished for Tagoreous. She wondered if that would work. She was afraid of being long on the road alone without him.
She checked every nook and cranny as she moved down the lane...and no great dragon. She had walked far enough away from the town that she became fearful. And, well she should have been. Eyes were following her. A predator for certain. Someone who had seen her pay for her stew and figured she was good for more money. About the time she felt she should return to the security of the town, two big hands, big as hams grabbed her. She looked back to see a huge man who grasp her by the throat and started to drag her into the closest hedgerow. Not a sound escaped her this way. She closed her eyes and wished for Tagoreous. Just about that moment she felt the grasp loosen then drop. She was almost too terrified to look back, but she did. "Missy Traveler, are you hurt?" the young boy from the well asked. In his rough hands was a large stick of wood. "I am in big trouble for hitting my master like that, Missy Traveler", he just seemed to realize. "Would you like for me to walk you farther on down the road...a little faster now", he volunteered. "He is a cruel master and will probably have me killed for hitting him, my lady".
"Yes, come with me", she replied, wondering how she would work this with Tag. Another hundred yards up the road and she could hear the beat of wings. "Please tell me your name", she asked. "I am Hodge", he replied. "My family name is Podge", She had a hard time trying to stifle a laugh. "Well, Hodge, you are going to get to meet Tagoreous", she said. "Tagoreous is back again", he asked. She did not know what to make of this. But Tagoreous sat waiting on the road not far in front of them. "Tag, I can explain", she started to plead. "Looks like you have had a hard master, young man", "He is in trouble now because he hit his master over me, Tag", AnnLeigh felt like pleading. "He can join us, my lady", Tag promised. "I would feel better with someone else with you also looking after you. "You have been gone a long time, Tagoreous", said Hodge. "You are legend here, great dragon". AnnLeigh began to introduce them. "You already know Tagoreous for some reason, Hodge", she said. "Tagoreous, this is Hodge, Hodge Podge". You could tell that Tag had been a modern dragon also...he could not stifle a laugh at the introduction. "I knew some Podge people long, long ago". "Good people", Tag also said. Back up the road, they could hear shouts. Someone must have found Hodge's former master.
It did not take much to convince Hodge to waste no time in mounting him so they could leave. AnnLeigh noticed that Tag did not head directly for the cottage and wondered why. Then she heard him start to give the location and directions to the cottage from other points. He told about the safety of the monastery if AnnLeigh and Hodge needed help. He explained a complicated labrynth beneath the monastery. AnnLeigh could not get over how a dragon could possible know all these details about so many places. Hodge was good about listening. He seemed like a good addition to be with them. As they neared the tiny cottage, AnnLeigh began to wonder how this new team mate would work out. He took a look at the cottage and asked her if there was anything he could help her with. She told him it might be better if he spent some time with Tag, and then helped her later. Then he retired to the cave with Tag. She wondered if they needed to talk. AnnLeigh would have enjoyed hearing them, but knew she wanted to do more around the little cottage.
She wanted to climb up to the attic and see what was there. She released the spring clip and the ladder popped out from the wall to make it easier to climb. She got the lantern trimmed the wick, used a spark striker she had found to start the glow. The she slowly started up the steps. She had to come back down when she finally realized she did not have enough hands to move the boards, hold the lantern, and hang on. She moved the boards and something flew into the room. She had slept all night and never heard a sound. This was the size of a rat. "Oh dear", as she checked for bit marks or scratches. Now she was sure she had survived everything else to wind up with bubonic plague. Except this was flying around the room. "My lady, it is a magician's familiar dragonet". "Sit down and stay calm, and it will soon do the same." "No telling how long the poor little thing has been locked up in that attic". "This was a very technical magician, so call the little fellow Bezel and he may calm down sooner". AnnLeigh thought this was cute that Tag knew so much about the little fellow, but she also had never seen Tag eat, and wondered if Bezel would become part of the menu about the time she got real attached. She had not been allowed to have pets in her apartment and had always craved something. Now she really had something. Well, maybe she had something. Yes, he sure was something!
She called to him as she sat quietly in a chair. Finally, Bezel turned around like he was seeing her for the first time and flew right to her lap. He purred, she started to pet him. He growled, she withdrew. Then he pushed his head under her hand and stayed there. In a few minutes he was asleep. "Tag, what do I do now?" she asked. "Be still and enjoy him, my lady", Tag smiled. "No telling how long he has been locked up in that attic". She knew he was also thinking about himself and being confined to the necklace for so long. "You could not smell him, Tag", she asked. "I thought I was smelling myself, my lady", he had a hearty laugh on that one.
AnnLeigh enjoyed looking at the tiny creature in her lap. What a marvel! He seemed to be dreaming. He snored, he sighed, he purred, and then growled. AnnLeigh started to remove her hand, he levitated. At which point Bezel stretched one tiny leg out and crashed to the floor. AnnLeigh feared the worst for both of them then. Bezel stared up at AnnLeigh for a second as fog cleared from his eyes, and then he grinned...so, he had done this trick before. She reached down to see if Bezel would let her pick him up and could feel him fly to her shoulder before she moved a fraction. Bezel looked into her hazel eyes. AnnLeigh looked back into eyes that looked like small bonfires. Bezel seemed fascinated with her long chestnut hair. She let him explore it. She had already seen the impressive set of teeth he displayed when he grinned.
Tag and his new buddy called at the door. The two seemed to be getting along very well. And now she had her first...well, you could not call him a pet...what was he? Tag seemed to read her mind again, "He is a familiar dragonet, my lady. He seemed to be lost in thought for a second. "I was also one long ago, my lady." A thought just crossed her mind. She began to question Tag about how long it took him to become the large dragon he is now. Tag could tell there was some tremor to her voice. "Not overnight, my lady." "You have plenty of time to teach this little dragon some manners and social graces." AnnLeigh was so happy about the thought of getting to have plenty of time with this delightful little creature...so much so, that she forgot to ask Tag what he meant by saying "...plenty...."
AnnLeigh spent the day murmuring sweet things to Bezel, hoping he would be happy and not run away. Tag finally realized this and let her know that Bezel was comfortable with her. Bezel knew he had her wrapped around his tiny fingers. Everyone seemed happy. Maybe that is why no one questioned the great shadow that briefly came over the cottage as they were working on repairs to the place that afternoon. Their thoughts were in getting the thatched roof repaired before another rain. Tag rejoiced in his new found friendships. Bezel was a delight to all. They worked until almost dark.
It was the sounds that were so different that evening from the other nights. There were howlings, animal moans, cat-like screams. Wind whipped in, and then there would be deathly long silences instead of the rain they expected. Even the trees around them seemed to moan. AnnLeigh could take it no longer, told Bezel to come with her, and they went to the cave. As she approached, she could see Tag in the cave entry watching the cottage.
The boy had been making himself useful in cleaning up the cave and fixing a place for himself. Here was a young man who had needed a home, someone caring, and had found it in a dragon. AnnLeigh thought about this more because she had been so alone. Then she had found a love, only to have him disappear mysteriously. Life seemed so unfair. But then, she might never have met him and had even that much caring and sharing. Even a dragon had been better than being alone. Now, she would not swap the friendship she had made with Tagoreous. They had all made a good team. She felt safety here even with all the strange noises. At home, many times at night, she did not sleep a wink worrying. Now she took her bedding over to a ledge and laid down and she and Bezel went right off to sleep.
AnnLeigh woke with a sense of expected evil. She looked for Tagoreous. He was still at his post at the entrance to the cave. The boy was sleeping. Bezel was trying to climb in the lap she was starting to make as she sat up. Tag looked back at her but never said a word. She could almost read his mind at that point. Bezel timidly reached and hugged her arm. AnnLeigh was so taken with this little dragon's expression at this point that she almost forgot her fear. It was like he was trying to assure her that this fear would pass. Maybe he and Tag could communicate. Tag had smiled as Bezel hugged her.
She scooped Bezel into her arms and laid back down to sleep again. Tagoreous pondered his charges here. He wondered if Maldalorios knew of his return; or, was this some other evil invading this quiet countryside. He would have to stay close-by longer than he meant. He had wanted to put AnnLeigh in a safe place far from Maldalarios' reaches. Now he realized the possible error in this reasoning. It had been centuries...Maldalarios could have extended his power far more than that Tagoreous knew about. If that was the case, then he had already brought AnnLeigh to a place of great danger. He would need to start teaching her some important survival skills here soon.
AnnLeigh had one very important commodity here in this strange land...she was a pure soul. Things evil here would have a terrible time dealing with a pure soul. But, at some point, they just attacked and ate them; or, gave them to something that would eat them. AnnLeigh was different, she had Tagoreous looking out after her. Tag hoped to have many people watching out after AnnLeigh without drawing too much attention to her. She needed to blend in more...be more coarse. He knew it would take time to explain why. And, he did not want to hurt the coarse boy's feelings in telling her. He would need a project for the youth to give him time to teach AnnLeigh.