Waiting in Carthagena
by Mindy Hartings
Mang’s limbs were weary from all the battle training. Her wings ached from flying in the thin air at high altitudes, and her scales were cracking from the cold. Her throat was raw from melting down boulders two hours at a time.
This training was all monotonous and exhausting work. Nothing the Sergeant invented improved Mang’s skills. Mang was the only dragon the army had; she couldn’t spar against someone her own strength. The army didn’t have anything to simulate a real battle with another dragon and resorted to silly tasks to keep her busy.
Her partner, Matilda, was struggling through training, but for different reasons. Mang could see the way the chain mail contorted her body. The sleeves were too big and pulled her shoulder forward. The trunk piece was fitted for a man; it hugged her budding hips too tightly. These restrictions threw her off balance when wielding a sword. Mang had enough experience with battle training to see these failings in her partner.
Upon hearing the slap of metal on skin, Mang marched over the frost-covered grass to Matilda’s training field. Sure enough, Matilda’s sparing partner continued to hit the back of her calf with the broad side of his sword. She would try a side step or juke, but still the man would whack her.
Quit fearing the sword, youngling. Lead! Mang projected these thoughts only to Matilda through the open channel they shared.
Matilda grinned and lunged forward against her foe. This caught the man unaware, given his raised eyebrows and opened hands. The blunt-edged sword the man held a moment before clattered to a halt on the frozen ground. Matilda lowered her own sword in victory and gave a small bow.
Very good, child. You’re a natural archer, but soon you’ll have mastered the sword as well. Now, come with me. We are to meet Briggs.
They navigated through the tent village towards the Sergeant’s advising tent, which was indicated by a sliver flag flying above everything else. No matter where Mang was in the compound, she could see the flag proudly displayed.
Upon arriving, Matilda let herself in through the canvas flap, while Mang reached in her upper neck. The warm air was a shock compared to the brisk air of the approaching evening. Mang disliked tents, but then again they weren’t made to accommodate beings four times the size of cows.
“Project 3,” Sergeant Briggs addressed them formally. “Updates.”
“Well, training has been... um...”
Don’t say “brutal”, Mang thought to her.
Matilda always had a way of showing her inaptness to the Sergeant. It was the blunt way he addressed them that made her afraid. Mang could feel it.
“Beneficial,” she finished.
“As expected. And Mang?”
No stronger than when I started. I’m an experienced, fighting dragon, for Baal’s sake. No surprise there, Colonel. Mang projected her thoughts to both people inside the tent, instead of just her partner.
“Mang. I demand respect at all times. Sergeant. I’m Sergeant Briggs, and I know darn well you breathe hotter and longer fire streams after our two-hour sessions. The cows nearly die before you even get to them. Just make sure you stay on task.”
Two years I’ve been stuck here in this cold grassland and still you question me. God Baal, you tire me. She flared her nostrils and shot warm air from them. She was not afraid of this man or of showing her true feelings.
Briggs stood behind a wood desk on the opposite side of the opening. He began to pace back and forth with his fingers laced behind his back. Without making eye contact, he said, “You both leave in the morning for Carthagena. Here’s your flight plan.”
Sergeant Briggs indicated the topographical map sitting on his wood desk. “You’ll fly east tomorrow after sunrise. You need to reach the eastern mountains of Carthagena before nightfall.
“Once there, take down the rider. He is experienced and can’t be trusted. Haba is young and likely weak. We don’t need another dragon in the area, so take him down as well.
“The mission is to be completed in two days, three days tops. Bring your finest weapons. You’ll have them isolated in Carthagena.”
“Why would the enemy send their dragon pair out unprotected?” Matilda asked. She loved the systems of war much more than the training.
“Our intelligence tells us that they are sending the young Haba to another training camp. He isn’t progressing as quickly as expected, which is good for us. You’ll catch them in the middle of their travel, so they’ll be isolated and unprotected.”
You’ve said that. I’ll excuse myself.
“Mang,” he barked. “You’re on my team now. Don’t forget that tomorrow.”
The fire flamed inside Mang’s chest from Briggs’ nagging of loyalty. She only acknowledged loyalty to her actions and thoughts. A dragon should never be subjected to the squabbles of humans.
Unfortunately for herself and Haba, the militia knew about dragons’ mental wiring and how to bind them to humans. It was Briggs who chose Matilda as Mang’s companion two years ago. At the time, Mang thought he was offering his hand for true help, not a kick down into slavery.
She backed out from the tent flap and didn’t bat a wing when her tail swished into a barrel of cider. The crunch of wood was somewhat satisfying after receiving her orders. The cider pooled on top of the already saturated grass, and the cracked barrel rocked on its side. Mang rolled her eyes and strutted off to her loft.
Being alone with her thoughts, as much as she could be with an open channel, allowed Mang’s mind to slow down. A small hum started to rumble in her chest and soon a song of warmth and open skies began to emanate from her. The song soothed her and the tension released from her body as the melody lengthened into an ancient song.
Matilda followed her partner out of the white tent. Mang’s long legs and quick exit allowed her to reach the loft before Matilda.
Hey, are you singing about leaving again?
Mang stopped and sat on her haunches.
This is my song. I don’t expect you to understand what my heart grieves and longs for.
Help me understand. I want to be closer to you, Mang. I’ve heard you singing before, but you never share.
Youngling. This is not something you can understand, but I’ll try to make it simple. I sing of a better place. A place where I am free to go and travel on my own. There are times when we must choose our alliance, but to whom is the question. I have fought many scuffles before, and I long for a time of peace and solitude.
Do you wish you were never bonded to me? Matilda asked and looked down at her laced fingers.
Do not worry, Matilda. I do not blame you. You are a hard worker and have a good soul, Mang projected. She turned her scaled head away from Matilda and lumbered into the hayloft.
The memories of her capture kept her up long into the night. Briggs’ face on a background of dry desert sand kept appearing. The sharp pain from a giant arrow piercing through her wing’s membrane came back to her in clear focus.
When she fell from the sky and crashed onto the ground, more bones cracked under the high-speed impact, yet it was her wing that hurt most of all. Her bones were broken and her mind was fixated on the searing pain in her wing. It overwhelmed all her instincts. She could only think about stopping the pain.
She never saw her shooter, but now she guessed that it was likely one of Briggs’ men. Briggs showed up when she was on the verge of bleeding out. Remembering the feeling of her wings tied behind her back with cables made her squirm on the hay bedding. When the night was halfway through, she was able to set aside the thoughts of her capture and drift into sleep.
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Copyright © 2016 by Mindy Hartings