Today is the conclusion of Dragon Valley – Draman at Home, the second book in a series of fantasy novelettes you won’t find anywhere else!
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.
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Dragon Valley – Part 4
When the group finally emerged from the tower, Rueloo scooped Croft up in her forelimbs, scented him thoroughly, and made sure he was all right. Also waiting for them was Cymbal, a large grass-green dragon who had been chosen to transport the monks to see Wheet. When this was explained, Simon blanched and dropped to his knees.
“O Lord deliver thy servant! Though I pass through the shadow of the valley of death, Thou art with me…”
A scream of terror cut him off in mid-sentence as Rueloo snatched him off the ground and dropped him on Cymbal’s back like a sack of grain. He keened miserably, hanging onto the horns at the base of the dragon’s neck as Hugh scrambled up behind him. Once Croft and Dane were aboard Rueloo, the dragons lifted into the air and headed for the NestMaster’s valley. While brother Hugh enjoyed the scenic view and thrill of his first flight, Simon never once opened his eyes, praying fervently while holding on for dear life.
As they neared Wheet’s home, Rueloo and Cymbal used their distinctive calls to alert the NestMaster of their arrival. Each of them landed gracefully and it was with some difficulty Simon was coaxed off the dragon’s back. Finally on solid ground, the terrified monk looked up to see Wheet towering over them, his black scales glimmering in the sun. As the largest dragon in the nest, it was not unusual for humans to respond with fear, awe, or respect. Speechless, Simon stood on shaking legs, mouth open in disbelief.
As was his practice, the powerful beast leaned down to scent his visitors, giving Hugh a grunt of satisfaction and Simon a ground-shaking growl. The terrified monk looked ready to faint as he began praying aloud for God’s protection. Wheet ignored Simon for the moment and turned to Croft.
“Why have these humans come to the nest?”
Croft moved to stand between Wheet and the monks, bowing in respect.
“The king sent them to look at the settlement before the children come.”
Wheet considered this for a moment and then leaned down to scent the boy.
“Your fear is strong. Tell me!”
Croft did not want to disobey, yet the monks were in danger if he told Wheet the truth. The decision was made for him when Rueloo revealed what Simon had done.
The enraged NestMaster roared, spouting flame and smoke into the air. The monks began to back away, sensing something was terribly wrong, even though they could not understand what the dragons were saying. Dane rushed to Croft’s side as Wheet gave his verdict.
“NO ONE harms the Draman! This human must die!”
Turning to Dane, Croft quickly explained.
“Wheet iss going to kill him, father! The king will not undersstand.”
With a grim smile, Dane turned towards Simon.
“Prepare to meet thy God, brother Simon. Thy sins have found thee out!”
The specter of death was simply too much for the monk to handle and his mind snapped. With terrified shouts he called down God’s wrath on the dragons and cursed Croft as a hell-born demon, doomed for all eternity. Sobbing, the boy clung to Dane as all the old memories and pain resurfaced, even as he pleaded with the agitated NestMaster.
“The king did not know! Please do not kill him!”
Like Rueloo, Wheet wanted nothing more than to permanently silence the screeching monk. Granting Croft’s request would still leave him with an unwelcome human in the nest – something he could not tolerate. Whether the king knew about Simon or not, the wretched man was no longer welcome. He quickly issued orders to Rueloo and Cymbal.
“Take him back to the king. If Simon ever returns to the nest, he will die. From now on, Croft must approve any other humans sent to the settlement. Leave me – now!”
Moments later, Dane and Croft were airborne with Rueloo. As soon as brother Hugh climbed on Cymbal’s back, they too, leapt into the air, leaving a blubbering, red-faced Simon alone with Wheet. Ready to meet his maker, the crazed monk used his final moments to hurling insults and curses at the NestMaster.
Without warning, Cymbal swooped back around and dove toward Simon, only to pluck him off the ground with a strangled scream and rise back into the sky. Whether due to fear or exhaustion, it took some time for the man to quiet down and stop wriggling in Echo’s confining grasp. After all, the NestMaster did not specify exactly how the monk was to be returned to the king, and his comfort was the least of Cymbal’s concerns.
Warning trumpets sounded as two dragons and their riders were spotted approaching the palace. Though it interrupted his dinner, King Augustus rose quickly and went outside to greet his unexpected guests. The blue dragon must be Rueloo, and while he had seen the larger green beast before, he could not recall its name. That one carried not only a passenger, but someone else clutched limply in its hind legs. Both wore the distinctive brown robes of a monk. What could this mean?
Instead of landing in their usual place, the dragons flew past the castle toward the barn and stables. The green one dove towards the ground, released its robed burden and rose back into the sky to join Rueloo. Thoroughly confused, the king sent someone to search the area for the monk. Meanwhile, both dragons returned to the palace, landing on the soft grass to disgorge their riders. Croft and Dane were easily recognized, but the monk was unfamiliar to him. All three approached and bowed before Dane began the explanation.
“Forgive the intrusion, Thy Majesty. The NestMaster has a message for Thee, and he charged us with returning the monks sent to examine the new settlement.”
Puzzled, Augustus noticed Croft was not his usual cheerful self and clung to his father’s side. The monk’s eyes sparkled mischievously while the dragons seemed uneasy. It was time to get to the bottom of this mystery and he started with Hugh.
“I expected to see thee in the next day or two – on horseback. What has taken place? Where is thy companion?”
“I am brother Hugh, Thy Majesty. Brother Simon was banished from the Nest and returned to thee.”
Hugh looked to Dane, who chose to answer for him.
“Brother Simon was dropped in the manure pile, Thy Majesty. He was fortunate to have escaped with his life.”
The king’s confusion remained, now competing with curiosity. Whatever the tale, it proved to be interesting, and he invited his human guests to join him for the evening meal. Provision was also made for the dragons, who flew off to enjoy the feed animals and rest by the king’s private lake. Croft was quiet during dinner and both Augustus and Nelia took note of his somber mood. Something unpleasant happened at the settlement, and they were eager to replace Croft’s frown with his usual smile.
When the meal was over, Dane, Croft and brother Hugh met with the king in a comfortable antechamber near the throne room. Augustus grew angry as the story unfolded, asking all three for more information. He dealt gently with Croft, as the poor boy was hesitant to talk about what happened. The Abbot agreed to send qualified men to examine the new settlement, but in a cruel twist of fate, Simon was one of them. He would not have blamed Dane or the dragons for killing the foolish monk, though the problem of what to do with him remained.
Dane delivered the NestMaster’s message which was totally understandable under the circumstances. Giving Croft the final decision over who would work with the children might be more difficult than Wheet realized, yet the king was compelled to agree. Handled correctly, no one would ever know the choices were being approved by a young child and his dragon, rather than the king himself. From the start, this new orphanage was unique and some of the old rules simply did not apply.
Before his guests were settled for the night, Augustus took Croft aside privately to discuss the affair. Head down, the boy explained his upbringing among the monks at Saint Mark’s Abbey and his mistreatment at Simon’s hands. As he finished the tale, a servant interrupted with a report about Simon being extracted uninjured from the manure pile, cleaned up, and given a bed for the night. Alone once more, Augustus turned to ask Croft a serious question.
“I shall meet with the Abbot to discuss brother Simon. What would thee have me do?”
Though Croft had every reason to seek a harsh punishment, he surprised the king with a very reasonable suggestion.
“Thee has a good heart, child. I will see to Simon’s discipline, and thee never need fear him again. Now, we must discuss the NestMaster’s requirement that thee approve of the caretakers for the orphanage. Thee shall need someone to tend the animals and crops, as well as a cook and a teacher for thy book learning. What think thee?”
Croft surprised the king by asking for two specific people, one of whom may prove difficult to recruit. Time would tell, and Augustus promised to do all he could to grant Croft’s requests. Meanwhile, a number of candidates for cook and gardener had already been summoned to the palace.
“Tomorrow, thee and Rueloo shall speak with each of them and select whomever ye choose. The ceremony is less than a fortnight, and if all goes well, everything shall be settled by the time I arrive.”
Seven days later
Watched over by the dragons, the orphans and two caretakers moved into the new settlement. With only a few days to go before the king arrived for the ceremony, everyone was kept busy putting away shipments of supplies, providing meals, and caring for the animals. Except for Croft and Sabina, the others were still getting used to their home in the Great Peak Mountains amid all the activity.
Though many people vied for the positions, Croft and Rueloo chose Thomas as their new gardener and Margery as the cook. Both young, hard-working and friendly, they quickly became attached to the children and comfortable around the dragons. Thomas, the fourth son of a land-owning baron, was the perfect choice to take on the job of planting and harvesting. Because it was already fall, most of his work would have to wait until next spring. Until then, nearly everything would be brought in from the king’s farms south of Orchid.
Margery, an orphan herself, came to them from Foxglove where she completed her apprenticeship at a busy Inn called The Old Bull. Her experience cooking and caring for the Inn’s guests was only exceeded by her smile and sense of humor. Not only was she in charge of the kitchen, pantry, and larder, she would also serve as the housekeeper.
Until the other two adult caretakers arrived, Thomas and the older boys helped Croft care for the animals. The oversized barn included a winter chicken coop, pens for the pigs and goats, and storage for feed and equipment. A large stone fireplace in the center would keep the animals warm during the harsh winter weather and prevent their water troughs from freezing.
While Croft’s new nest wasn’t quite as nice as the tower, he loved his home. The other children quickly discovered a narrow passage which connected the upper and lower caves, enabling them to visit Croft and his dragon family when they were able. Rueloo used the interaction with her offspring to teach them more about humans and their ways, while the orphans kept Croft and Sabina busy answering questions.
Almost a year had passed since the other orphans arrived in Orchid, yet only now were they all able to live together. Croft smiled a great deal since their arrival in the valley, grateful to the king for providing such a wonderful place for them to live. The other dragons were curious about the human hatchlings, watching from the air or landing in the valley to observe first-hand. Several were repeat visitors, and Rueloo told him they were seeking blood bonds with the children.
This, of course, was one of the reasons for placing the orphanage here – to encourage more Draman who would, perhaps, serve the king in the future. While the valley could only hold a limited number of orphans, there was certainly room for many more. Croft could imagine their valley home bustling with activity and looked forward to teaching the others what it meant to become Draman.
Croft looked up as Rueloo circled overhead, alerting him with her call.
“Prepare, little one. The king draws near.”
Croft left the barnyard in a hurry, ran across the wide wooden bridge, and headed for the tower. More dragons arrived, perching on the lowest peaks which surrounded the valley. He and the others had worked hard to get everything ready, and now it was almost time! Once through the heavy door, Croft zipped across the floor to the kitchen. He found Margery handing out last-minute assignments to her helpers, apron covered with flour and hair disheveled.
“Margery! Rueloo ssayss the king iss near!”
She looked up with a smile and told him to wait while she finished giving instructions. When everyone else had scattered, she came closer to inspect the boy. A deep sniff and a frown warned him she did not approve.
“Sweet child! Thee are filthy and smell of goat dung! Thee cannot meet the king, or thy father, straight from the barn. Up to thy nest and fetch something clean while I get thee warm water for a scrub. Hurry now!”
Croft returned quickly and stripped to allow Margery to wash him down. Despite the warm water, he shivered in the chilly cavern behind the kitchen while she scrubbed off the grime and sweat. She ran a rough dry cloth over hair and body before helping him re-dress in his clean clothes. With a step back, she inspected him once again.
“Better! Now, gather everyone together outside, and I will join thee in a moment. I look as if I rolled in the batter bowl!”
Croft grinned as he hurried outside to make sure everyone was present. Thomas was already waiting with the children and Sabina arrived on Echo as Margery emerged from the tower. As a group, they walked the short distance from the house to the circular terminus of the road and stood quietly to wait. Rueloo made one more pass overhead and then landed to stand next to Echo and behind the group of humans.
As requested, Wheet was in attendance, perched on the jagged peaks behind the tower, where he could see and hear everything. He would be able to understand what the king said through Rueloo, who stood ready to translate for the NestMaster. The bright red tunics of the palace guard came into view as their horses kept pace with the slowly-moving royal carriage. It contained not only the king, but the entire royal family. It was rare for the king to be seen outside of Rose, and almost unheard of for the Queen and their children to go anywhere.
The opening of an orphanage within dragon territory was an historic occasion, however, and Augustus wanted his family to witness the event. As the procession neared, the soldiers moved to either side of the road, forming a protective barrier through which the king’s carriage passed until it came to rest at the circular terminus. Directly behind it was another, plain carriage, but it was impossible to see who might be inside.
Bringing up the rear were Dane and a contingent of soldiers from Orchid, all dressed in their finest uniforms. When the procession finally stopped, Dane dismounted and opened the front carriage’s door. Dressed more comfortably than usual, the king stepped down onto the pavement. In short order, the lovely Queen Nelia was handed out, followed by Prince Jahn and Princess Lillain.
Before a word was spoken, Wheet’s bird-like call echoed through the valley, followed by the calls of every single dragon in attendance. The noise was deafening, and the king looked up at Wheet, raising an open hand in greeting. Wheet lifted his snout into the air and spewed forth a bright, hot column of fire, causing a mix of smiles and frowns among the humans. When all was once again quiet, Augustus and his family approached the new residents of the valley who had assembled to meet him.
Croft stepped forward and bowed, prompting Thomas, Margery, and the other children to follow suit. With a nod from the king, Dane walked back to the second carriage to open the door. Before anyone stepped out, the king spoke.
“I have a pleasant surprise for thee, Croft.”
At that moment, a tall, slim figure stepped down from the carriage. The face was familiar, but he was used to seeing the man dressed in a simple brown robe, rather than a tunic and hose. Croft gasped as the kind man dropped to one knee before him.
“Brother Hugh? I hoped thee would come, but…”
Hugh smiled widely as he explained.
“His Majesty is most persuasive, and when he said thee requested me as thy teacher, I could not deny him. I have left the Abbey, Croft, and am no longer a brother. The good Lord has given me another task and I am eager to join thee here.”
Croft looked up at the king who had a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
“I believe thee made two requests, did thee not?”
Out of the carriage came two small children, followed by a man and woman he knew very well indeed!
Unable to remain where he was, Croft darted around the adults and threw himself into Edward’s arms. Olive was also given a hug, though she was somewhat flustered by Croft’s appearance. The two children, a boy and a girl, hid shyly behind their mother, unsure what to think of the strange dragon child before them.
“Thee came! I have misssed thee, and sso much hass happened!”
Croft looked at Dane, who was chuckling at the boy’s enthusiasm.
“I know thee are happy, son, but the king is waiting.”
Croft turned back to bow again before Augustus, tears of joy in his eyes.
“Thank Thee, Majessty. Thou hasst made me very happy!”
The king merely smiled and launched into a speech to mark the occasion. In it, he named the settlement Dramanshire, and the new road leading to it, Dragon’s Road. He also spoke about the future and working together with the dragons to keep the kingdom safe. Praise was heaped upon the builders who labored to transform the valley into a new home, and he ended his remarks by requesting a tour. Croft, Rueloo and Dane led the royal family through the valley to inspect the buildings while Edward moved into the stone cottage, and Hugh was shown to his own room on the third floor of the tower.
When the tour was completed it was time for the meal to be served. Like all the others, Croft had work to do before sitting down between the king and Dane. The food was delicious and the tables full of laughter and conversation. Afterwards, as was his custom, the king took a walk with Croft and Rueloo so they could speak privately.
“I was glad to hear thee and Rueloo are comfortable in thy new nest. I am most pleased with what has been done here and commend thee for thy hard work. The queen has made known her desire for a summer house in this part of the kingdom. I have decided Snapdragon shall be built where the King’s Highway meets Dragon Road.”
The idea excited Croft and he looked forward to having the king next door on occasion. Augustus continued, though on a more somber note.
“Thee should know what has become of brother Simon. His encounter with the dragons has left his mind addled, and the Abbot has removed him from his position. He has taken a vow of silence and seclusion and will never be allowed to work with the children again. Does this seem fair punishment to thee?”
Croft remained silent for a few moments, confused by both satisfaction and sadness at the same time.
“Yess, Thy Majesty. I… I do not know how to thank thee.”
The king smiled, laying a hand on Croft’s curly head.
“No need, child, but now that thee ask, I have two requests. First, Dramanshire is ready for many more orphans, yet thee and Rueloo would know best who belongs here. Would ye be willing to search the kingdom on my behalf?”
After some discussion with Rueloo, the pair agreed to meet with as many orphans as they could reach before winter. This pleased the king, who promised to appoint someone from the royal court to arrange for food, lodging, and transportation for the orphans. Despite the amount of travel involved, Croft was eager to meet other children and start filling the large house with new friends. Rueloo was confident that dragons hoping for a blood bond would welcome an influx of new humans to the valley.
As they turned back towards the tower, Croft asked the king about his second request. Red faced and uncertain, Augustus stopped walking and bent low to whisper it to Croft. Eyes and smile wide, the young Draman reached for the king’s hand.
“Yess, Thy Majessty! Sshall we go?”
Amid shocked expressions, dire warnings, and pleas for him to change his mind, the king of Spiredale, along with Croft, rose into the clear autumn sky on Rueloo’s back. While the orphans cheered and waved, the queen, of course, fainted dead away. In an astonishing breech of protocol and common sense, Augustus whooped with delight as they circled the small valley and headed deeper into the mountains. If this was his only chance to ride a dragon, he was going to enjoy it while he had the chance.
At Wheet’s direction, Echo and several of the other dragons followed along, forming a protective bubble around the human monarch. Rueloo rose high enough to give Augustus a good look at his kingdom, then dove down to show off portions of the mountain range few humans would ever see. Lastly, they passed over Orchid, the crossroads, and finally back to Dramanshire where the king’s retinue waited anxiously.
Rueloo landed near the tower, lowering herself to the ground so her riders could dismount. Despite shaky legs, the king turned to stroke the smooth scales on the blue dragon’s neck. She rumbled with laughter, even as Augustus swept Croft into a hug.
“I have long desired to ride a dragon, and thee has my thanks. I could almost wish to be bonded myself!”
Croft looked confused for a moment and then grinned.
“Where would thy dragon live, Thy Majessty? The palace iss too ssmall!”
Augustus laughed heartily, along with the crowd of onlookers.
“Well said, my young Draman. I shall have to correct the oversight. Remember now, thee will be expected at the palace when thy travels bring thee to Rose.”
With the festivities over, the king met briefly with Thomas, Margery, Edward, and Hugh before taking his leave.
“Tis a wonderful new home we have built here for thy charges. Fail not to care for them or the dragons, for they are the future of Spiredale. If anything is lacking, ye have only to ask.”
With a final farewell to the children, Wheet, and Rueloo, the king’s company left Dramanshire to start their journey home.
Croft awakened slowly, only distantly aware of the howling wind outside their cozy nest. With Dane’s clever gift hanging over the opening to their cavern, the large space was much warmer than it would have been otherwise. His father had commissioned the leather workers to construct a huge curtain made of wide leather strips and hung it across the entrance on a large heavy timber. Not only did it keep the bitter winds at bay, it also provided Croft’s family with a little more privacy.
Unwilling to wake the dragonlets, he remained quiet, basking in the shared warmth of Rueloo’s body while he thought about their recent adventure. They had returned home only yesterday, exhausted, barely one step ahead of winter’s first big storm. Weeks of travel enabled them to reach many of the kingdom’s orphans, but there simply wasn’t enough time for he and Rueloo to visit every berg, village and town in Spiredale. The rest would have to wait until spring.
They began in the east, visiting Poppy, Anemone, Crocus, and all the smaller villages in between. The largest concentration of girls was to be found at the convent in Poppy, while the boys were cared for at the Abbey. Though the Abbot was most helpful, Croft was uncomfortable returning there, afraid of encountering Simon. Instead, the visit was both pleasant and fruitful, enabling him to see old friends and tell them about his new life and home.
With a fire breathing dragon by his side and a copy of the king’s proclamation, Croft was welcomed at each stop. The orphans were brought to see him and Rueloo, and they explained why Dramanshire was different and what life there would be like. Each child had a chance to speak to them privately, ask questions, and interact with a real dragon.
Those who were comfortable around Rueloo and showed interest were sent to Dramanshire for a visit to see if it suited them. They were assigned a bed, given chores, and began their lessons with Hugh. Each received the same promise to be returned to their old home if they were not happy. So far, not a single orphan wanted to leave and the large tower was beginning to fill up.
With the arrival of so many new children, Croft was not surprised to see more dragon visitors to the valley. Some became interested in their chosen human within moments, while others quietly observed and consulted with Rueloo and Echo. Since the blood bond itself was permanent, both Wheet and the caretakers urged caution and patience. Such an important decision should not be rushed and children must understand how their lives would be forever changed before they agreed to a bond.
Very little was known about caring for Draman, especially while going through the fever and physical changes Croft and Sabina had experienced. Wheet’s memories were very old and did not include the details humans wanted to know. The danger was real, and he urged Croft to seek out a healer for the orphanage. They would need someone experienced with humans, but who would also learn the specific needs of the Draman among them. The king heartily agreed with the idea and brought several candidates to the palace so Croft and Rueloo could help choose.
Upon their return from Rose yesterday, they brought the settlement’s new healer with them. Juliana grew up and practiced in Wort, trained by her own father, and was keenly interested in all things dragon. The children warmed to her immediately, drawn by her quiet, gentle ways and easy smile. She also caught the attention of a certain former monk, who blushed hotly whenever she looked at him. Croft’s memory of their introduction finally roused Rueloo from sleep and she laughed quietly.
“Will Hugh mate with Juliana?”
Croft’s interest in such things was completely academic, yet he liked both of them and certainly wanted them to be happy.
“Humans do not take mates the way dragons do. They could get married, but Hugh is very shy and they just met.”
Moments later, the dragonlets were awake and Rueloo took them in search of prey, despite the wind and snow. Croft went down to the great hall to help with morning chores, which was followed by breakfast. Everyone was there except for Edward and his family, who ate most of their meals in the cottage. Instead of joining Thomas or the women, Hugh sat next to Croft. Between bites, Croft leaned over to whisper a question to his new teacher.
“Rueloo wantss to know – will thee marry Juliana?”
Hugh’s face turned red and he stopped eating.
“I see I shall have to instruct the dragons about…such things. Why would Rueloo think…”
“Becausse Juliana likess thee. Sshe is very pretty.”
Hugh said nothing, glancing over at the newest arrival in Dramanshire. When she noticed his attention, he quickly looked down at his bowl and smiled.
“Yes, Croft. She is.”