Sera became aware of several things all at once. The first was that she had no recollection of where she was, or how she’d gotten there; the second was that she was tied to a stake. The usual bundle of kindling beneath her was missing, so she assumed she had not been accused of witchery. The third, which came more slowly than the others, was that there was a great, looming shadow on the Northwatch Tower. Light shimmered over brilliant green scales, casting an array of colors across the ground as the beast’s great hide acted as a prism.
The scream built in her throat before she realized she was afraid, and she loosed it with a growing sense of dread. She managed to cut it short before the dragon had done more than lift its head, but it saw her there, tethered in the meadow, and unfurled its great wings, rising slowly into the air. Sera struggled frantically in her bonds, another scream rising from her. She heard similar sounds of fear from the treeline, and tried to turn her head, to call for help. The bonds were too tight, her captors too scared to revoke their decision. She remembered now how it had come to this.
The shaman was sacrificing her to the dragon, to make it leave the village. It had been moving slowly their way for the last four months, sometimes burning villages in its path, sometimes simply passing over without a second glance. They’d dreaded the day it landed on Northwatch, and now the day had come, and here was Sera, tied up like an animal to be fed to the dragon.
The green beast settled in front of her, folding its great wings and stretching its head toward her curiously. She let the terror die in her throat, her eyes staring wide as the beast’s own gaze swirled from one color to another. She had the odd feeling it was trying to understand what was going on, as the gaze swirled from gold to blue and silver. At last it flashed orange, and the creature sat back, pawing at Sera’s restraints. She began giggling hysterically, shuddering as the great claws raked her side.
“Oi! You stop that right now!” A childish voice said from behind her. The dragon’s head reared, and it peered around the heavy pole.
“Run!” Sera managed to choke out as a girl no more than seven summers came into sight, holding a ball of thread and glaring sternly at the dragon. The beast in question snorted, filling the little girl’s face with smoke. She snorted back, sticking her tongue out, and threw the ball into the air. Both Sera and the dragon watched it, captivated, as the ball slowly unraveled into a net, spreading out over the beast and settling feather-light along its shoulders.
The dragon twisted and turned under the net, but the more it moved the more entangled it became. Finally it was trapped on its back, legs wrapped around ropes as thick as its wrists and head pinned to the ground. The little girl clapped and ran up to it, stroking its great chin.
“It worked! Mama, look!” The girl began dancing in circles, and Sera twisted as the ropes suddenly loosened and dropped to the ground.
“So it did, me hara.” The woman who stepped around the pole then was beautiful, with the face of a noble and the clothes to match. She lead a gorgeous black horse into sight. The majestic creature didn’t seem at all intimidated by the dragon, turning dark eyes to it and then away, in search of a choice piece of grass. The woman stepped up to the dragon, tugging the rope firmly. It came off easily, all except a loop around the dragon’s neck. The rope thinned and shortened as it moved, and Sera watched in awe as the woman tied the rope to her saddlehorn. The dragon followed placidly, curling up beside the horse with a little purring sound.
“He’s awful small, Mama!” The girl said, patting the dragon gently.
“He’s still a baby, darling,” The woman replied as she adjusted the straps of her horse’s saddle to accommodate the dragon’s lead. Sera wanted to thank the woman, to say something, but before she could her father the headman and the village shaman rushed out of the trees.
“What do you think you’re doing? It will destroy us all!” The shaman cried. Sera stepped away from the red face and spittle-encrusted mouth, thinking that a man who’s eyes gleamed like that was trouble, indeed. The woman paused in her preparations and turned, a perfect smile touching her red lips.
“Are you questioning me, hedgewitch?” She asked softly, and the little girl made a sound like a strangled laugh. The shaman’s face turned even brighter red, and he spluttered condescendingly as Sera and her father looked on. At last, the headman turned, and gave a short bow, his nervous eyes flicking.
“Pardon, miss, but we don’t understand. The creature—”
“The creature is lost,” The woman said stonily. “I will return it to its parents in the Waidden Mountains. If you country folk were sensible enough to summon a proper sorceress, this poor beast would have caused far less destruction.”
“So there,” The girl felt the need to add, and stuck her tongue out at the indignant Shaman. Her hands stroked the great nose, and Sera smiled at the cute picture they made. You could almost see the dragon was just a baby from the way it reacted to things, curiosity and confusion at the forefront in its large, expressive eyes.
“It would have burned down the village! Eaten our women and children!” The shaman cried. The woman slapped him smartly across the face, sending him to his knees with the force of her blow. Sera’s father stepped back, and she brought her hands to her mouth as the stony look on her savior’s face turned into something far colder.
“If you knew anything about monsters, boy, you would know the crap that spews from your lips. Dragons don’t eat people; a hatchling as young as this one can only breathe fire when its stomach is upset. And if any of the other village shamans it passed were as idiotic as you in suggesting this poor woman stand out here to be eaten alive,” A sweeping hand indicated Sera, “Then it’s no wonder their villages burned.”
Thoroughly interested in this new knowledge, Sera turned her gaze back to the green dragon, smiling at it hesitantly. No wonder, she thought; no wonder it had passed some villages by, and burned down others. How many girls had been set out somewhere, tied up like animals, for the curious creature to sniff at? It was too young to know better after the first time.
The shaman looked ashamed, especially as Sera’s father glared down at him.
“We’re forever indebted to you, Lady.” He said, and gave a short bow. The woman sniffed, and then climbed onto her horse.
“The next time a dragon passes through these parts, send a summons to the White Witch. She will come.” The tone carried the ominous hints of an oath, and Sera and her father both made the Sign Against Evil. The girl scrambled up onto the dragon’s head, and the woman set her horse to a steady walk. The company disappeared, walking into the mists of Glaiden Wood.
The shaman was exiled shortly after, the other headmen informed of the woman’s instructions. Other shaman joined Sera’s, and the villages in Northwatch Valley returned to peaceful living, hardly bothered by creatures of any kind.