Kip was up and ready at the first light that peeked through her window. Within half an hour, after a full breakfast, insisted upon by her mother, Kip was ready at the entrance of the dragon stables. Jumper pranced at her side, long tail swooshing back and forth.
“You’re just as excited as I am, aren’t ya?” Kip said, scratching Jumper’s rough chin. The dragon wagged its head back and forth in delight.
Jumper was loaded with two large sacks tied to the back of Kip’s black-leather saddle. A two-man escort would fly just behind the royal family with most of the luggage, and a five-man escort was assembling at the front of the castle gates. The low growls and snips of the dragons toying with each other echoed in the nearly empty courtyard. Kip inhaled the smell of breads being baked in the oven, let the breeze wash over her, and could almost feel the excitement in the air.
When her father at last walked out, clad in brown pants, an azure shirt, gem-encrusted sword-belt and scabbard, and a white sash representing his kingship across his shoulder down to his belt. He smiled as he strode to Spitfire, his hot-red, crimson-horned, fire-breathing monster of a dragon.
“Ready for a ride, Kip? I’m surprised to see you up so early,” he teased.
Kip smirked. “Yes, I just had a strange feeling to get up. Can’t explain it for the life of me. Maybe I’m coming down with something.”
“Well in that case you should head back to your chamber.”
“I think a dragon ride would actually clear my mind.”
“If you wish.”
Xavier mounted his dragon and waved to Fern and Rose who had both entered the courtyard with Misty ever-present. Kip smiled to her mother who had those awful worry wrinkles on her much-too-young face.
One of the escort soldiers marched up and leaned upward to the king. “The escort troop is ready m’lord.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The trip was three days in when Kip was ready to dismount jumper and not ride dragons for a good while. She enjoyed dragon riding to be sure, but three days of the endless landscape zooming by, with very little chance to stretch her legs, had worn her patience thin.
It was now nearing evening and the troop had begun to look for a place to land and camp. They were near the southern marshes, a part of the country many said to be the least inhabited and most wild. Both were quite evident from the dragon’s-eye-view. In the past hour Kip had spotted just a handful of cottages or clusters of buildings that might resemble a village. The ground looked to be a mix of dirty browns and greens with forests of tangled vines and twisted roots.
The lead Sergeant of the escort slowed and dropped back to Xavier and Kip. He turned to the king and so Kip waited to hear the news. By the frown on her father’s face, and the shrugs of the sergeant it was apparent that whatever the news was, it wasn’t pleasant. The sergeant pulled ahead again and swung his hand in a circle several times, signaling it was time to land.
The troop circled down in good order and landed on a solid island which was somewhat rare for this part of the country. There were several mosses and rocks scattered about. Everything is green and brown. And there are lots of bugs.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The fire crackled and snapped every few seconds as the group huddled around it. Because of the amount of gnats and other pests, the troops had built a larger-than-usual fire and although the weather was warm and there was very little breeze, Kip inched closer to the fire. Better hot than eaten alive. They had supped and were now laying down beds but Kip was too hot to sleep. She turned to her father who was sitting on the same fallen stump.
“Father, why’d we land here? It seems rather ugly and these gnats are a misery.”
Xavier wrapped an arm around his daughter. “The sergeant tells me that there have been several spottings of dragon packs in the area today, and if we kept flying in the night we risked an ambush.”
“But aren’t there dragons in these swamps? What do they call them, Water Devils?”
“Yes, I’ve heard stories of them. Never seen one though. But stories and legends of monsters always have some truth to them.”
“I’ve heard that they’re silent, that they swim right to the edge of a swamp and snatch prey to drag it underwater. What a horrid way to die.”
Xavier grunted agreement. “I think I’ll head to my sack now. What of you?”
“I think not. I’m rather restless from so much flying. I think I’ll wander around a bit with Jumper and Phillip.”
“Wander? Fern, it’s them idle of the night in an unfamiliar place with swamps and quicksand every which way. I won’t allow it.”
Kip sighed. “Very well.But I still want to pace for a bit.”
Xavier nodded and stood. He conversed with the sergeant for a few moments and then was off to his private tent which spitfire sat by like a loyal guardian. Kip groaned and pushed herself up.
Come on Jumper, let’s go for a walk.