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! Today features Part 2, so be sure to go back to last week’s post if you missed it.
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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.
Chapter 3: Rescue
As hoped, Rueloo managed to acquire a pouch of nuggets and carry the heavy burden back to her nest. While pleased to have the glow-ore, she was unhappy to have missed her human. After several close passes, she gave up trying to spot the little one and went in search of something to eat. The four-legged antlered ones were fond of drinking from the stream at the far end of the valley, and it was there she found her prey.
With a full belly, Rueloo decided to make one last pass over the moonlit valley before returning to her nest. It was then she heard a strange sound and turned her head to focus on it. One of the humans was imitating her unique call. This was something new, demanding she investigate further. She glided lower and caught sight of the source – it was her human! The hatchling stood alone in small patch of scrubby grass, looking up into the sky, calling for her.
Unfortunately, the young one did not see the ferocious mountain cat which was stalking nearby, ready to pounce. The beasts were dangerous and hard to kill, and her human would not survive without help. She pulled in her wings for a steep dive and whooshed silently past the young one to pelt the cat with a lash of fire and smoke. The beast roared in pain and confusion, turning away from its prey to face the new threat.
Rueloo landed with a ground-shaking thud and charged the cat at full speed, hoping the little one was safely out of the way. Sharp spines covered the cat’s head and back, making a frontal assault difficult. Rueloo unleashed another gout of flame, blinding the enraged predator as she lowered her head to gore its soft underside. The cat turned as she made contact, cutting a deep gash in her right foreleg as she flipped the animal over and clawed its belly open in one smooth stroke. With a final groan, the cat lay still in the grass, no longer her concern.
Her leg bled freely and pained her as she turned to look for the human. Careful not to frighten the young one, the dragon quietly coaxed the two-leg out with her musical call. She could smell the hatchling now, a distinct odor which could not be mistaken for anything else. Her sharp ears heard its deep breathing and the rustle of tall grass as it made its way cautiously towards her. She lay on the soft ground so as not to tower over the small human and lowered her head, yellow eyes gleaming with delight when it stepped into the clear.
Making mouth noises, the little one came closer with an outstretched limb the humans used for grasping. It was pale, without claws, and looked both smooth and harmless. Instinct took over and Rueloo flicked her forked tongue across the strange warm flesh for a taste. The human jumped back, emitting a series of high pitched noises. It didn’t seem frightened and moved closer once more to gently touch Rueloo’s wide, flat snout.
The odd sensation was actually pleasant in a way; her scales gently stroked while avoiding the sharp spikes elsewhere on Rueloo’s face. The human lowered the limb and looked behind her at the remains of the dead cat. More mouth noises followed and then a quick inhalation of breath as the young one spotted her bleeding forelimb. The mouth sounds changed now, and Rueloo was certain the human was unhappy. She watched in confusion as it removed some of its outer covering and crouched down to wrap her wound.
Though the gash pained her, it would heal quickly enough during the night with the powerful fresh glow-ore waiting in her nest. The human would not know this, of course, but it seemed to want to help. She crooned to it while it secured the covering and pulled back to wipe her blood from its grasping limbs on the soft grass. Amid more mouth noises and gestures she finally understood it was taking leave of her to return to its nest, just as she needed to do.
After several steps toward the trees, the human turned and made the now familiar gesture which seemed to indicate farewell. Rueloo called quietly to it in response and leapt into the air, intent on watching the hatchling from above until it reached its nest safely. Once it did, the contented dragon hurried back to her mountain home and her precious eggs.
Croft couldn’t stop smiling, shaking with excitement as he made his way through the woods. He’d finally met his dragon! Nearly being eaten by a razorcat frightened him badly, but then Rueloo swept down and rescued him. She’d been hurt doing it, and Croft hoped his efforts to bandage her leg would help a little, though for some odd reason his hands felt strangely warm and tingly. Eventually, his missing cloak would be noticed and he would have to make up a convincing explanation of how he lost it.
Every so often he looked up to see Rueloo’s silhouette in the moonlight, convinced the dragon was still protecting him. He didn’t know how or when, but he was determined to see his friend again soon. If only there were someone he could tell about his adventure! It couldn’t be the captain, for he would forbid any more contact with the dragon, saying it was too dangerous. While the man was very kind to him, and he was treated well, there were so many rules to follow it made Croft’s head hurt.
The barracks were close now, and Croft remained hidden in the trees as he watched carefully for the sentry. He waited until the soldier was out of sight and then made a quick dash for his open window, lifting himself up and into the room. When Croft turned around, it wasn’t the lit candle he noticed first. On his cot sat the captain, waiting for him with a troubled expression and a switch. The whipping didn’t last long, and Croft’s bottom and legs stung fiercely when the punishment was over.
Instead of a long lecture, the captain pulled the boy into his lap and held him until he finished crying. Finally, the man spoke.
“You disobeyed me twice today and wandering about at night is dangerous. Where did you go, Croft? To see the dragons?”
Croft merely nodded his head, prompting a deep sigh from the captain.
“It was already dark and the dragons go back to the mountains as soon as they finish feeding. You know this, Croft. Was it just to defy me? Your punishments are meant to teach you something and there are reasons for the rules I set. I want to keep you safe and see that you grow up knowing right from wrong. You must learn to obey me if you wish to remain here. Do you understand?”
Croft answered him, relieved the man didn’t know what he’d really been doing.
“Yes, Sir. I’ll try to do better.”
Dane grunted, knowing this oft-repeated promise would soon be broken. He stood and instructed the boy to wash up and get into bed. The hour was late and they both had responsibilities awaiting them when the sun rose. Perhaps tomorrow would provide a fresh start.
Chapter 4: Trouble
Croft woke with a start, hands throbbing and hot, and his hair soaked with sweat. The darkness of the room meant it wasn’t yet morning and he realized he’d only been dreaming of dragons. Afterimages of Rueloo fighting the razorcat flickered through his mind, along with other things which seemed so real: caves, huge speckled eggs atop piles of gold, dragons of all colors, and flying high above the village.
Croft turned on his side in an attempt to get more comfortable but it only increased the pain in his hands. Instead, he rose from the cot to relieve himself and get a drink of water, swaying dizzily as he’d seen some men do when they had too much wine. Croft stumbled back to the cot and was soon asleep once more, mind awash with dragons.
When Croft failed to appear for breakfast, Dane found him feverish with hands swollen and hot to the touch. When the healer arrived, he mixed a foul-tasting tonic for Croft to drink and advised cool cloths to help abate the fever. He was uncertain what might have caused the other symptoms, having never seen anything like it before.
Dane brought in a chair so he could sit with the boy for a while. Before long he would have to join his men as they escorted the regiment to the village borders on their way back to Wort. Meanwhile, the child thrashed in his sleep, mumbling about dragons and razorcats. Coincidentally, his men reported finding an eviscerated razorcat in the valley this morning, evidently killed by a dragon. Could Croft have witnessed the deadly encounter?
Dane rinsed and replaced the cool cloth on Croft’s forehead before stepping out of the room. His official duties wouldn’t take very long and then he could arrange to have someone keep an eye on the boy until evening. The worry was an unwelcome distraction, yet the child’s welfare was his responsibility now and he was forced to admit he loved Croft. This was part of what it meant to be a parent, he supposed, and the trials of the last six months faded into insignificance in the face of illness – or worse.
Rueloo’s sleep was interrupted once more by strange thoughts not her own: pain, confusion, fear, longing. They could only be one thing – human thoughts. Her human. But how? There was no denying a unique connection to the young one, even if she had never heard of such a thing happening before. She was certain something was wrong, yet unsure what to do about it. The NestMaster, much older and wiser, must be consulted, though she would probably be chided for interacting with the human in the first place.
The NestMaster lived at the center of their range near a wide, sheltered vale which served as a meeting place for their kind. When Rueloo arrived, she found the ancient one resting near the stream, age-blackened scales shining in the sun. As she landed, he lifted his head, sniffing the air for clues even as dark green eyes studied his visitor. They exchanged greetings and she waited respectfully for him to speak.
“Your fire burns hot. What has disturbed you?”
“Something is wrong with my human, NestMaster, and I do not know what should be done.”
A deep rumble of annoyance accompanied the smoke curling from the NestMaster’s snout.
“Your human? I see you have ignored my warnings. What trouble have you brought to the Nest?”
Rueloo shared her encounter of the previous day, as well as the strange thoughts and images now plaguing her mind. While the NestMaster listened carefully, she noticed his unspoken surprise, disappointment, and anger. He wasted no time responding.
“Our legends speak of this, but it has not happened in my time or to our nest. The tending of your wound has exposed the human to your blood and its power. If it survives, you will be forever bonded and it will become more like us. It may be best if you do nothing and allow the young one to end.”
Rueloo’s anger and disbelief stoked her fire and she momentarily forgot to whom she was speaking.
“I will not! The hatchling needs my help and I will give it. Tell me what to do.”
Despite his disappointment in her carelessness, the NestMaster recognized her loyalty and responsibility toward the young human. Though he was certain this would end badly, it was his duty to advise her.
“The humans will not thank you for your intervention, and we risk losing the gifts they bring. Once you act, it must be explained to the others. You may have to leave this nest.”
At that moment, Rueloo’s only concern was saving her human.
“I understand, NestMaster. What can be done?”
“Bring the young hatchling to us. The power of the glow-ore is its only hope.”
Rueloo bowed her head, thanked the NestMaster, and rose into the sky to retrieve her human. It would be difficult to do without the others seeing her, but it was a risk she was willing to take.
END of part two. Continue reading with part three!