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“I know!” Tats was the one to reply. “But we have to pull some of it out of the way so Sintara can reach the trees. We’ve been able to help some of the dragons get at least a floating log under their chests to help hold them up.

“That would be welcome,” Sintara immediately replied, and by that admission, Thymara knew she was far more tired than she had thought.

“We have to get off her,” she told Alise in a low voice. “The mat looks thick enough to support us, if we go carefully.”

Alise was already moving the sash from her gown. It was longer than Thymara had expected, for the Bingtown woman had looped it twice around her waist. “Tie this to your wrist,” she suggested. “And I’ll do the same. If one of us slips, the other can save her.”

Thymara clambered down first, half sliding down the dragon’s slick shoulder. She was grateful for the sash on her wrist as Alise pulled her up short of the mat and let her select her landing spot. There was a nearby log with a branch sticking out. Thymara made the successful hop to it, and though it dipped and rocked under her weight, it did not roll and dump her in. She suspected that it had many submerged branches that were now so tangled with other debris that it could not easily shift.

“It’s good! Come down,” she called back to Alise. She glanced over to see that Tats had nearly reached the log and stepped onto it. “Stay back!” she warned him. “Let me get Alise down and onto this before you add any more weight to it.” He halted where he was, clearly displeased and anxious, but listening to her. As Alise ventured down, clinging to Sintara’s wing as she came, she heard Sylve’s voice on the other side of Sintara.

“We have to go slowly, or you’ll dump me in the river. I’ll come toward you on this log. As my weight pushes it down, you’ll try to put a front leg over it. Then, as I back up, you’ll try to edge sideways along it. So far, we’ve been able to help three dragons get some flotation this way. Are you ready to try?”

“Very ready,” the dragon replied. She sounded almost grateful and very unlike her usual self. Thymara almost smiled. Perhaps after this, she might see her keepers in a different light.

She gasped aloud as Tats caught her by the arm. “I’ve got you,” he said comfortingly. “Come this way.”

“Let go! You’re throwing me off balance.” At the hurt look that crossed his face, she added more placatingly, “We have to make room for Alise on the log. Move back, Tats.” As he obeyed her, she said in a quieter voice, “I’m so glad to see you alive that I don’t know what to say to you.”

“Besides ‘let go!’?” he asked with bitter humor.

“I’m not angry with you anymore,” she told him, a bit surprised to find it was true. “To your left, Alise!” she called as the woman, still clinging to Sintara’s wing, groped for a place to set her foot. “A little more, a little more…there. You’re right over it. Ease your weight down.”

The Bingtown woman obeyed her, letting out a small squeak as the log initially sank under her weight. She lowered her other foot and stood, arms outstretched like a bird trying to dry its wings after a storm. No sooner was her weight off the dragon than Sintara made a lunge to try to get her front leg over the log that Sylve was weighing down. The dragon’s abrupt movement sent the whole debris pack to rocking. Alise cried out but swayed with the motion, keeping her balance. Thymara, bereft of pride, crouched and then sat on the log. “Lower your weight!” she suggested to Alise. “We can crawl along the logs until we reach a place where things are a bit more stable.”

“I can balance,” the Bingtown woman replied, and although her voice shook a bit, she kept her upright stance.

“As you wish,” Thymara replied. “I’m crawling.” She suspected that her many years’ experience in the treetops had taught her not to take risks unless she had to. She scuttled along the log to its widest end, where its snaggled roots reared up out of the river. There she stood, catching hold of the roots. Tats had preceded her. He now gave her a sideways glance and offered, “I’ll show you the way I came out here. Parts of this mat are thicker than others.”

“Thank you,” she replied and waited for Alise to catch up with her, gathering up the slackened sash as she came. She glanced back at Sintara, feeling a bit guilty that she was letting Sylve do the work of caring for her dragon. The small girl moved confidently, instructing the dragon in what she wished her to do. Thymara sighed with relief. She could handle it.

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