Dragon Valley – Draman at Home is the second book in a series of fantasy novelettes. Today’s installment picks up where we left off last week (read it HERE). This FREE serialized story won’t be found anywhere else, and you get to see it first!
Through his blood bond with a dragon, Croft becomes the first Draman – able to communicate directly with the mighty mountain beasts. Now, King Augustus wants to create a new home for orphans who may serve both the kingdom and the nest. As construction begins, Croft’s disturbing past threatens to undo their carefully laid plans. Will the grand experiment end before it even starts? Find out in Dragon Valley!
Dragon Valley 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.
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DRAGON VALLEY – PART 2
The next day
Croft’s visit to the palace set a frenzy of activity in motion. While the king was pleased with the dragons’ choice for a new orphan home, he resisted Wheet’s terms. After consideration, he was forced to accept the rules after his advisers reminded him the settlement was being built in dragon territory and therefore not under his authority.
With the main details settled, Augustus sent additional soldiers to Orchid as promised earlier, along with large herds of goats, sheep, and pigs. South of the village, new royal farms and pastures were established to accommodate the increase, which also spurred the building of additional homes and businesses. Sleepy little Orchid was bursting at the seams, well on its way to becoming a town and the largest settlement in the southwest region of the kingdom.
The operations at Wort were also awarded additional miners to increase the fresh gold supply. With the spent gold being returned to the kingdom, all of the newly mined metal went to the dragons. This arrangement not only benefitted the nest, it kept the kingdom’s coffers full to overflowing. Eager to keep the dragons happy, and provide for the Draman who would eventually serve him, the king used the influx of spent gold to finance a comfortable new settlement.
April, one month later
The king’s highway, running north/south from Wort to Orchid was little more than a wide bald patch through the countryside. Its often-muddy, always-dusty, deeply rutted surface remained the fastest way to go, yet its use was fraught with difficulty no matter how one chose to travel. Given the importance of reaching Orchid with shipments of gold and animals for the dragons, the king decided to make significant improvements to the highway while the road to the new orphanage was being built.
Since it would normally be the only way to reach the settlement, the new road was to be paved with flat stones and given proper drainage. Starting three miles north of Orchid and running directly west into the mountains, it would prove to be the most expensive and durable road ever built in Spiredale. Unfortunately, it would take the workers until the fall to complete it – leaving no way to move building supplies and workers into the valley for the settlement.
Once more, the dragons solved the king’s dilemma by agreeing to transport the supplies by air. Enormous nets made from heavy ropes were filled and carried in the dragon’s strong talons from the highway to the valley. Everything from tools, timber, and stone, to tents, food, and nervous builders. The system worked well, and with the dragons doing the heavy lifting, they made faster progress than would normally have been possible.
Croft stayed busy each day running errands, directing the dragons, and helping out wherever he could. The builders soon grew used to the odd dragon-child, and though no one was unkind, some were clearly uncomfortable around him. The Draman were something new and different, and Dane warned him it would take time for people to accept him and Sabina. Fortunately, they enjoyed the full support of the nest and the king – powerful allies few would be foolish enough to irritate.
With the long day coming to a close, Croft was both tired and hungry. Hauling water was his least favorite task but the men appreciated a cool drink from the spring which had been found in one of the caves. As he filled the last bucket, Croft sensed Rueloo’s approach and scurried outside to see her arrive with a large net full of wood for the cook fires.
Careful to avoid injuring anyone, she dropped her burden on the grass and rose back into the air to land nearby. Dodging the workers and piles of stone, Croft reached Rueloo as fast as his little legs would carry him. She lowered her head, and he reached up to stroke the smooth, warm scales on her neck. With little time to spend together these days, he missed the leisurely hours they used to enjoy.
Climbing up on her shoulders to get a better view, he surveyed the valley and took a good look at the orphans new home. It was exciting to see the building take shape, though it was to be a tower with three floors, rather than a traditional house. Croft was told it would have real glass windows, vents for fresh air, and thick walls made from mountain stone to keep the interior comfortable. At Rueloo’s suggestion, the caves became part of the tower’s ground floor, providing extra space and preventing unwanted wildlife from moving in.
Rueloo interrupted Croft’s quiet contemplation.
“I have something to show you, little one.”
Croft gripped the small, blunt horns at the base of her neck as she leapt into the air and headed for a large natural opening in the mountain face. It was above and to the right of the tower and Croft assumed it led to more caves. Rueloo landed on a wide shelf of rock and folded her wings before stepping inside. The high ceilings enabled them to investigate several dragon-sized chambers until they reached one with a relatively level floor and a small opening high above which would both allow in the light and vent smoke.
It was the perfect place for a nest and Croft was delighted.
“I love it, Rueloo! Could we stay here when we visit?”
The dragon’s rumble of laughter shook the cavern.
“We would not need to visit if this were our new home.”
“Move here? But we would have to leave thy nest. Why…”
“For you, Croft. You will be happier near the other humans and my little ones will learn their ways. Would that please you?”
Croft leaned down to hug her neck, tears of joy shimmering in his eyes.
“Oh, yes! Thank thee, Rueloo! Can we move now?”
Rueloo laughed once more at his eagerness.
“Not today, little one. When the human house is ready, we will come.”
Rueloo left the cavern, heading deeper into the mountains as the sun began to set. While she and Croft were working in the valley, the dragonlets spent their time hunting and exploring with Echo and Sabina. Hearing their dam’s musical call, the four rose into the air to meet her and return to their nest for the night. After they ate and settled down, the beautiful blue dragon realized she would miss this special place. More important, as long as she had Croft and the hatchlings with her, any place would be home.
Crocus, seven years ago
Located along Spiredale’s southeastern border, the town of Crocus was noted for two things: the manor house of Lord Richard and the Saint Mark Abbey. Most of its citizens were peasant farmers, working the surrounding lands year after year with little to show for their labor. Among them were two recently wed couples who forged a friendship with their neighbors, sharing the same burden of long days and hard work.
While Walter labored in Lord Richard’s fields, his wife, Isabella, tended the chickens, prepared their food, and made candles which she sold in the market. Next door, Olive did much the same while her husband, Edward, was paid by the Abbey to tend their livestock. To their delight, both women found themselves with child before long, and were due to deliver at the same time. The women grew close as the day approached, ready at any moment to send for the midwife.
As it happened, Olive gave birth to a little girl shortly before Isabella delivered a healthy curly-headed boy they named Croft. Three days later, tragedy struck both families. Olive’s baby died unexpectedly in the night while both Walter and Isabella succumbed to a fever – somehow sparing little Croft. While dealing with her own loss, Olive took Croft home to nurse while plans were made regarding his future. Since the church was responsible for most orphans, it was decided he would remain with Olive and Edward until he was weaned. Afterwards, Croft would become the responsibility of the monks.
Saint Mark Abbey, six years later
Edward watched fondly as his favorite curly-haired helper went about his chores. Croft loved working with the animals, and it had been a joy watching the boy grow while he learned an important skill. Now in his sixth year, it would not be long before the child was apprenticed to someone, and Edward hoped he would remain at the Abbey for his formal training.
There were personal reasons to keep Croft close at hand, as he and his wife came to love the child while he was in their home. It was also important to try and protect him from the excesses of brother Simon, who seemed intent on breaking the boy’s spirit. Inquisitive, intelligent, and full of daydreams, he had attracted the unwanted attention of the surly monk from the beginning. Orphans received little joy or comfort within the walls of the Abbey, so Edward did what he could to provide both while they worked together each day.
Croft moved the stool closer to his favorite gelding so he could finish brushing the beautiful brown coat. Of all the animals he cared for, horses were his favorite, yet he was certain he would like dragons better. From the stories he heard, the great beasts were much bigger, had wings, and breathed fire. If only he could go the mountains and see them for himself! Some day he would, and until then he would ask God to grant his wish every day – even if brother Simon said it was wicked. Of course, brother Simon thought nearly everything Croft did was bad, no matter how hard he tried.
Of all the monks at the Abbey, he feared Simon the most. His punishments were swift, frequent, and often painful. It was said he kept a switch hidden in his robes and spent his days watching for reasons to use it. For some unknown reason, Croft seemed to be punished more often than the other boys, and he paid for it with a sore bottom, empty stomach, or extended time kneeling on the stone floor of the church. Though brother Simon claimed the discipline was for his own good, and quoted Scripture to prove it, the boy was convinced the angry man hated him.
Croft continued to daydream about dragons while he finished with the gelding. The day was almost done, and if he could just stay out of trouble, he might get a meal before bed. Edward would give him something if he asked, but Croft said nothing, afraid the kind man would be punished if Simon found out. He had been working alongside Edward for as long as he could remember and would often answer his questions or listen to his troubles. He could tell Edward did not like the monk, even if he never said so, and he encouraged Croft to stay away from him as much as possible.
The only other person Croft could trust was brother Hugh, who occasionally visited and was always friendly. He gave the older boys their lessons – something he would not need, since tending the animals did not require him to know Latin or mathematics. More than once the tall, slim monk surprised Croft with a gift of food or simply stopped to ask how he was getting along. He was younger than the other monks Croft saw on a regular basis, smiled often, and spoke softly. He never seemed cross and somehow managed to show up after one of Simon’s punishments, as if he knew the boy could use a kind word.
Croft finished with the horse and put the brush and stool away before starting on his final task. After the animals were fed and watered it would not be long before the evening bells rang and he could finally eat and go to bed. Tomorrow, he was sure, would be a better day.
Three months later
Croft hissed in pain as he left the shadows of the Abbey wall and ran into the adjoining woods to catch his breath. The beating he received yesterday throbbed and burned with every step, but he refused to let it stop him. It was still dark, and hours before anyone would realize he was missing, yet he must escape while there was time. His only regret was being unable to say farewell to Edward, who would not understand why Croft disappeared.
Following another painful whipping, Croft overheard Simon explaining his plans to the Prior, and he knew it was time to leave.
“That child is the devil’s own, and I have reached the end of my patience! On the morrow, I shall send him to the blacksmith in Poppy for his apprenticeship. Perhaps a stronger hand than mine can acquaint his soul with the fear of the Almighty.”
After a short rest, Croft made his way towards the deserted road, keeping to the shadows in case he should encounter someone else. He felt guilty for stealing a travel bag, water skin, and food, but promised God he would repay it someday. His greatest possession, however, was given to him by the leatherworker on his last visit to the Abbey’s stables. When asked where the dragons lived and how to get there, the old man humored the child by etching a crude map on small scrap of hide.
“If thee want to see the dragons, boy, go to Orchid. The soldiers feed them at the base of the mountains there but take heed – they may just snatch thee up, too!”
Right now, being taken by a dragon seemed less frightening than remaining at the Abbey. If he could not work with Edward and the animals, then he would seek out the great fire-breathing beasts of his dreams. While Croft knew nothing about traveling the kingdom or how to live on his own, he was determined to reach the dragons if it was the last thing he ever did.
Later that day
The sun was high in the sky by the time Croft found a patch of delicious ripe berries and stopped to fill his belly. By moving quickly and quietly, he had thus far managed to avoid being seen as he traveled. Distracted by his hunger, Croft forgot to listen for the sounds of someone else on the road and was startled by the voice of a stranger.
“Would thee be willing to share the fruit with a weary traveler?”
There on the road was a tinker, leading a donkey laden with bags and baskets of goods. His long beard, weathered face, and smile gave him a friendly appearance, yet Croft was uncertain if he could trust him and said nothing.
“Come on out, child. No need to fear the likes of me.”
Croft left his belongings at the base of a nearby tree to venture back out to the deserted road. Unwilling to be caught and taken back to the Abbey, he approached cautiously, stopping well out of arm’s reach. Still smiling, the stranger watched him come and then spoke again with a small bow.
“Gilbert, seller of household goods. Who might thee be?”
Suspicious, Croft chose not to reveal his name and asked a question instead.
“Does thee know how to reach Orchid? I am going to see the dragons.”
The tinker looked surprised, chuckling at the strange declaration.
“Dragons eh? Thee look to be alone and Orchid is a long way. I might be willing to help in exchange for some of those berries. What say thee?”
Croft ended up gathering a large basket full of fruit before he and Gilbert headed down the road together. Once Croft felt comfortable with the man, he told him about the monastery, brother Simon, and the reason he ran away. Concerned about the boy’s safety, and none too fond of the monks himself, Gilbert changed his route so he could accompany Croft all the way to Orchid. There were long days of travel ahead, but the time would fly with the clever little orphan by his side.
It took weeks for Gilbert and Croft to reach Orchid, slowed by stops in every hamlet, village and town along the way. The rainy weather did not help any either, leaving them dirty, weary, and bedraggled. When Gilbert’s business was completed, the Tinker parted ways with his young companion, though not without tears and regret. He could not stay in Orchid, as he must travel to earn a living, and Croft was determined to remain here until his dream came true. The child hugged Gilbert’s neck, grateful for his help and companionship during their journey.
“Thank thee, Gilbert. When I get a dragon, we will fly through the kingdom until I find thee!”
The Tinker winked a watery eye and turned to go.
“Do that, boy, and I will watch the sky for thee. Farewell.”
Croft watched as the man and his loaded donkey made their way down the dirt road and out of sight. He would miss his friend, but it was now time to strike out on his own. Excited and nervous, Croft slipped into the woods and made his way towards the barracks. The children in the market told him the soldiers were the ones who brought gold and food to the dragons. If he watched and listened carefully, they would lead him right where he wanted to go at last!
After dark, Croft followed the soldiers to a valley outside the village where they left a herd of pigs and several heavy leather sacks. Once the gates were closed, Croft began hearing strange musical calls coming from the mountains. In the moonlight, huge winged shapes appeared, swooping down from above to snatch up the animals and gold. Though it was difficult to see clearly from his hiding place, he could tell their size, shape, and horns made each dragon unique. If they were different colors, he could not see well enough in the dark to know what they were.
Breathless with wonder, Croft watched the enormous, graceful beasts, memorizing every detail and sound. The event was short-lived, and soon the dragons left the valley for their home in the mountains. When all was quiet, the soldiers returned to their camp while Croft followed in the shadows. Alone now, he needed to eat and sleep, knowing just the place to provide both and headed for the stables.
If the soldiers cared for their horses as the Abbey did, he should be able to bed down in one of the stalls and find a stash of apples or carrots nearby. When all was quiet, he discovered exactly what he was looking for. Befriending a roan mare, he gave her an apple and curled up in a corner of the stall for the night. Perhaps in the morning, he could offer his services to the captain. For now, he was too tired to think and fell asleep dreaming of dragons.
RETURN NEXT WEEK FOR PART 3!
So, what else is going on?
I’m almost finished with the third book in the Rise of the Draman series. Hopefully, it will be ready to release by the end of the month (barring any delays or last minute changes). I am planning on five stories total for this part of the series, while Croft is still a boy, then possibly another five with him as a teen/young adult. The end result would be two published volumes if all goes well.
My tentative plan to write something seasonal has been derailed – maybe next year!
Book three of the Gladstone Shifters series is still waiting to be written, but I don’t have a start date for it yet. It will be another long project, so I don’t want to start until I’ve cleared the decks and can focus on it properly.