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 3
As the weeks passed, Croft and Rueloo continued their Sunday visits to Orchid. Sometimes, they were accompanied by Echo and Sabina, who also missed the other children. They would meet in the gifting valley where there was plenty of room to run and play. The orphans wanted to know what was happening with their new home and what it would be like to live there. Croft told them stories about the buildings and drew a likeness of the valley in the dirt so they could “see” where everything was located.
When their curiosity was satisfied, the children pelted Rueloo and Echo with dragon questions.
“Will the dragonlets be blue?” Perhaps, but not until they are older.
“Do thy scales come off?” If we are injured. New ones will grow.
“Why are Echo’s eyes green?” All male dragons have green eyes.
“Does the fire go out when thee drinks?” No. It comes from another place.
When it was time to eat, the dragons would fly off to find prey while the children returned to the barracks for their meal. Unless his duties interfered, Dane joined Croft, Sabina, and the children while they ate. Sometimes, he and Croft would enjoy a private dinner in his quarters so they could talk without interruption or discuss the king’s business. Dane’s love for the Draman boy was well known in the village, and as time went on he became something of an expert regarding dragons and their ways.
By early fall, construction was completed on both the new settlement and the road leading into it. To celebrate the achievement, Dane helped Croft arrange something special for the workers before they returned home. Along with a sumptuous meal, a minstrel, jester, and juggler entertained the men, while the dragons danced in the air above their heads. As a final parting gift, each man was given a sizable nugget of gold to take with them.
In a fortnight, the official opening of the settlement would take place, with the king himself in attendance. Until then, two important events kept Croft both busy and worried: preparation of he and Rueloo’s new home, and the imminent arrival of the monks. The other orphans would not be moving in until the king sent adults to care for them, but it did not prevent Croft and Rueloo from preparing their new nest in the valley. Staying busy helped Croft worry a little bit less about what the monks were going to do, even as he dreaded coming face to face with his past.
While Echo and Sabina decided to keep their present nest deeper in the mountains, they were glad to help their friends prepare the caves. Loose rock was removed, the floor swept clean, and places for the fire pits located. One of the smaller side passages was filled with numerous loads of firewood, keeping it dry and accessible at all times. Meanwhile, Dane notified the king of Croft’s intention to live at the settlement with Rueloo and her dragonlets. Shortly afterwards, he received a considerable sum from the monarch with orders to make their new home as comfortable as possible.
The day after the workers departed, Croft was astonished by the arrival of two large wagons, packed with furnishings and led by a smiling Dane on horseback.
“A gift from His Majesty for master Croft’s new home, and I have orders to supply anything else needed. Thee may be living in a cavern, but the king is determined that thee lack for nothing.”
Rueloo brought the gifts up to the cave opening, where Dane and Croft unpacked large storage chests filled with cooking implements, wool blankets, a chamber pot, water buckets, clothes and boots for Croft, oil lamps and candles, along with other items. Also included was a small table, two chairs, and a sturdy pallet with a down-filled mattress. In the final crate, Croft found weapons for self-defense, including a finely crafted knife with a leather sheath, a sharp sword, and a bow, quiver, and arrows. Dane explained.
“I believe the king intends for thee to learn their use as part of thy schooling. There will be times when thee and Rueloo are parted, and His Majesty would not have thee unable to defend thyself.”
Dane helped Croft arrange the items and furniture near the wall and out of the dragon’s way. While Rueloo was amused, Croft was grateful for the king’s generosity.
“Pleasse give the king my thankss, father. He iss very kind.”
While the nest was now much more comfortable for Croft, Dane noted the high ceilings and wide opening into the chamber. It would be brutally cold here in the winter, even with a fire and group of hot-blooded dragons. He would have to think on it, for there must be some way to prevent freezing drafts from blowing through. Fortunately, he had several months before the coldest weather arrived to come up with a solution.
Rueloo brought Dane and Croft back down to the waiting wagons so they could say farewell. Dane hugged his son, ruffling curly hair as he always did. Before mounting his horse, he shared a piece of news Croft would not welcome.
“I received word the monks will arrive two days hence. Have no fear, son, as I will not leave thee during their visit.”
Croft waved as the visitors started down the paved road on their way back to Orchid. His stomach tightened as thoughts of the Abbey spoiled his mood and made him uneasy. He wished someone else could meet with them, yet it was his responsibility and the king counted on him to represent the orphans and their dragon hosts. Sharing his thoughts with Rueloo, she tried to comfort him.
“We are blood-bonded and I will protect you. Fear not, little one.”
While he took some comfort in the idea, His Majesty would not be amused if the monks were harmed. There was nothing he could do except worry, and now was a good time to start.
It was hard work moving gold from the old nest to their new home. Croft filled pouch after pouch which Rueloo gripped in her sharp talons for the short flight. With a few more trips the job would be complete, but their progress was interrupted by the arrival of the monks. From the air, Croft recognized his father leading two hooded, brown-robed riders. From this distance it was impossible to determine who the Abbey might have sent. His stomach lurched nervously as Rueloo brought them in for a landing at the cave opening to drop off their burden.
She took flight again and purposely circled above the riders, bellowing her distinct musical call. Croft smiled when he realized she was demonstrating both her power and the special relationship to her rider. The dragons cared little for man’s religion or position, and they demanded respect for their own, which included Croft. Pushed too far, Rueloo would not hesitate to kill if she believed he were in danger. Croft got the message and finally relaxed, realizing there was nothing to fear with his father and a powerful dragon to protect him. He could do this.
Rueloo landed on the stone courtyard which extended from the tower in three directions, eventually meeting the terminus of the road in a large circle. The horses were skittish this close to a dragon, and Croft remained on Rueloo’s back as his father and the monks dismounted and approached. One was tall and slim while the other short and fat; faces hidden within the folds of their hoods. Dane broke the silence with an introduction.
“At the king’s request, these men have come all the way from Saint Mark’s Abbey in Crocus to see the new orphanage. Brothers Hugh and Simon, this is Croft – the first Draman, and his dragon, Rueloo.”
Croft whimpered at the mention of Simon’s name, wishing the king had sent someone, anyone, else. Rueloo growled ominously as both monks pulled back their hoods to get a better look and gasped. Brother Hugh seemed less surprised and actually smiled at Croft, while Simon frowned, crossed himself, and took a step backwards while muttering a prayer in Latin. Dane quickly realized who Simon was and reached for his sword reflexively.
The child reassured him with a quick shake of his head and patted Rueloo’s neck so she would allow him to dismount. Belying his fear, Croft drew near with head held high, hoping no one would notice he was shaking. When he stopped, brother Hugh dropped to one knee and looked Croft over from head to toe. Still smiling, he finally spoke.
“Thee has changed much since last we spoke, and I have missed thee.”
Croft cocked his head, a curious expression on his reptilian face.
“Thee were alwayss kind to me, brother Hugh. Doess my appearance not frighten thee?”
The young monk shook his head.
“God works in mysterious ways. It is not mine to question what the good Lord has allowed. Are thee…happy here with the dragons?”
Croft smiled and lifted a hand to rest on Rueloo’s snout, drawing strength from her closeness. From the corner of his eye he could see Simon was extremely uncomfortable in her presence.
“Yess. Rueloo cares for me, and ssoon I will have the other children to keep me company. God hass given me what I assked for.”
A sound of disgust came from Simon, though he said nothing, and Croft continued to ignore him. Brother Hugh gave his companion an irritated glance before responding.
“Then I rejoice with thee. Edward was very sad when thee disappeared. After the battle with Thorn, the minstrels and bards spoke of thy deeds, and it was he who told me what became of thee. Saving the kingdom is quite a feat for one so young!”
Croft’s eyes widened in interest when he heard his friend’s name.
“Iss Edward well? I did not mean to worry him sso.”
“He is quite well. He and Olive wish me to remind thee of their love and are very proud of thee.”
Unused to holding his tongue for so long, Simon finally interjected himself into the conversation, scolding Croft.
“Thee should have remained at the Abbey where thee belonged. Was it God’s will for thee to leave thy friend to do all the work?”
Simon’s word and tone of voice caused Dane to shift uncomfortably and glare at the monk. Rueloo growled, wisps of smoke leaking from her nostrils. Knowing he was safe gave Croft an unfamiliar measure of boldness, and he turned to look Simon in the eye.
“I only wanted to work with the animalss and would sstill be at the Abbey if thee had not planned to ssend me away.”
Simon’s face turned red as the child dared to rebuke him.
“What lie is this? Thy tongue shall surely lead thee into the pits of hell!”
“I do not lie! Thou told the Prior I would apprentiss with a blackssmith insstead of with Edward.”
Simon forgot who was listening as his fat face twisted with anger.
“Thou art an ungrateful wretch! Thee have much yet to learn lest thy soul wither before a Holy God! Did thee learn nothing while among us?”
Rueloo’s mouth was open, showing razor sharp teeth even as her tail flicked back and forth. Dane, too, had unsheathed his sword and moved closer to the clueless monk. Even brother Hugh could see the danger Simon was in and prepared to say something. Croft beat him to it – angry now, rather than afraid.
“Yess. I learned to go hungry. I learned to hurt when thou beat me. I learned to be afraid. Thee taught me all of thosse thingss!”
Before Rueloo could act, Dane stepped between Simon and his son and placed the tip of his sword against Simon’s protruding stomach. Shock and fear prevented the foolish man from uttering another word.
“If thou were not a man of God, I would run thee through where thee stand! Thee would do well to remember Croft is the representative of His Majesty, King Augustus and Wheet, the NestMaster of the dragons. He shall be treated with respect, or thy blood will surely stain the ground!”
Simon, unused to being corrected by anyone, glanced at Rueloo who was now hovering protectively over Croft and then down at the sword point poking his ample belly. Sweating and pale, he swallowed several times trying to form words. Brother Hugh, wide-eyed with delight, placed a hand over his mouth to hide a smile.
“I… forgive my words, master Croft. I was unaware of thy position. If it please thee, I shall not speak of these events again. Brother Hugh and I are, of course, at thy service.”
Dane stepped back and sheathed his weapon, giving Rueloo the opportunity to envelope the chastened monk in a thick cloud of smoke. What she really wanted to do was turn him into a pile of ash, but Croft silently convinced her not to hurt him – yet. Before the day was over, that might change.
Between Dane and Rueloo, Croft was never left alone with the monks as they looked over the property. The protective blue dragon either walked along side or flew overhead so she could keep an eye on brother Simon. He was obviously afraid of her, cringing every time she made a noise, looked in his direction, or flew too close. Though most of his muttered prayers were unintelligible, Dane overheard him refer to her as the “Devil’s spawn” and a “demon beast”.
Brother Hugh, on the other hand, enjoyed his tour of the valley, remarking on its beauty, source of fresh water and the sturdy buildings erected by the king’s workers. He asked thoughtful questions of Croft and Dane, comparing life here to the Abbey. Brother Simon was not so generous, finding fault with nearly everything and insisting the orphans would not have sufficient oversight or training in such a remote location. It was already obvious what type of report he was planning for the king.
With a mountain-fed stream dividing the valley down the middle, two sturdy wooden bridges were built to enable people, wagons, or animals to cross without getting wet or muddy. The east side was primarily for human use, containing space for gardens, crops, the orphan tower, and the terminus of the new road. Fed by the stream, a small lake capped the northern end of the valley, providing plenty of water for plants and livestock.
The west side of the valley was reserved for the animals, barn, chicken coop, pastures, and a stone cottage for the caretakers. This area was of particular interest to Simon, and very little met with his approval. He was especially displeased with the caretakers home, scoffing at the trouble and expense wasted on people who could have lived in the oversized barn. Dane finally had enough of Simon’s complaints.
“The king was most eager to provide comfortable homes for those who will be living here. Shall I inform his Royal Majesty that thee disapprove of his plans for the settlement?”
Brother Hugh stifled a laugh as Simon cleared his throat nervously.
“Trouble not thyself, Captain. The king requires a thorough investigation of the new orphans home. Rest assured I shall withhold none of my concerns.”
Dane declined to respond, convinced his report would have nothing good to say. He could only hope the king would see Simon’s “concerns” for what they really were and ignore the petulant monk.
The group made their way towards the tower, ready to inspect the impressive structure. Daily life and schooling fell under brother Hugh’s oversight, and both Dane and Croft were eager to see what he thought of the new house. When they reached it, Rueloo moved quickly to block the entrance with her body, smoke billowing from between razor sharp teeth. Unable to watch over Croft while they were inside made the dragon extremely uneasy, and she locked Simon in her yellow-eyed gaze as her spiked tail thrashed like an angry serpent.
Leaving the others behind, Croft approached to calm her, stroking the rough/smooth scales of her neck and chest.
“Fear not, Rueloo. My father will protect me, and brother Hugh is very kind.”
“Do not tarry, little one. Simon will die if you are harmed.”
Reluctantly, Rueloo stepped aside to let them pass. Simon quickly darted inside, muttering prayers and clutching the cross around his neck. Brother Hugh paused at the threshold and gave the dragon a courteous nod before entering the tower. Croft led them a short way into the Great Hall and the monks turned full circle to get their first look at the place. A wide stairway, just inside the entryway, led up to the other floors. The large open room featured a huge fireplace, tables for meals, and a smooth stone floor. Opposite the Hall was a small library, three classrooms, and a kitchen in the back corner.
At the far end of the Great Hall, a large tapestry covered an opening into the natural caves. Dane handed lit torches to Croft and the monks so they could inspected the cool dark spaces, intended for storage or even overnight guests. Eventually they came to the natural spring which spilled into a large open basin, overflowing beneath their feet into the rock. This area would also serve as a food pantry and larder for the meat, easily reached through another opening in the back wall of the kitchen.
Brother Hugh was very impressed with this level of the tower, indicating his pleasure time and again with the quality of the rooms and the amount of space dedicated to learning. Wide-eyed and green with envy, Simon managed only a sarcastic observation.
“If only the rest of the kingdom’s children could be raised in such splendor!”
Hugh only frowned at him and asked Croft to see the rest of the tower. On the second floor, the stairs led to a narrow hall which divided the space in half. On the mountain side were numerous small bedrooms for the adult women, while the other side contained a large open room lined with beds for the girls. The third floor was reserved for the men and boys with the same configuration. Each of the dormitories contained a large fireplace and both floors boasted a chamber pot tucked into an alcove under the stairs.
As the group descended to the first floor, brother Hugh was full of praise.
“His Royal Majesty has been most generous! I believe the children will be well-served and comfortable here. I shall make recommendations regarding the curriculum for their education, and thee shall need an experienced instructor and the proper books. There is no time to waste if ye are to begin before the winter.”
RETURN NEXT WEEK FOR THE FINAL INSTALLMENT OF DRAGON VALLEY!
Update – Book three in the series, Dragon Bonds, is now complete. While my beta readers work their magic and I do final edits, I will be starting on book four!