Princess Merry and Prince Karl stood outside the Royal Stables of Castle Lancshire awaiting their favorite horses for a mornings ride. As the grooms brought Karl's black stallion and Merry's chestnut mare into the sunshine, Merry noticed Karl's broadsword hanging from his saddle.
"Why did you bring 'Thunderbolt' my love? Is there danger about?"
"There is talk in the castle that there are dragons prowling and we should be on our guard."
Hearing this, Merry called to an armorer to bring her fighting dagger Snake Fang.
In moments her weapon in it's snake skin scabbard was strapped to her riding boot.
"My brave Princess," Karl said admiringly. "Let us go and see what the day shall bring."
Prince Karl sighed and lay back in the soft grass, Merry lying next to him. They were allowing the horses to rest and graze and the warmth of the sun was making them drowsy. They were nodding off when a shadow passed over them. Something was circling high above, and then began descending in slow spirals. Weapons at the ready they stood watching as an immense dragon landed a short distance away.
The creature lay down, folded it's webbed wings, crossed it's front paws and gazed at them benignly with yellow eyes the size of dinner plates; it's lower body and wings a pale blue while it's upper body and wings were an amazing riot of color. Each of it's large scales were different; red, blue, purple, yellow, green and orange; an amazing sight to behold.
"Why does it not attack?" Merry said nervously. "What does it want?"
"I know not, but if it makes a move we shall strike from both sides," Karl replied. "Pierce an eye with your thrown dagger and I will sever it's head from it's body."
"That will not be necessary," said a female voice. "Starflower will not harm you."
"It speaks," Karl cried. "This is evil wizardry! Stand ready my love."
"There is no wizardry here, it is only us," the voice replied. The dragon lowered it's head and out of nowhere a person appeared, slid down it's sinuous neck and landed in front of them. It was a nude female, her skin a pale blue.
"From whence did you appear?" Merry asked. "We saw naught when the creature landed."
"You will see," the woman said, laughing. "Starflower, show the lady."
The dragon rolled on it's side presenting it's back to them. At the base of it's neck was an indentation in the shape of a human.
"I ride there," the woman said, gesturing.
Merry noticed a fleshy protuberance on the woman's flat stomach the size of a tea rose. The woman saw her looking and smiled.
"That is my link to Starflower when we are joined. I see what she sees, feel what she feels. We are one."
She turned to pet the beast on it's nose and Karl and Merry saw the woman's back, arms and legs were colorfully scaled. She was as one with the dragon, truly a wondrous thing.
"Come closer. Starflower would like to meet you."
Lowering their weapons they warily approached the beast's head, it's vertical pupils pulsing a deep green. Massive fringed jaws opened revealing jagged teeth the length of sword blades. A deep red forked tongue shot out and licked Karl and Merry's faces, showering them with saliva.
"How sweet, Starflower likes you," the woman said happily.
"Aren't we lucky," Karl grumbled, wiping his face with a handful of grass.
Merry poked him in the ribs, "Now be nice. They are trying to be friendly."
"I am Princess Merry of Lancshire," she continued. "And this is Prince Karl of Vard. Who might you be?"
"I am called Linni," the woman replied. "I am a Child of the Dragon."
A shadow passed over them. Starflower raised her head and bellowed. An answering cry came from far above as another colorful dragon swooped down and landed beside her. They nuzzled each other, steam rising from their nostrils.
A figure detached from the dragons back, slid down it's neck and walked towards them. This person was male, blue with colorful scales to match the dragon he rode.
"This is my mate Harabi," Linni said as they embraced. "These people are Princess Merry and Prince Karl. They are strangers in our land."
"Welcome to the Land of Dragons," Harabi said. "What brings you here? Our visitors are few, something frightens them away." He and Linni laughed and the dragons snorted as if enjoying the joke.
"We were out for a morning ride and evidently wandered somewhat afield," Karl replied. "We did not realize we had entered your land."
"It is well we encountered you," Linni said with a scowl. "A pack of Eaters have been seen in the vicinity. Harabi and I were seeking to destroy them before they decimate our food animals again."
"Eaters?" Merry's brow furrowed. "We know not of such creatures. What are they?"
"A hideous mutation of forest predators, a cross between a wolf and a bear; they have the speed of a wolf and the strength of a bear; a truly formidable opponent. They have voracious appetites, and can consume an ox in less than an hour."
"At first we were able to attack them from the air," Harabi continued. "Now they have learned to remain hidden and strike from the undergrowth when prey is near. Thus we must dismount to lure them out so the dragons can destroy them."
"But you carry no weapons," Karl replied. "What if you are ambushed before the dragons can attack?"
"Then we do this and we call the dragons."
Karl and Merry watched in amazement as Harabi and Linni fell to the ground, each rolling into a ball, their scales hard as plate armor.
"We learned this defense long ago," Linni explained as they uncoiled. "Our children practice it before they can walk."
Karl noticed the dragons staring intently at them, eyes glowing, making purring noises like gigantic cats. He sensed that if he or Merry should threaten their riders, they would be devoured or incinerated.
Harabi's dragon suddenly raised it's head, eyes scanning the horizon.
"The Eaters are nearby," Harabi said. "Thistle smells them. He and Starflower will wait above for our signal. We will find a hiding place for you until we deal with this threat."
"I may be of some assistance," Karl replied, brandishing Thunderbolt. "Merry will need to be hidden..."
"I think not," she said angrily, taking Snake Fang from her boot sheath. "Where you go, I go. Let us find these Eaters."
Thistle and Starflower snorted explosively, unfolded their webbed wings and lifted off from the meadow. In no time, they were specks in the sky. The racket and the smell of the dragons were finally too much for the horses, which slipped their reins and headed back to the stables; whinnies and a drumming of hooves marking their departure.
"We shall return you home," Harabi said reassuringly.
The four crossed the meadow and moved quietly into the adjoining forest, Harabi and Linni changing direction repeatedly, following unheard commands.
Harabi stopped suddenly. "They are nearby," he whispered. "We shall encircle the pack, drive them into the open and call the dragons."
"Merry, come with me," Linni said. "We shall get behind them, staying upwind. Their vision is adequate, but their sense of smell is keen."
"Be careful," Harabi cautioned. "Karl and I will work our way closer to them. When I say 'go', we approach from both sides making as much noise as possible. That will drive them out."
Moving stealthily, the four disappeared into the undergrowth.
Linni picked her way carefully through the forest, Merry close behind. She heard snuffling grunts and snarls as they drew closer to the pack. Suddenly through a gap between bushes, she saw them and gasped involuntarily.
They were hideous. Their bodies were bulky, covered in grey fur, with bushy tails and long bent legs. Their heads were shaped as wolves, but with the bone crushing jaws, stubby snout and diminutive ears of a bear. They seemed to be eating something, snarling and nipping as they fought over their prey.
"Now!" Linni said. They ran towards the pack shouting.
Hearing the noise, the creatures lifted bloody muzzles from their kill, snarled and began loping through the trees. Merry could hear Karl and Harabi's shouts as they chased the Eaters toward the meadow. Suddenly Linni tripped on a tree root and fell headlong. Sensing her apparent helplessness, two of the Eaters wheeled and charged them.
Linni instinctively coiled as their attackers closed with them. One Eater bit futilely at her scaly body, the other leapt at Merry. Assuming a fighting crouch, Merry waited until the beast was upon her, and then nimbly sidestepped its headlong rush, Snake Fang slicing deeply into the attacker's throat.