From the Dragon Keepers' Vault (2 page)

BOOK: From the Dragon Keepers' Vault
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The next morning, Obsidian woke up with his throat parched and his head throbbing. He staggered over to the stream that ran down from the mountaintop. When he leaned over to dip his snout into the icy water, he got the shock of his life.

Instead of his own reflection, he saw a young man with pink skin, dark silvery hair, and large, frightened black eyes. Obsidian held up his hands and stared at the long, tendril-like fingers where once there had been sharp talons. He reached up and felt his small-featured face without snout and fangs. He felt a vast emptiness where his salmon-pink wings and powerful tail once had been. Then he fell to his knees, buried his face in his hands, and sobbed for the loss of his splendid dragon self.

“Obsidian!” a soft voice said.

He uncovered his face and, once again, looked into the stream. This time, he saw the Old Mother staring back at him. “Do not despair,” she told him. “With your man shape, you stand a far better chance of being able to rescue your family.”

My family?
Obsidian wondered. It was true that Leandra
was
his family, all the family he had ever known. And Leandra needed him to be strong. So he dunked his head into the icy stream.

“What must I do?” he asked the Old Mother.

The Old Mother said, “In your man form, you will be able to find what you need to free your mate. Only a human girl can open the latch on the cage without setting off the magical alarm placed there by the Dragon Slayer. In your dragon form, you would have frightened such a creature away. But as a human, perhaps you will find a way to persuade her to help you.”

Before he left the mountain, Obsidian scooped up a handful of gold nuggets from the pile
they hoarded. He was still enough of a dragon—on the inside at least—to draw strength from gold.

After walking a short while he came upon a clearing in the woods. From the safety of the trees, he saw St. George directing his minions as they dug a hole in the earth. Obsidian knew right away what the villain was up to: he was digging a tunnel, hoping to bypass the shield of dragon magic, bore his way into the mountain, and strike at the hoard of gold. St. George was wise to do this, for the magical shield was weaker beneath the ground. Obsidian had no time to lose.

He continued on through the woods until he came upon some men’s clothes hanging on a laundry line outside a farmhouse. He selected a shirt and some trousers and then went behind a shack to put them on. It felt strange to wear clothes. He was just laying a nugget of gold on the back doorstep in payment when a girl whipped open the door.

Obsidian rubbed his eyes. Here he was, standing face to face with exactly what he needed to free his mate from the cage: a human girl.

“Who are you?” she asked.

The girl had pale wispy hair bound up in a bun and wore a too-big gingham dress with a long skirt. The skirt was covered by an apron on which she was drying her work-reddened hands.

He opened his mouth, but no words came.

“I’m sorry, but you startled me,” the girl said gently. “
My
name is Peg.” She placed her hand over her heart. “My brothers and I own most of the land around here, clear over to the foot of the Old Mother. We own the dairy barn up yonder, and the deep woods beyond that.”

He opened his mouth and then closed it again. How could he explain to her what he needed? Where to start?
When Obsidian continued to falter, she went on. “Do you speak
English? Or are you one of the immigrant Swedes? Surely, you can at least tell me your name.”

Obsidian cleared his throat and said the first name that came into his head, the name from a book he had found in one of the mining camps called
The Holy Bible
. “My name is Luke,” he said in a husky voice. “Luke … 
Obsidian
.”

“Obsidian! Sounds Swedish to me,” she said. “Whatever you are, it looks to me like you could do with breakfast.”

Before Obsidian knew it, he was sitting at Peg’s kitchen table shoveling eggs and biscuits into his mouth, doing his best to use the fork. Peg sat with him and told how her parents had come all the way from a place called Boston to homestead and had died of the fever the third winter, leaving Peg and her three brothers, Jake and Jim and Jon, to work the farm when they were little more than children.

“I think you should know,” said Obsidian when he had finished his plate of eggs, “that a very bad man is trespassing on your land. He is looking to bore a tunnel beneath the earth into the heart of the Old Mother mountain.”

Peg’s hands flew to her face. “Land of Goshen! Wait till my brothers get wind of this. They’ll be fit to be tied!”

Obsidian said, “I think I can help.” Perhaps if he were to do a favor for this family, the girl would return it in kind.

“Meaning no disrespect, mister, but what’s it to you?” Peg asked.

“The bad man has taken my wife,” he said.

Peg heaved a weary sigh. “These prospectors! They come to our town. They think
everything
belongs to them: the land, the trees, the gold, even the
womenfolk
.”

Peg walked Obsidian up the meadow to the big dairy barn, where Jake and Jim were
seeing to a cow with sore udders. The cow was moaning pitifully.

Jake took his hand off the cow’s head long enough to shake Obsidian’s hand. “Nice to meet you, Luke,” Jake said. He was a boy trying hard to act like a man.

Jim, who was on the ground rubbing ointment on the cow’s udders, leapt hastily to his feet and held out his hand. He was even younger than Jake. Realizing with an apologetic grin that his fingers were slippery with ointment, Jim wiped his hands on the seat of his breeches. “Sorry about that,” he said, presenting his hand again. “Pleased to meet you, sir.”

Jon, the eldest, who had been plowing a field, left the team of oxen and came over to meet Luke and to join in the talking. Peg told her brothers about the trespasser.

“He calls himself president of the Great Pacific Mining Company,” Obsidian added, “and he is not to be trifled with.”

“Well, neither are we!” said Jon with a steely look in his young eyes.

Just then, an explosion shook the earth. The cows bellowed, the newborn calves squealed, and a film of fine dust settled over everything.

“That’ll curdle the day’s milk for a certainty,” said Jon grimly, wiping the dust from his eyes. “I don’t know about you boys, but that does it for me!” He went into the barn and came back with a pitchfork and two pickaxes, all the weapons these young folks could lay claim to.

“Be careful,” said Peg as the young men struck out in the direction of the billowing cloud of smoke that had risen into the sky.

Obsidian and the three brothers walked deep into the woods until they came to the clearing Obsidian had seen earlier. Through the settling dust, they saw men lugging rocks out of the huge hole in the ground the explosion had made. Obsidian scanned the area but saw no sign of the cage that held Leandra.

St. George stood before a makeshift table across which he had spread a chart. He was barking orders to some men who bobbed their heads, their eyes glassy, saying, “Yessir, Mr. Skinner, sir.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Skinner,” said Jon, approaching him. “This here is our land, left to us fair and square by our parents, and you’re trespassing on it.”

St. George looked up from his chart. “That may be, my fine young man,” he said, “but this happens to be my claim.”

He unfolded a piece of paper and handed it to Jon. Jon read it and, frowning, passed it to his two brothers. Jim scratched his head. “I can’t figure it. According to this paper, we own the land, but we don’t own the earth
beneath
the land.”

“The mineral rights,” said St. George smoothly, “belong to me.”

“That may be, but if you have to disturb our land to get at the minerals, you’ll be needing our permission, which you do
not
have,” said Jon, hefting his pitchfork. “Now, you and your crew git.”

St. George narrowed his eyes. “If I can’t get at the gold directly,” he said, “I’ll go off your land and tunnel beneath it. The result is the same.”

“Then I guess that’s what you’ll have to do,” said Jim, handing the claim back to him.

Obsidian told the brothers he would remain behind to see Skinner and company on their way. Thanking him, the brothers returned to their chores.

“I thought I made myself perfectly clear,” St. George said to Obsidian.

“You did, but I’m not with them,” said Obsidian. “And I am looking for work.”

“You look able-bodied enough,” said St. George, his dark eyes boring into Obsidian.

Obsidian felt the force of the spell as it came at him, but dragon magic helped him resist
it. Still, he made his eyes go glassy to give the appearance, like the other minions, of having fallen under the power of the Dragon Slayer.

“Help us pack up and move off this land,” St. George ordered his newest hire. “Behind those trees is a large covered wagon. Don’t look inside. It holds a fire-breathing monster who will sear you to ashes if you so much as look at her. Hitch up that team of horses to the wagon and follow the rest of us out of here. As it happens, I own the parcel at the back of the deep woods. We’ll have to dig a longer tunnel, but I have the manpower to do it. My goal is to get to that mountain … to the other dragon who lives there and the gold he hoards.”

Obsidian nodded and said, “Yessir, Mr. Skinner, sir.” He got the horses and led them to where the wagon stood in the shade of some Ponderosa pines. He yoked the horses to the wagon, and when he was finished, he lifted a corner of the canvas.

There was his beloved Leandra! Even in a humble, straw-filled cage, her dragon beauty was luminous, her scales shining like garnets in the dim light, her eyes the pale green of budding maple leaves.

“Say nothing,” he whispered. “It is I, Obsidian, changed by a spell into a man.”

Leandra’s talons flew to her mouth as she gasped. How had this happened? What had become of her handsome silver-scaled mate? As quickly as he could, Obsidian explained about the visitation from the Old Mother, the spell she had cast on him, and his need to find a young girl who could unlatch the cage undetected by St. George.

“I think I have found her,” Obsidian said. “And now that I have found you, all I have to do is convince her to help us.”

All around them, the men were packing up the camp, and soon the caravan set out. They traveled for over an hour until they came to the parcel that backed on the deep woods.

That night, as the men sat around their campfire and St. George retired to his tent, Obsidian snuck over to the wagon and lifted the flap.

There, in the moonlight, he saw Leandra standing over a nest of straw in which three freshly laid dragon eggs lay.

Obsidian was thunderstruck. “Why didn’t you tell me you were with child?”

“I tried to the other night, but the drugged deer meat had put you to sleep.”

Obsidian’s joy at the sight of the three eggs was cut short by the realization that now there were
four
lives at stake. He said, “We must act quickly. When St. George sees the eggs, there is no telling what he will do. Hide them in the straw until I return with the girl.”

The next day, as St. George ordered the men to start digging the tunnel that would lead beneath the children’s land to the base of the Old Mother, Obsidian slipped away and made for the farmhouse. He found Peg scattering feed for the chickens.

He gathered up a handful of seeds and helped her. Then he took a deep breath and said, “If I tell you a story, Peg, will you promise me that you will make every effort not to think me a madman? And if I ask you a favor, will you please, please consider it? You are my only hope.”

Peg nodded. Obsidian began. He told her about Leandra and the three baby dragons, about the spell he had cast on himself, the spell St. George had cast on the cage, and the need for Peg to open the latch.

After he finished, Peg went over to a flat rock and sat down on it hard, as if she no longer trusted her legs to support her. Obsidian sat beside her and anxiously watched her face. She was pale. Her silence worried him. He was just beginning to think that he had made a mistake in coming here, that he would have to go in search of some new girl, when she spoke, her voice trembling with emotion.

“When I first saw you in my yard, I didn’t see a man. I saw a dragon, a great silver dragon. The sight was so unearthly that I thought I might have been taken by the fever. I turned quickly away and wiped my face with a cool cloth, and when I looked again, I saw only a man. My brothers told me never to open the door to strangers. But how could I not? You looked so lost. When you told me your story just now, it was as if I had always known it. It breaks my heart. Tell me what you need me to do and I will do it.”

That evening, Obsidian asked the brothers’ permission to take Peg into town to see a traveling players show. The town of Goldmine City was a rough and rowdy frontier town with dance halls and saloons, but there were also operas and performances of Mr. Shakespeare’s plays. Their sister didn’t get out much, and the brothers were grateful to Luke for his hand in keeping Skinner off their land. So Jon said, “Take the wagon with you. You’ll be getting home late.”

Peg knew that the wagon would be useless in the deep woods, so she said, “I think I’d like to ride horseback instead. I’ll ride Mary, and Luke can take Old Bub.”

So they saddled up the horses—a milky white mare and a steady old farm horse—and set out for town, veering into the deep woods after the first bend in the road. As they rode, Obsidian told Peg how the woods looked from the air, how it felt to fly through mist tangy with the salty sea air blown in from the west or through clouds shot through with the rays of the setting sun.

Peg spoke of her life back in Boston, where she had lived with her family in a large stone house, where she had never so much as lifted a broom, much less a shovel or a mop or a pitchfork.

“When we first came west,” she said, “I was homesick, but I feel so much more useful and alive here. There is always so much to do and never enough time in which to do it. Now
there’s no place on earth I would rather live than Goldmine City.”

BOOK: From the Dragon Keepers' Vault
11.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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