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.
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DRAGON CHILD – Part 4
Chapter 8 – Threat
One month later. The royal palace at Rose
A breathless scout waited impatiently for the throne room doors to open. His message was urgent, every minute counting, but his arrival in the very early morning was long before the court began its work for the day. The scout cared only about his duty, even if it meant rousing the king from his bed. A rattle of locks and bars on the other side had him dancing from foot to foot, eager to deliver his message at the earliest possible moment.
The doorman appeared wearing an annoyed scowl and ushered the scout into the opulent throne room on the other side. Ignoring the formalities, King Augustus motioned the man forward and took the parchment from his extended hand. As he read the message, all blood drained from his face and he stood to shout orders.
“Send for the Minister of War and my commanders at once!”
Servants scattered and the palace sprang to life as word spread. Soon, the king and his ministers were assembled in an inner chamber to hear the scout’s message firsthand.
“I have ridden all night from the southern district, Your Majesty. An army from the kingdom of Thorn is advancing toward our borders. We estimate they will arrive three days hence with forces twice our size. Spies have determined they intend to capture the mines and then advance on the Royal Palace. I have dispatched an alert to Commander Kersen at Wort to await your orders.”
Augustus blanched as the ministers around him reacted to the news with worried exclamations, shouts of indignation, and useless claims of superior forces. The babble rose and fell around him as he struggled to find an answer – one he must find if the kingdom were to survive. The mention of Wort brought to mind the fantastic stories reported to him regarding the half-dragon boy from Orchid. The arrival of the dragons was too late to save his father, but if the stories were true and the child could communicate with them…
The room quieted instantly as the assembled military experts stopped talking long enough to listen to their monarch.
“Our forces are not strong enough to repel an army of this size. We need outside help and we need it now. If the dragons will help us, we have a chance.”
The absolute impossibility of the king’s pronouncement stunned the assembly into silence. As was his duty, the Minister of War was forced to point out the flaw in His Majesty’s idea.
“Your Highness, the dragons have shown no interest in human affairs since their arrival. In addition we have no way to communicate with them and no guarantee they would help us even if we could. I fail to see how this idea will be of any help.”
Augustus hid a small smile before standing. Out of respect, the others rose along with him.
“I have information which may prove your assumptions incorrect. I require the assistance of my secretary and the fastest rider available. Meanwhile, assemble our men at the southern border and prepare for a traditional engagement. I want your plans in place by the time I return.”
Summoned to the capital by the king’s messenger, Commander Kersen moved quickly to prepare for the journey. He cursed silently, wondering what good his presence at Rose was going to do when the ones he needed to talk to were only a few hours away at Orchid. Additionally, if enemy forces intended to capture the mines, his place was here and not traipsing around the royal palace! Unfortunately, his duty was to obey and not question.
It was obvious the king intended to seek the dragons help in their defense, even if he were going about it the wrong way. If it were possible to bring Croft, the NestMaster, and King Augustus together, they could finally talk face to face. Whatever the dragons eventually decided, they must act within the next few days or all would be lost. They needed more time and didn’t have it!
An urgent knocking interrupted Kersen as he finished up his preparations to leave. His second in command, Findlay, blurted out the message as soon as the door was opened.
“The dragon rider is here again, Sir. I thought you should know.”
This was exactly what he needed, and Kersen thanked heaven even as he responded.
“Collect my things and join me with the dragon. Hurry man, we have no time to waste.”
Kersen followed a confused Findlay out of the barracks and into the warm sunshine. A quick glance told him where Rueloo and Croft were perched, watching the miners process ore. As soon as he was close enough, Kersen called to Croft, asking permission to approach. The miners and nearby soldiers were astonished at the commander’s bravery, watching curiously as he stood at the dragon’s feet and spoke to the rider. After a few minutes, Kersen turned to find Findlay waiting nervously with his things and broke off his discussion with Croft.
“Findlay, I am on a special mission for His Majesty and will be leaving shortly. You are in command until instructed otherwise. I need you to send a message to the king via carrier pigeon as soon as I’ve gone.”
Kersen dictated the short message, asking Findlay to repeat it back to him to assure accuracy. The poor man was incredibly confused, yet trusted Kersen implicitly. He handed over the saddlebags, along with the commander’s heavy cloak and watched in shock as the dragon lowered itself to the ground so the man could climb on behind the small rider. Moments later they were airborne, headed south. Findlay called his officers together and briefed them concerning the change in command.
“Commander Kersen is engaged in the king’s business and I have a message to send. Prepare the men – we are now on high alert. Dismissed.”
Riding a dragon was a game for the young, Kersen decided, and his old bones protested vigorously as he dismounted in the NestMaster’s valley. The trip by air was much shorter than it would have been by horse and he’d actually enjoyed most of it after his stomach settled down. None of that was important now as Kersen was introduced to the midnight-black dragon leader. The creature was enormous and beautiful in the same way a fine weapon was both elegant and lethal. Kersen swallowed hard and looked up at the green-eyed beast as he spoke, Croft at his side to translate.
It took some time for the NestMaster to understand the concepts of human warfare and the threat to Croft’s group of humans. When the dragon asked where the enemy forces were coming from, Kersen told him it was from the kingdom of Thorn, a desert area to the south and many days travel. The dragon instantly became agitated, ominous growling accompanied by dark billowing smoke. Croft listened, head cocked to the side, before turning to explain that the aggressive humans at Thorn were the reason the dragons moved here years ago. The NestMaster finally asked Kersen what he wanted him to do.
“We do not have enough soldiers to fight them and need your help. If we lose, they will destroy our kingdom and be a danger to you once again. The gifts of gold and animals will stop, as they will not be willing to share them as we do. I beg you to travel with us to see our leader, King Augustus, and find a way to stop the enemy before they reach these mountains.”
Kersen was met with an uncomfortable silence. Croft told him the dragons were talking and would give him an answer when they were finished. While they waited, Kersen suggested they bring along Captain Dane as well, and Croft thought it was a wonderful idea. Before long, the great beast gave his answer.
“I will come.”
Chapter 9 – Battle
The palace at Rose
Thanks to Kersen’s quick thinking, the messenger pigeon arrived before he did. Being forewarned of a dragon’s imminent arrival, the palace was ready to receive their unorthodox guest without panic. Though queen Nelia insisted on witnessing the event, Augustus was uncertain she could withstand the strain of a face to face meeting. It was true neither he nor his ministers had ever personally encountered one of the beasts, even if the king was eager for the experience.
Added to the state of affairs was an even greater unknown – the child. How could they place the survival of the kingdom, the only link between human and dragon, in the hands of a young half-breed boy? Desperate times called for desperate measures, it was said, and this situation certainly qualified.
Warning trumpets sounded, heralding the dragon’s approach, and the entire welcoming party rushed out to the great lawn to meet them. Instead of one dragon as expected, there were five, with an enormous black beast in the center of the formation. The black one carried a single uniformed passenger while a smaller blue dragon carried a child and an adult. The beasts circled the palace once before coming in for a graceful landing, powerful downdrafts buffeting the waiting hosts.
The king recognized Kersen instantly, but he’d never met the other man and child. The three dismounted and approached, bowing before the king and a flustered queen. The dragons remained where they were, watching the humans warily with green and gold eyes. Augustus addressed his human visitors without delay.
“I received your unorthodox message, Kersen, and am impressed with your actions today. You are to be commended. Now, who do we have here?”
Dane and Croft stepped forward. Both king and queen gasped lightly as they got a good look at the strange boy, schooling their faces quickly into pleasantly neutral expressions.
“I am Captain Dane, of Your Majesty’s forces in Orchid. This is my son, Croft.”
“Welcome to Rose, Captain. Hello, Croft. Would you be so kind as to introduce me to the dragons?”
Croft looked up at Dane, pleased to have been called the man’s son, and received an encouraging nod. He’d been practicing his words on the way here, wanting to make a good first impression.
“Of coursse, your majessty.”
Careful with his claws, and totally ignorant of royal protocol, Croft grasped the queen’s hand on one side and king’s on the other and led them towards the waiting dragons. He stopped first before the beautiful blue-scaled creature.
“Thiss iss Rueloo. My dragon. Sshe will want to ssniff, but sshe won’t hurt you.”
The king, face to face with a real dragon at last, stood still while Rueloo inhaled his scent. The queen, pale and shaking, muttered a whispered phrase he’d often heard.
“Saints above, I shall swoon!”
Fortunately, she didn’t, and Croft took them to stand before the mighty black beast.
“Thiss iss Wheet, the NesstMasster.”
Wheet lowered his head to scent them quickly and then spoke directly to Croft for a moment. The boy nodded, explaining to the royals that the dragons were very hungry after the long flight, and needed to eat, drink and rest before they talked. Without hesitation, the king ordered cattle be led to the fields next to his private lake. Croft explained where to find the food and they were airborne in moments with a promise to return.
Meanwhile, the humans were brought indoors for their own supper, and with a slight rearrangement at the table, Croft was seated between the king and queen. Directly across from them were Dane and Kersen, both beaming with pride at the boy’s performance so far. Conversation revolved around the dragons, of course, and Croft enjoyed answering questions about his life among them.
The actual negotiations took very little time, as Wheet was more than willing to help the kingdom defeat the onerous humans from Thorn. Afterwards, Croft was kept very busy relaying questions, instructions, and battle plans, even though he had to ask for his own explanation of things in terms he could understand. The Minister of War was very patient with the boy, not allowing anyone to berate or embarrass him unless they wanted to be banished from the room.
Wheet and Rueloo, on the other hand, interacted with Croft from an open balcony, which happened to be at head height. It required a lot of back and forth, but eventually the plans came together to everyone’s satisfaction. By the end of the night, all were exhausted, and the dragons retreated to the lakeshore, including Croft, who snuggled up against Rueloo’s warm belly.
Their departure in the morning was bittersweet. Augustus and Nelia had grown very fond of Croft and showered him with presents. Wheet, eager to erase the threat and get things back to normal, asked the king if the gifts of food and gold would continue and he was assured they would. All they could do now was wait for the enemy forces to reach the agreed upon spot just south of the border. The kingdom held its collective breath; their future depending on an untested alliance with the dragons and a young boy.
Thousands of Thorn soldiers marched confidently across the flat arid plains which were only now giving way to trees and green grasses. Nothing, they believed, could stop them from taking the arrogant little kingdom of Spiredale, and its riches, for themselves. Their only concern was the report of dragons in the nearby mountains, but once the kingdom was under their heel, they, too, would be driven out.
At the sound of trumpets, the Thorn forces looked to the horizon and saw the pitifully small Spiredale army assembled on a small rise, green and gold banners fluttering in the breeze. The signal was given to draw weapons, and the heavily armed soldiers prepared themselves for the slaughter. As they advanced, Spiredale’s troops remained curiously dormant, as though they had no need for defense. Victory seemed assured as the distance between them shrank steadily and nothing happened.
Suddenly, the very ground beneath them began to shake. Behind the Spiredale forces, an ominous cloud of dust billowed upwards into the sky until out of it emerged – dragons! One after another, the nightmare beasts flew towards the Thorn army, punctuating the air with roars of rage. Surprise gave way to dismay and panic as the frightened men hid under their shields or broke ranks to run. Down the center of the formation, the dragons pelted the enemy with heavy rocks, leaving smashed bodies and confusion in their wake.
Behind them, the Spiredale army poured into the opening, splitting the enemy forces down the middle. On either side, the dragons regrouped to rake the Thorn soldiers with gouts of fire and smoke. The smell of cooked flesh filled the air as the soldiers scattered, looking for somewhere to hide. Overwhelmed and outnumbered, the enemy continued to fall as the battle reached its peak. By fire or by sword, their numbers dwindled steadily until the two forces were more evenly matched.
To protect their friends from the flames, the dragons landed, using their powerful tails to sweep large numbers of the enemy aside. Those who were not killed outright became easy pickings for the uninjured Spiredale soldiers. Seeking escape, many of Thorn’s men tried to retreat the way they came, but it was to no avail. More dragons appeared from the south carrying massive tree trunks in their powerful talons.
Swooping in low to the ground, the trunks were released with enough speed and momentum to mow down the fleeing soldiers. Great swaths of men, bowled over and crushed, lay strewn like fall leaves, spattered with crimson. Those who escaped the rolling trunks were finished off with flame until none were left standing. Minutes later, the battle was effectively over and Spiredale’s men spread out over the battlefield to dispatch the grievously wounded.
With the dragons help, the soldiers gathered the bodies into a great heap. The tree trunks were used as kindling for a mighty funeral pyre and the air filled with stench and roiling smoke. It was decided to leave the battlefield as it was – serving as a gruesome warning to anyone foolish enough to attack them in the future. By order of the king, ten of Thorn’s surviving soldiers were sent back home to give a first-person account of their harrowing defeat. The message was clear – anyone with a covetous eye on Spiredale would pay a heavy price.
At last, the kingdom was at peace.
The victory was celebrated in every town, village, and household in the kingdom. Bards began spreading stories about the dragons, the battle, and about Croft – their new hero. There was some initial confusion among the people about what to call the strange dragon/human child. The problem was neatly solved by a clever minstrel who christened him as the first Draman, and the name stuck.
With the new relationship between nest and kingdom came splendid changes. Fear of the mighty beasts was replaced with respect and friendship as the dragons began patrolling the skies above Spiredale. At Rose, special quarters were arranged for them, since they visited often with Croft to confer with the monarch. News of the partnership quickly spread to the surrounding kingdoms, resulting in chastened delegations of peace-seekers.
Not long after the battle, Commander Kersen retired from the king’s service and his post at Wort was offered to Captain Dane. He respectfully declined the promotion, preferring to remain in Orchid and close to Croft. The villagers, no longer afraid of the boy’s appearance, showed the Draman great kindness. He and Rueloo became popular visitors, especially among children who wanted to touch the dragon or hear her sing.
After her eggs hatched, Croft enjoyed an immediate connection to his nestmates; a bond as close to siblings as he would ever get. Visits to the village now became a family affair, and the dragonlets were taught how to play, carefully, with the human children.
In early fall, Croft and Rueloo were summoned to the palace to confer with the king. While the church usually dealt with homeless children, Augustus wanted to establish an orphan house in Orchid and train the youngsters to work with the dragons. Any who chose to become Draman could also be schooled to serve the court or in the military. Wheet agreed with the idea and soon Croft found himself surrounded by eager students, excited to learn dragon ways.
Before the first snow, Croft was approached by Echo and one of the girls his age named Sabina. It seemed the time had come for the first Draman to welcome the second.