BONNIE & GEORGE (& MAC)
|by Van © 2021|
With Brigadier Caradoc and Mac in the lead, Una second, and the large squad of armed and armored amazons following, the party made quite a parade. Mac noted that all the traffic in the busy corridor ahead was stepping aside to let them pass. Una was getting a lot of attention, with lots and lots of the tunic-clad Dearg smiling and pointing at the young dragon. Apparently, Una was popular. Also, any amazons present, in or out of armor, took note of Caradoc, quickly backed against the cave wall, and snapping to attention. As for Mac, nobody seemed particularly interested in a ginger-haired alien from another world. Mac surmised her arrival wasn't yet common knowledge, and as far as she was concerned, that was just fine. Mac was anxious enough about what was happening without being gawked at by the mountain's population.
Don't worry, darling, Una sent to her beloved Rider. It doesn't matter WHAT Mother or the Old Dragons say. You're my Rider, and they can EAT ROCKS before I'll let them let the Queen do horrible things to you.
Mac was all in favor of people not doing horrible things to her, but while she knew almost nothing about Dearg society, it was pretty obvious that high-level politics were at play. I'm sure your mother won't let that happen, Mac thought for Una's benefit. Let's hear what they have to say. Be polite and don't insult anybody.
Hah! Una groused. I'm not going to just SQUAT there and—
Una! Mac scolded silently. I'm new here. I don't know anything about the Queen's court, and I can't afford to make enemies that could just as easily have been my friends. Do you understand?
There was a long pause while Mac hoped Una was thinking things through.
You're so smart, Una sighed finally, then dropped her neck and held her rather large head as if she was resting it on Mac's shoulder, the shoulder away from Brigadier Caradoc. (If Una had actually rested her head on Mac's shoulder, she would have been forced to the ground, and if she'd chosen her Rider's other shoulder, she would have knocked Caradoc to the side in the process.) I'm SO glad you came.
Mac patted the side of Una's head. I'm glad too, darling. Mac was now wearing newly-issued sandals, a typical Dearg tunic of undyed linen, and a brown leather belt. Her hair was dry, brushed, and pulled back in a loose ponytail held by a neatly wrapped leather thong. She blended right in... and felt completely out of place.
"If I was inclined to give you advice," Caradoc said suddenly in a quiet aside to Mac, "I'd tell you to be respectful and choose your words carefully. And whatever you do, tell the truth. The senior dragons will be listening, even if they seem disinterested, and it's very difficult to lie to a dragon. Some would say impossible."
It IS impossible, Una broadcast.
"Of course it is, wyrmling," Caradoc chuckled. "Anyway, that would be my advice... if I was inclined to give any."
Mac nodded. "Thank you." Whatever Caradoc's true thoughts, Mac was grateful for any guidance. After all, unless she was grossly misreading the signs, she was on her way to be judged by the Dearg equivalent of the Premiere Council, the collective Prime Ministers, Presidents, and Most Senior Iroquoian Tribal Chief of all the nations comprising the Grand Alliance.
Up ahead, Mac beheld a pair of gigantic wooden doors elaborately carved with the life-sized image of a phalanx of human warriors in the foreground, the mountain in the background, and a cloud of dragons flying around and above the peak. There was also a squad of human amazon warriors present, armed with spears and short swords and carrying typical Dearg rectangular shields. As the Carodoc/Mac/Una party approached, the warriors snapped to attention and smartly formed an actual phalanx facing into the corridor, mimicking the carved phalanx directly behind them. Mac realized she was witnessing (and taking part in) some sort of ceremony.
"Halt and be recognized!" a voice shouted from somewhere in the phalanx.
"Brigadier Caradoc, fulfilling an order from the Queen!" Caradoc shouted back in her best Command Voice.
"Approach and enter, Brigadier Caradoc," the voice responded, then the shield-wall split into two halves, swung back against the corridor walls like the opening of a gate, and its members snapped to rigid attention with the base of their shields resting on the floor. "Thump!"
Caradoc led Mac, Una, and the escort squad forward.
The wooden doors opened, a pair of colossal hanging tapestries parted, and they entered the vast cavern beyond, the largest space in the Labyrinth Mac had yet seen. The floor was level, something like three hundred feet across, and covered with a mosaic that Mac suspected was a large-scale map. The apex of the dome-shaped ceiling was at least five hundred feet overhead, and the chamber walls were largely natural, with dragon-size cave or tunnel entrances at various heights around the periphery and columns of stalactites and stalagmites dripping up and down in between. Other than the floor mosaic, the only clearly man-made features were groupings of human-sized tables and chairs near the walls and a large, human-size throne on a low dais of dressed stone.
A half-dozen dragons were present, sprawled in dignified ease in various of the elevated caves, but Mac noted the cavities closest to the throne were all empty. Four of the dragons were significantly larger than Una, the size of the dragon Mac had watched flap away, carrying Bonnie, George, and a squad of amazons to the mountain. The two "smaller" dragons were roughly half again larger than Una, but by their features and the way they carried themselves, Mac was sure they were adults. In fact, she suspected they might be elderly.
That's Moira and Rhionnan, Una sent. They're retired Scout Dragons and are VERY famous. Mother says I'M probably going to be a Scout Dragon 'cause I was the runt of my clutch. I was disappointed, but Mother says it's nothing to be ashamed of. Scout Dragons have to be BRAVE, and they're HIGHLY respected.
I see, Mac thought, but her attention was elsewhere. Across the chamber near the throne dais and off to one side were three identical, vertical, rectangular wooden frames, standing in a neat row. They were each about seven feet tall and four feet across, with wheels and diagonal, backwards-leaning braces to keep them upright. And speaking of Bonnie and George, Mac's friends occupied the two frames closest to the throne!
The brunette adventurers were naked, up on their toes with their arms and legs stretched wide, and bound to frames by their wrists and ankles in standing spread-eagles! In addition, they were cleave-gagged with knotted strips of cloth, their hair was coiled and pinned or tied atop their heads, and their skin glistened with what Mac assumed was some sort of... oil? The chamber wasn't hot enough for the glimmer to be from sweat.
"No!" Mac gasped and took an involuntary step forward, but was stopped by Carodoc instantly grabbing her belt and pulling her back.
"Stand to!" Caradoc hissed. "Only the Queen can free your friends," she continued in a low voice, "and you won't help their cause by making futile gestures. In fact, you'll embarrass me and wind up stretched in the empty frame next to them."
Mac's heart was beating like a triphammer, but she remained in place. "It's not right," she huffed. "They didn't do anything."
"They have brown hair and their minds are closed to the dragons," Carodoc responded. "They might be enemies."
The Boghadubha and Cudhaioin have brown head-hair, Una broadcast, or so I've been taught. I've never seen any. Her neck stretched full length as she stared intently at Bonnie and George. Are they like that? I thought they'd be ugly. How very strange. She turned her head to gaze at Mac. Are you SURE they're your friends?
"Una!" Caradoc barked. "Behave like a soldier. Remember where you are."
Una pulled her head back and stopped fidgeting. Sorry.
"They are my best friends in any world," Mac stated, then reached up to pat the side of Una's neck. "My best human friends. Bonnie and George have many enemies, all of whom earned the honor by their actions." She turned her head to favor Carodoc with an even stare. "And their enemies are my enemies."
Caradoc started to say something, but was interrupted by an echoing fanfare of brass trumpets. At the same time, dragons (large dragons) appeared from the back of the wall-caves around the throne, various small groups of women strolled to the the tables and chairs around the periphery, and a tall woman wearing a sleeveless linen gown and an understated golden crown stepped onto the dais.
Mac recognized Mæn, Una's mother, settling into the cave directly behind the throne.
The women without crowns varied in costume, but all on the theme of typical Dearg tunics and sandals or boots. Group leaders wore long, sleeveless gowns, like the queen, but in colors and accessories matching their aides.
One group wore brown leather boots and belts and tunics dyed rust-red. The skirt of their leader's long, sleeveless, rust-red gown was split in the front to reveal a pair of brown boots, and around her waist was a brown, elaborately tooled corset-belt. Another group was barefoot, with white tunics and narrow belts. Their leader wore a white sleeveless gown. Other groups were similar but different. One wore gray tunics (and gown) with black-dyed boots and belts. Another wore brown boots, belts, and tunics.
One group was distinctly military, in that it was comprised entirely of amazons in full armor but without helmets, and next to them was a second group of warriors in armor and tunics tie-dyed in various earth-tones.
Caradoc leaned close and whispered in Mac's ear while the Queen and her court settled into the throne or their chairs. "Those are the various Guild Leaders and their staffs—Artisans, Masons, Farmers, Healers, and the rest. The warriors are my staff, and and next to them are liaisons from the deployed Legions."
"The warriors in the forest colors?" Mac whispered back.
"The same," Caradoc confirmed.
Meanwhile, the queen had settled into her throne and the Guild Leaders and staffs into their chairs. Apparently, Mac mused, the Dearg court is less formal than the Albion Queen back home.
Less formal? Una inquired.
Elaborate robes, crowns, and rituals, Mac clarified. The Albion Queen is largely symbolic, so they make up for it with fancy nonsense.
So why do you keep her?
Tradition. Also, the Albions love her, but she's not my queen. I have Hibernian and Caledonian joint citizenship, not Albion or Pan-Brittanic Common Citizenship.
Hush, darling. I think things are about to start.
I think you're right. The Queen looks angry... or maybe constipated.
Mac barely managed to cover a fit of raucous laughter with a stifled cough. Darling, please, don't make me laugh! Not now!
TRANSDIMENSIONAL PORTAL HUZZAH!
|| Chapter 9
George was not impressed with Dearg hospitality. The Healers' Guild had been nice enough... in a not-letting-me-wear-clothes-and-keeping-me-locked-in-chains-while-laughing-at-me-behind-my-back sort of way. The Healers were okay, but the Dearg, collectively, had a lot to learn about the proper treatment of guests.
Together with Bonnie, George had been dragged (led) to the Audience Chamber, the same vast cavern in which they'd previously met the Dearg Queen. Upon arrival, their leashes, box-ties, and hobbles were removed, but then they were manhandled into vertical wooden frames and lashed at the wrists and ankles in standing spread-eagles, which was very rude. George's weight was being carried by their toes and the twenty or more turns of rope encircling each wrist, so it wasn't a particularly challenging tie. George had endured worse.
Next, her hair was arranged atop her head. A sideways glance at Bonnie confirmed that her partner was receiving a similar coif.
And then—and it only served to exacerbate George's distressing lack of modesty—a grinning pair of amazons used a flask of some sort of oily substance and their hands to give her a thorough coating of the substance in question. And they took their time about it, making sure every nook and cranny of her outstretched body was well-covered, including her breasts, nipples, tummy, bum, and lady-bits! George squirmed, blushed, and whined piteous moans through her gag. She couldn't help it.
Again, a glance confirmed that Bonnie was also acquiring a glistening, oily patina. But, ever the stoic, quarter-Tuscaroran warrior, her partner was taking it better.
Next, the guard detail (including the smiling warriors wiping the oil from their hands with linen rags) formed up and marched from the chamber. There were still armed and armored amazons present, but they were far away and seemed to be guarding the cavern in general, not the obviously dangerous brunette invaders in particular.
There were also dragons... six dragons... lounging in alcove-caves and acting bored. They were impressive beasts... even beautiful, George decided, in a reptilian sort of way.
And with that, the waiting began... and continued... then continued some more.
Now would be an excellent time for to compare notes with Bonnie, if it wasn't for the fact that they were both gagged. They could try communicating by blinking Morse code, but while possible, that method provided inadequate bandwidth for meaningful communication... not counting brief, supremely urgent messages. George had many pressing questions Bonnie might be able to answer, or at least provide insight, but it wasn't worth the effort.
Finally, the large tapestries across the chamber parted, the huge, carved wooden entrance doors opened, and a troop of warriors marched into the cavern. A "small" dragon has towards the front of the troop, and she was a beautiful creature, both in coloration and form. In the lead was an obviously senior amazon, and next to her was—"MRRRPFH!"—Mac!
"Mrrrf!" (I see her) Bonnie answered.
Their heretofore missing partner was alive (obviously), and was wearing sandals, a typical Dearg tunic, and a brown belt. Her ginger hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail, and for some inexplicable reason, she was not tied up or in chains.
George continued watching Mac, the pint-size dragon, and the amazons (of course). By this time Mac had noticed them and reacted as expected; however—and it was most curious—Mac was now engaged in a whispered conversation with the leader of the amazons, as if she was fluent in Dearg! What could it mean? No matter what had happened to Mac since the the crash, she couldn't possibly have had time to learn Dearg. Even minimal, grammatically questionable fluency in a new language requires the memorization of at least a few hundred nouns and verbs, in their proper contexts, something even George, with her proven, scholarly talent for languages, hadn't had time to accomplish, so... What the heck?
A short while later, Queen Epona, Deirdre and a few of her senior Healers, as well as what George surmised were other Guild Leaders and their staffs, entered the Audience Chamber. Also, several rather large dragons appeared in the cave-alcoves behind the Queen.
Epona gave a short speech (in Dearg, of course), then Mac and the senior (and seriously gorgeous, in George's opinion) amazon next to her stepped forward.
The small dragon followed—and a rather curious scene ensued. Mac turned to stare at the dragon, the dragon stared back, both of them turned to gaze at the huge dragon directly behind the throne, several words were exchanged between the queen, Mac, and the senior amazon... Queen Epona and the giant dragon simultaneously sighed... then Mac, the amazon, and the "little" dragon continued forward until they were directly in front of the dais. First, they bowed to Queen Epona... then again to the giant dragon behind the throne. Curious, George thought.
As might be expected, a long, involved discussion followed... in Dearg, of course. At the start, the queen directed what was obviously a pointed question to the senior amazon escorting Mac, the warrior answered in a dignified manner, pulled what George recognized as Mac's sheathed dirk from her own belt (as opposed to Mac's belt, where the weapon belonged), and tossed it onto the dais. The chamber was suddenly totally quiet. Epona turned to gaze at the dragon behind her for several long seconds... then turned back and made a dismissive gesture. An audible sigh of relief filled the chamber and the discussions continued.
Mac was mostly quiet, but now and then she was asked a question, and she answered—again, in fluent Dearg! It was a true mystery... one among many. George did her best to follow, and while she did recognize a word now and then, but for all she knew without adequate context, she was hearing phonetic variants. It was most frustrating. She just didn't have enough experience with the language... unlike Mac, who, language-wise, was having no difficulty whatsoever.
The audience lasted for about an hour... during which George's toes lodged ever more strident complaints. Finally, she was forced to grant her tootsies periodic breaks by letting herself hang by her wrists. Fortunately, the amazons had not only used abundant turns of rope, but had tied non-compacting knots.
Finally, with a no doubt truly eloquent closing speech that would be quoted in all the Dearg newspapers, Queen Ephona departed the chamber, as did all the dragons except the little one beside Mac. Also staying behind was the senior amazon, the Guild Leaders and their staffs, and Bonnie and George, who had no choice in the matter.
The Guild Leaders clustered around Mac, the senior warrior made introductions, and more discussions followed. It was mostly smiles all around, but while a couple of the Dearg seemed slightly dubious of Mac, none were openly hostile. George and Bonnie were ignored... except by the dragon. Uh oh!
The beast slowly sidestepped a few dragon-paces, being careful not to bump into the crowd of Dearg milling around Mac, then extended its long neck and head in the captives' direction, nuzzled Bonnie's torso from chest to crotch and gave it a very dog-like whoofle, then extended its long, forked tongue and gave George's crotch a languid lick!
This was simply too much to bear! "MRRRRRRF!" George screamed through her gag.
Mac and the Deargs' reactions were one part contrite sympathy and one part poorly suppressed humor. "Una!" Mac shouted, hurried over and took hold of the dragon's head, pulled the beast a couple of paces to the side, frowned into its reptilian face, and shook her finger. Dierdre stepped behind George, removed her gag, and her staff started releasing her from the frame. At the same time, a Guild Leader in a rust-red gown and her staff did the same for Bonnie.
Finally free and rubbing their wrists, with their gags around their necks like a pair of scarves, George and Bonnie stood before Mac and the Dearg.
"So, you're fluent in Dearg," Bonnie said to Mac in Standard Brittanic. "I assume that means you're a traitor from another dimension?"
George could tell Bonnie was joking, but gave her a harmless kick on the side of her closest leg anyway. "Although," George said quietly, "now that I think about it, the Transdimentional Traitor Hypothesis is better than anything I've been able to come up with."
Mac blushed and smiled. "I have a perfectly reasonable explanation."
"Yes?" George demanded.
"The dragons are telepathic," Mac announced, then patted the neck of the little dragon with the rude tongue. "I've bonded with this one, so she taught me Dearg in about five minutes, mind-to-mind. There. You see? Perfectly reasonable."
Bonnie and George stared at Mac for several long seconds.
"That was my second hypothesis," Bonnie finally muttered.
Mac's smile broadened and George rolled her eyes. The surrounding Dearg waited patiently while the friends sorted things out.
"This is Una," Mac said, smiling up at the dragon, who smiled back in reptilian fashion. "She says she's sorry you're both mind-deaf and wouldn't have sniffed you if she'd known you were so terribly shy."
"Hello, Una," Bonnie grinned, reached up, and chucked the dragon under her scaly chin.
"Yes, hello, Una," George stated, her arms folded over her breasts. "Before we go any further, I have one request."
"Yes?" Mac responded.
"May I please have something to wear!" she whined, stomping her bare right foot for emphasis.
Mac laughed (she couldn't help it) then translated George's request for the Dearg.
The Dearg laughed as well, and Bonnie gave her brunette partner a most irritating smirk.
"I suppose you're perfectly happy being totally nude all the time," George huffed.
Bonnie shrugged and continued smiling.
The Guild Leaders chatted among themselves, in Dearg, of course, then led Bonnie and George from the chamber. Mac and her mysteriously bonded, apparently juvenile, allegedly telepathic dragon followed close behind. For the moment, the question of George being loaned something, anything, to wear remained unresolved.
TRANSDIMENSIONAL PORTAL HUZZAH!
|| Chapter 9
The group made their way to a nearby public bath not exclusive to the military and Bonnie and George were allowed to get thoroughly clean. As it turned out, the oil their amazon handlers had rubbed on their skin was a healing agent traditionally applied to the skin of prisoners who might have to be flogged to get them to tell the truth. The visitors from the Grand Alliance agreed that they were very glad the interview with the queen had gone so well and that flogging hadn't been deemed necessary.
Once Bonnie and George were clean, dry, and their hair brushed and combed, they were given loincloths and standard Dearg tunics. Bonnie's was the rust-red of the Artisan's Guild and George's the off-white, undyed linen of the Healers. This was explained when Mac explained that Bonnie was to continue to consider herself in the custody of the Artisan Guild, but would also spend time with the First Legion (Caradoc's command). Meanwhile, George would continue being hosted by the Healers. Mac would be watched over by the First Legion, but as she was fluent in Dearg, would rotate from guild to guild for consultation.
Bonnie also received brown leather boots and a matching belt.
George received a belt, and with Mac translating, Dierdre offered her a pair of sandals. George inquired if it was traditional for Healers to go barefoot, and Dierdre smiled and nodded, so George politely declined the offer of footwear. By the smiles of the other Guild Leaders, it was obvious George's effort to comply with her host guild's dress-code was appreciated.
Shoes aside, George was supremely relieved to finally have something to wear. Granted, the tunic was sleeveless, and therefore her arms were completely bare, and the hem of the garment only came to her mid-thighs, revealing a scandalous amount of leg, but at least there was minimal cleavage, her most intimate parts were covered, and she was technically decent. Also, as Bonnie had always insisted that George should go barefoot during martial arts practice, her soles had at least some degree of toughness. So far, the Dearg floors had all been smooth stone or covered by layers of clean sand, so until that changed, George's feet would be just fine.
Once clean, clothed, and in the case of Bonnie, shod, the "guests" were led through the public corridors to yet another large chamber. It was dominated by a large, rectangular table set with wooden plates, forks, knives, napkins, and wooden cups. Huge, tall drapes framed a very large tunnel on the far side of the cavern, and from that tunnel Queen Epona and Mæn (Her Majesty's Dragon Companion) appeared. Greetings were exchanged (in Dearg) and everyone settled into chairs (except for the dragons, of course). Mæn gracefully settled to the floor directly behind the queen and Una did the same behind Mac.
George surmised they were guests at an informal royal banquet—informal by Grand Alliance standards, anyway. The queen and guild leaders were still in their court gowns, but the place settings were everyday-plain and the Dearg arriving with trays of food and drink wore sandals and typical tunics. There was only one thing about the affair that could be termed fancy, and that was the food itself.
Up until now, every meal George had been served under the mountain had been fresh, plain, and wholesome. Tonight's fare was more elaborate. There were stews and roasts, vegetable casseroles, crisp salads, and for the first time, baked fish in a delicious white sauce! Savory, sweet, and tart dishes complemented each other, and some were visibly sprinkled with herbs and spices. That said, nothing even approached the level of being spicy-hot or overpoweringly rich. In any case, it would seem Dearg cuisine had more depth than George had previously suspected.
Everyone was having a great time, that was obvious. Bonnie and George's tablemates made repeated efforts to engage the brunette aliens in simple conversation, mostly by introducing them to new dishes as they emerged from the kitchen. It was obvious they wanted the invaders to feel welcome (now that stringent naked bondage and threats of flagellation were a thing of the past). Unfortunately, the language barrier remained a serious problem.
Not so for Mac! She was having a grand old time. The senior amazon still in armor who had escorted her into the Audience Chamber was on her right and the guild leader of the Masons (in gray and black) was on her left. George watched as Mac laughed, told entertaining stories, laughed at her hosts' jokes, and repeatedly looked back over her shoulder to (allegedly) telepathically commune with her new dragon best friend. On occasion, Epona and Una's mother also chatted (or communed) with Mac. Sky Woman's Chief Engineer was the hit of the party. George resolved to double her efforts to learn the Dearg language... not that she was jealous or anything.
Finally, the last of the delicious feast was consumed, the plates were taken away, the wooden cups refilled with chilled fruit-cider, and Her Majesty proclaimed that they were now going to reveal exactly how and why Bonnie, George, and Mac had arrived at the Domain of the Dearg Dragons. (Mac translated all that for Bonnie and George, of course.)
A tunic-clad servant carried in a large wooden tray and placed it on the table. It held a spherical object about the size of a football, hidden under a linen cloth. And by the way the servant's biceps bulged, the object was reasonably heavy. She pulled away the cloth, bowed to the queen, and departed the chamber.
Bonnie, George, and Mac blinked in surprise. The object on the tray was one of their resonance crystals, one of the power-focusing crystals cultured from silica and a proprietary mix of other elements, one of the crystals that generated the drag-reduction field that made The Spirit of Skywoman's central bore propulsion system and the external drag reduction array possible! It was firmly clamped in a steel and copper housing designed to snap and lock into an empty grid-socket, and a labeling tag was still attached by a twist of wire. It was a spare from Skywoman's stores.
George, Bonnie, Mac and the Dearg watched as Mæn stretched out her long, reptilian neck and intently stared into the depths of the crystal with her gigantic golden eyes. Seconds passed... And then... The interior of the crystal began to glow with eerie, ever-intensifying, sparkling tendrils of blue-green light!
|| Chapter 9