“Up!” Dyrfinna said.
The great wings opened, and the dragon’s muscles flexed under her hands. She gripped the forward strap fastened around the dragon.
The wings, like living sails, cast a gigantic shadow on the ground below them. Then with a great thrust of those wings, the dragon sprang into the air in a dizzying rush.
Dyrfinna loved that gather and that sudden, thrilling leap.
She loved the wind in her face—the great lunges the dragon made every time those huge wings thrust the air down and let them sweep higher—the feel of gravity trying to pull them back—the trees and rocks and ground flying past, then growing smaller as they rose—how the world slowly opened up around them as they climbed, revealing more lands, more forests, more rocky crags, and more ocean, the endless ocean. Dyrfinna could gaze at it endlessly.
The dragon leveled off, circled. Rjupa had her arms around Dyrfinna, leaning on her back, but now she opened her arms and sat up.
“I always love that takeoff,” Dyrfinna said.
They were not that high up, as Dyrfinna could cover her ship with her hand and have a little sticking out at each end. She leaned right, and the dragon also leaned right and banked in that direction.
Dyrfinna was taking it all in—the whole world laid out like a King’s Table before her. She looked across the pine-forested land, the dark sea, the twisting coastline, the small islands scattered generously around the edges of the coast. Farther away, off in that direction on the ocean, were the ships. Scraps of black twisted in the air above them… and dragons.
“There’s his fleet.”
“There’s a lot of them.”
“There’s a lot of us,” Dyrfinna said quietly. She was also thinking. Hakr was right. The fleet must have been pushed back by the storm. They were coming to find us, but couldn’t make any headway against the wind.
“So that must be where we need to join battle,” she told Rjupa, pointing at the fleet. She started memorizing the lay of the land, the islands in the sea, trying to figure out what moves the king’s fleet would make, what kinds of moves the queen’s fleet needed to make the most effective attack possible. “Do you think the Queen would listen to me if I had suggestions about her movements in battle?”
Rjupa shrugged against Dyrfinna’s back. “I don’t know. You’ve never been in battle—”
“What are you talking about? I fought a skirmish on the water and a full engagement on land.”
“Cripes! I’m sorry. I should have remembered. But I’d still think she’d defer to her older generals first. Which, naturally, includes your papa.”
Dyrfinna groaned. “What is his problem? He said he wanted the best for me. He let me do the sword lessons, let me work with dragons, and he let me bring all of you along because I wanted to be with my friends while I was learning all this. Would I have made him happier if I’d left you guys out? I don’t get it.”
“I don’t either,” she said. “It’s like he’s been different over the last couple of years, you know?”
“Oh yeah. I know.” Dyrfinna shook her head out of her funk and gazed across the wide land, still studying the position of the fleet, thinking about the most strategic approaches to allow them to strike effectively.
She needed to talk to Hakr about what she saw. If there was anybody who knew about directing a fleet on water, it was him. Maybe then she could get something to the Queen. Or he could at least tell her she was deluded.
Just then, a movement caught Dyrfinna’s eye without her realizing it and made her suddenly twist in the seat, looking to the left.
“What’s that?” she asked, on full alert.
“What’s what… oh Feyja.” Rjupa grabbed her arms involuntarily, but though Dyrfinna twinged in pain, she hardly noticed.
About ten miles away, on the other side of a mountain, two large black shapes flew low in a dark riverbank toward them, their shapes flickering through the trees. The King’s dragons.
“Dive!” Dyrfinna hissed to the dragon, and lowered her body against its neck to reduce wind speed. “Rjupa, get down and hold on.”
“We’re in trouble; they’re going to kill us.” Rjupa pressed against Dyrfinna’s back, the wind snatching her words.
“Dragons can’t kill what they can’t catch,” she called back over her shoulder. Her ears popped painfully, and popped again.