Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!
Beginning today, I am very excited to share with my blog readers a four-part novelette entitled Dragon Child. This FREE story won’t be found anywhere else, and you get to see it first!
The kingdom of Spiredale, known for it’s reserves of gold and a nest of dragons, is also home to a little orphan boy named Croft. When his curiosity leads to a life changing encounter, he becomes the endangered kingdom’s only chance for survival. Will Croft lose the only home he’s ever known or is this the beginning of something new? Dragon Child.
Dragon Child by Alexander Elliott
First Edition Copyright © 2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written permission of the author. This includes any means whether electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system. UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION OR DISTRIBUTION OF THIS COPYRIGHTED WORK IS ILLEGAL AND SUBJECT TO PUNISHMENT BY LAW.
For permissions and other inquiries, contact Alexander Elliott at email@example.com
****DRAGON CHILD – PART 1****
For generations, the small unassuming kingdom of Spiredale provided a comfortable life for its citizens. Fertile farmland surrounded the handful of towns and villages, all within a day’s travel from the centrally located royal palace at Rose. To the west lay the majestic Great Peak Mountains, while the Talon Sea, an enormous fresh water lake, formed the northern border. It was only in recent years, following the discovery of gold, that Spiredale attracted any unwanted attention.
Its beleaguered monarch spent the majority of his reign fending off attacks from neighboring kingdoms, intent on claiming Spiredale’s riches for themselves. The latest battle had almost been their undoing, and it was only the onset of an early spring snowstorm which turned the tide in their favor. Wounded in the fighting, the king succumbed to his injuries even as the tattered army regrouped to protect the royal family.
Their new king, Augustus, barely made it through his coronation when the dragons arrived. The frightened citizenry watched in awe as the enormous beasts made their appearance en masse and headed for the mountains. Apparently there to stay, they left the populace of Spiredale unmolested; however, the same couldn’t be said for their animals. Soon, the king was besieged with reports of picked-over herds and missing horses, along with demands he do something about it.
Communication with the great beasts was impossible and fighting them pointless. Even so, Augustus came up with a plan to pacify his new neighbors. Dragons were well known for their voracious appetites and a strange fondness for gold. Fortunately for Spiredale, the kingdom was surrounded by fertile fields and contained an abundance of gold ore. By royal proclamation, the king expanded the mines in the north and established large herds of red-back cattle, sheep, and goats.
The village of Orchid became the official transfer point for regular deliveries of processed gold and feed animals. Every seven days, near sunset, soldiers escorted the gifts to a secluded valley near the village and then waited outside the moveable gates until the dragons arrived. Swooping down on powerful wings, they enjoyed their meal and snatched up the heavy leather pouches of precious metal. In minutes, the valley was picked clean amid a cacophony of song-like whistles and calls, and the dragons returned to their nest high in the mountains.
The powerful creatures quickly understood what the humans were doing and settled into a regular routine. During daylight hours, the dragons generally kept to their mountain territory while the humans avoided any activity which might disturb them. The king’s foresight paid off, resulting in both riches and security. No one, it seemed, was foolish enough to invade or attack Spiredale with the mighty fire-breathers close at hand, finally leaving the kingdom in peace.
In the course of time, the people became complacent with the relationship and were, therefore, unprepared for the changes wrought by a single curious child.
Chapter 1: Croft
Ten years later, near the village of Orchid
The shipment was late. Dane, Captain of the Royal Guard, watched the road for the tell-tale dust cloud which always accompanied the regiment from the mines at Wort. The weekly allotment of gold was known for its punctual arrival, despite elaborate measures taken to ensure its safe delivery. Attempts to steal it by force were increasing, even with the kingdom’s formidable protectors living next door.
While the surrounding nations knew about the dragons, they were rarely seen and never attacked anyone, friend or foe. Their mere presence was no longer enough to frighten away Spiredale’s enemies, putting their mining operations at risk and resulting in ever-increasing border skirmishes. With deep regret, the king was forced to conscript soldiers for his growing army. The people grumbled about making even more sacrifices and wondered why the dragons did not help them.
Orchid, nestled in the foothills of the Great Peak Mountains, served as the transfer point for the gold and feed stock the kingdom provided for the dragons. The village itself was nothing out of the ordinary, except for being situated near a wide valley with a narrow opening at one end. The seclusion not only prevented the animals from escaping, it kept the villagers from panicking when the mighty beasts descended from their mountain nest to receive their gifts.
Wondering if the regiment had been attacked, Dane was prepared to send out a scout when the soldiers reached the last turn in the road in a billow of dust and the rattle of heavy wagon wheels. He and his men waited where they were, eager to secure the gold and entertain their guests with a hearty meal and the latest news from the palace.
Dane shifted part of his attention to their immediate surroundings, making sure no one and nothing was out of place. Kersen, the regiment’s commander, was an exacting man as well as Dane’s superior, and it was a point of pride to meet his rigorous standards. At their current pace, it would take them several minutes to arrive, leaving Dane to ruminate on the events of this morning.
Croft, the little boy he was looking after, pleaded with him to watch today’s shipment arrive. As he was told every week, the answer was “no”. Croft argued, of course, and while Dane found it difficult to deny him the experience, the event was no place for a child. Six months ago, the youngster was found sleeping in the garrison stables; dressed in rags, thin as a rail, and akin to a wild animal. Dane, an unmarried career soldier, knew little about raising children but didn’t have the heart to turn the boy away.
Since then, Croft accepted the captain as an authority figure and was taught to earn his keep in exchange for a soft bed and warm meals. Nothing was known of the boy’s parents, where he came from, or even his exact age. Nonetheless, the poor urchin needed someone to care for him and teach him how to interact properly with others. Unfortunately, the boy remained incredibly stubborn and insatiably curious about two things: soldiering and dragons. Hence his desire to witness the gold’s arrival, despite being told it was a soldiers-only event.
Dane’s affectionate frustration did not prevent him from securing a promise from Croft he would not be found on the road when the regiment arrived. Sullen and defiant, the child unsuccessfully tried to hide a small smile as he left to do his chores, and it was this which troubled Dane now that the moment was here. He’d been outfoxed by the boy before, so was relieved to see no sign of him as Commander Kersen made his final approach.
With only yards to go, the procession stopped with a cry of alarm from one of Kersen’s men. A dozen soldiers drew their weapons, surrounding a gnarled oak tree by the side of the road. Looking up into its branches, a shouted command broke the muffled expressions of surprise from both sides.
“You there! Get down here before I bring you down on the end of my sword!”
Dane’s men, angry to have missed someone in their security sweep, mumbled curses as they waited for the miscreant to reach the ground. Finally, in a flutter of falling leaves, Croft let go of the final branch and stood before the disbelieving soldiers with a smug smile on his face.
Dane groaned, urging his horse forward in the wake of his men’s quiet laughter. Croft hung his head in a feeble attempt to look repentant and waited to see what the captain would do. Angry and disappointed, Dane dismounted and approached the small group, stopping in front of the boy.
“Your disobedience could have ended very badly today. These men might have mistaken you for a common thief and spilled your blood. What are you doing here, Croft?”
A small, infuriating, smile returned as he looked Dane in the eye.
“You said I couldn’t be on the road, so I climbed the tree instead. I wasn’t going to rob anybody, Captain. I just wanted to watch.”
By this time, Commander Kersen joined them, overhearing the verbal exchange. The usual scowl on his face was softened by a strange warmth Dane had never seen before.
“Allow me to handle this, Captain, if you will.”
The commander lowered himself to one knee and gave Croft an appraising look which caused him to shuffle nervously from foot to foot. Finally, the man spoke.
“The first lesson a future soldier must learn is to obey his superior officer. If you want to be in the king’s service one day, young man, you must be obedient right here at home.”
Croft drew encouragement from Kersen’s demeanor.
“Yes, Sir, Commander. I’ll do better, I promise.”
Kersen nodded and continued speaking.
“Very well, master Croft. You owe Captain Dane an apology for your misconduct and for embarrassing him in front of his men. Lastly, we must address your punishment.”
Croft’s eyes widened, wondering exactly what the kindly stranger had in mind. He turned to Dane, and this time he truly did look repentant.
“I’m sorry, Captain. I… I didn’t mean to get you into trouble.”
Croft’s carefully worded apology, it was noted, did not include a promise of future obedience. Commander Kersen continued.
“If I understand correctly, you are quite fond of watching the dragons feed. Perhaps it will encourage future obedience if you are confined to your bed after dinner instead. You were very lucky not to have been hurt or killed today, son. You would do well to think on these things during your punishment.”
Croft sagged in disappointment. The highlight of his week was accompanying Dane and the soldiers to watch the dragons receive their allotment of food and gold. His dragon, the one with bluish scales and three big horns whom he’d named Rueloo, wouldn’t understand why he wasn’t there to watch and wave as he’d been doing for months now. It wasn’t fair!
Noting the child’s expression, Commander Kersen glanced over at Dane and winked conspiratorially before finishing their discussion.
“Good. Now that we have things settled, I require the company of master Croft as we finish our journey. I believe there are several dragon stories I could share with him during dinner as well. What do you say young man?”
Croft’s expression brightened considerably, a wide smile on his eager face.
“Oh, yes, Sir! May I, Captain?”
Dane bent over to rustle the mop of dark curls on the boy’s head.
“Commander Kersen has been very generous with you, Croft. I trust you will be on your very best behavior?”
Croft readily agreed and turned to follow Kersen back to his horse. Before Dane could get away, Kersen leaned over to whisper an explanation.
“I have five grandchildren back home. Often, a little honey with the vinegar goes a long way.”
Dane shook his head, chuckling as he mounted his horse and led the regiment to the barracks. He’d not only learned a valuable lesson about correcting a child, but tonight’s dinner should prove much more interesting than usual.
Chapter 2: Rueloo
Meanwhile, high in the Great Peak Mountains
It was near sunset on gifting day and the dragon Croft called Rueloo was busy looking after her eggs. Her precious ones, all four of them, were arranged together in the center of a circular pile of glow-ore and the pure nuggets the humans provided. A casual glance told her some of it was nearly exhausted of its power and needed to be replaced. Distracted by her human, she’d missed snatching one of the pouches of nuggets for several gifting days in a row. Not tonight. She was determined to take care of her nest first and if it caused her to miss a meal, she would do some hunting later or wait until morning to feed.
Her private nest was located in a natural cavern high up the craggy mountainside, with a nearby exit which faced the human valley. Unlike her elders and peers, she spent much of her time watching the two-legged creatures, pondering how they lived and worked. Their strange mouth sounds meant nothing, leaving her to learn by observation. The NestMaster thought her foolish for wasting effort on the puny beings living on the flatlands near their mountain home. In his opinion, nothing useful could come of it.
Rueloo considered how she might make contact with the small human who put a moving limb up in the air whenever she flew close. She did not want to harm or scare the hatchling, and it was always surrounded by the larger humans who carried sharp blades. It made sense, she supposed, for them to protect their young ones just as she would.
Picking through the various pieces of glow-ore, Rueloo carefully removed the spent ones and chivied others in to replace them. While the mountains in which they now lived held many veins of the precious substance, it was an arduous process to dig from the surrounding rock and carry to the nest. When the humans started providing powerful nuggets of pure glow-ore, it meant far less time and effort and allowed more of her kind to create nests of their own. The ore’s power was essential if their eggs were to develop properly, and the time it took for them to hatch was greatly reduced.
The blue-scaled beast sensed the great light in the sky was close to disappearing and turned to bathe the nest with a warm blast of fire and smoke. If all went according to plan, she would be returning soon with a supply of fresh ore, and if she moved quickly, might also get to see her human. She followed the fading light to the wide opening and leapt off the precipice, spreading her wings as she drifted down towards the valley below.
Except for moonlight spilling in through the open window, Croft’s comfortable room remained in deep shadow. Fully dressed, he lay quietly on his bed, considering everything he and Commander Kersen talked about today. Though he thought the old man would be grumpy and harsh, he was actually very kind – even if he insisted Croft must take his punishment. The dragon stories heard during dinner were exciting first-hand accounts of the commander’s own experiences with the great beasts.
Most of the people who said they knew about dragons were only telling stories they heard from someone else. Not Commander Kersen. He’d encountered dragons many times, far more than anyone else Croft knew about. Once, he’d been hunting and was about to take down a stag when a dragon swooped in from nowhere and grabbed the animal in its sharp talons. Though it frightened him, he was able to get a good look at the crimson beast and felt the downdraft from its wings as it flew off with the prize.
The next encounter was on the day of King Augustus’ coronation in the capital city of Rose – the same day the dragons first arrived to live in the mountains. As the king and queen waved to the cheering crowd, great shadows crisscrossed the grounds and everyone looked up to see the dragons flying by overhead. Queen Nelia fainted and the king’s crown tumbled off his head as he reached out to catch her.
Not long after, Commander Kersen was assigned to lead the regiment protecting the mines at Wort. There, it was not uncommon for a dragon to land nearby and watch the miners and smelters do their work. They never interfered or hurt anyone, though they did occasionally take some of the pack animals or make off with the larger boulders of ore. Eventually, their presence became commonplace and everyone learned to continue with their tasks. The commander told Croft he was certain they were very intelligent and wished for some way to communicate with them.
The stories both excited and discouraged the boy. He’d always wanted to see a dragon up close, touch their scales, or even ride one up into the sky. If he could get close enough, he was sure he could figure out how to talk to them, too. Just as Croft was about to slip into a dream-filled sleep, he heard the familiar musical song of his dragon. Rueloo!
Croft quickly rolled off the cot and went to the open window to listen. His beautiful dragon made a very distinct, high-pitched, undulating cry when she came near which sounded like someone shouting “Rue!” “Loo!” over and over. She must be looking for him and he wasn’t there! With his heart pounding, Croft made a decision. He was going to the valley and see if Rueloo would visit him after the others left. With Dane and the soldiers away from the barracks, he could sneak out and be back long before they would even realize he was gone.
With no fear of the dark and experience moving around at night, Croft slipped out of the window and scampered into the thick woods. With any luck, he would get there just as the soldiers were leaving. No one ever went out into the valley after dark, especially on a feed night like this one. All he needed to do was catch Rueloo’s attention, something he’d worry about when he reached the valley.
To be continued…