Princess Merry ran eagerly to Prince Karl and jumped into his arms, thrilled to be going on a picnic just the two of them. Her knee hit something with a dull 'clang'. Karl's two-handed broadsword was at his side.
"Why did you bring 'Thunderbolt' my love? Is there danger about?"
"There is talk in the village that there are dragons prowling and we should be on our guard."
"Then it is good I brought Snake Fang."
Merry lifted her skirt revealing her fighting dagger. It's leather scabbard strapped to her riding boot.
"My brave Princess," Karl said admiringly. "Let us go, our mounts await."
Prince Karl sighed and lay back in the soft grass, Merry lying next to him. They had eaten all they could from the overflowing picnic hamper and were pleasantly full, the warmth of the sun 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 watched 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 was a pale blue while it's upper body was an amazing riot of color; it's scales 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 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 figure appeared, slid down it's sinuous neck and landed in front of them. It was a nude female, with pale blue skin.
"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 a pink indentation in the shape of a person.
"I ride there," the woman said, gesturing.
Merry noticed a fleshy protuberance on the woman's flat stomach the size and shape of a blooming 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 indeed part of 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 licking Karl and Merry's faces and 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 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 scaly side and walked towards them. This person was male, blue skinned 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."
"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 seeking a place to picnic when we spied this meadow," Karl replied. "We did not realize we had entered your land."
"It is well we encountered you," Linni said with a scowl. "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 created as a guard animal by a wizard long forgotten. A cross between a wolf and a bear, they possess the agility of the wolf and the strength of a bear; a truly formidable opponent. They have voracious appetites and a pack can consume an entire ox, bones and all"
"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 and drive them into the open where 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."
Karl and Merry watched in amazement as Harabi and Linni fell to the ground and rolled 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 knew that if he or Merry should threaten their riders, they would be devoured or incinerated.
At that moment, shrill whinnies and a drumming of hooves indicated that their horses had become frightened by the dragons, slipped their tethers and were galloping back to the castle.
"It's a long walk back," Karl muttered.
"Do not be concerned," Harabi replied. "We shall take you where you wish to go."
Harabi's dragon suddenly raised it's head, eyes scanning the horizon.
"The Eaters are nearby," Harabi said. "Thistle can smell 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, drawing Thunderbolt from its scabbard. "Merry will need to be hidden..."
"I think not," she said angrily, pulling Snake Fang from its sheath. "Where you go, I go." She wriggled from her skirt and petticoats revealing leather pantaloons, "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 four cautiously crossed 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 the dragons will deal with them."
"Merry, come with me," Linni said. "We shall get behind them, staying up wind. Their vision is limited, but their sense of smell is keen."
"Be careful," Harabi cautioned. "Karl and I will work our way to the other side. When I shout 'go', we'll approach making as much noise as possible. That will drive them into the meadow."
Moving stealthily, the four disappeared into the undergrowth.
Linni picked her way carefully, Merry close behind. She heard snuffling grunts and snarls as they drew closer to the pack. Then through a gap between bushes, she saw the creatures and gasped involuntarily.
They were hideous. Their bodies were bulky, covered in grey fur, with long bent legs. Their heads resembled wolves, but with the stubby snout and diminutive ears of a bear. They seemed to be eating something, snarling and nipping as they fought over their prey.
"Go!" Harabi cried. They ran towards the pack shouting.
Hearing the noise, the creatures lifted bloody muzzles from their kill, snarled and began loping away 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.