Dragon Bonds – The Beloved Draman is the third installment in my series of fantasy novelettes. This FREE serialized story won’t be found anywhere else, and you get to see it first!
Croft and his friends experience growing pains and a budding romance while they settle into their new mountain home. As Wheet helps educate the orphans, the other dragons select children for future bonds. Defying the NestMaster’s instructions, one pair takes a risky chance which could end in disaster. Find out how far the dragons will go for their beloved Draman in Dragon Bonds!
Dragon Bonds 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 BONDS – PART 1
Winter in the Great Peak Mountains, with its unpredictable cold and snow, was best spent indoors. For the forty orphans of Dramanshire, and their caretakers, it meant most of their days were confined to the stone tower. The exception was Edward and his family, who lived in the cottage near the animals they tended. Between their relative isolation and chores, they were unable to spend as much time with the others as they might like. The dragons helped out by using their fire to clear the accumulated snow, making movement between the tower, cottage, and barn much easier.
Hugh, Dramanshire’s new teacher, took advantage of the long winter days by filling them with formal instruction. None of them, including the adults, had been schooled in any subject, so Hugh began by teaching them to read and write, along with mathematics, history and Latin. Most of his former students at the Abbey were the sons of wealthy landowners, so teaching this diverse group of youngsters, including girls, was an interesting challenge.
It didn’t take long for the stone tower and connected caves to become a true home. The children were well-fed and kept busy with assigned chores, classes, and free time to play or interact with the dragons. While the mighty beasts did not hibernate during the cold months, they were much less active, going out primarily to feed. The animals provided by Orchid meant less time spent hunting for prey, leaving more hours to sleep or come for a visit with the children.
Several of the dragons had already met the child they wished to bond with, and they were eager to begin. The newly bonded would undergo several days of fever and then a disorienting adjustment to their new status as Draman. Since the process was still considered dangerous and not fully understood, their new healer, Juliana, believed it would be safer to wait until spring when she and others could observe and assist without worrying about the weather. Thus, both human and dragon settled in for the long winter, eagerly awaiting warmer days and the many changes which would arrive with them.
Invited to share the midday meal with Edward and his family, Rueloo prepared to carry Croft the short distance to the cottage at the opposite end of the valley. When Margery heard about the intended visit, she asked Thomas to prepare a net full of firewood while she filled two large sacks with food from the pantry and larder for Edward’s family. Rueloo was glad to help, and Croft waited patiently while Thomas loaded the foodstuffs on her broad, strong back. Margery gave the blue dragon a final once-over, nodded in satisfaction, and looked up at Croft with a wide smile.
“Take care in the snow, Croft, and remember to ask Olive if she needs anything else. My thanks to Rueloo for her help. Off with thee, now, and I will expect thee back before supper!”
She and Thomas scurried back inside as Rueloo lifted into the air. With the net full of firewood clutched in her rear talons, she winged her way to the lonely half-buried cottage. Between all the recent travel and inclement weather, Croft was unable to spend much time with his dear friends since their arrival. Today was a fine opportunity for them to get re-acquainted while Rueloo took the dragonlets to see Sabina and Echo. So very much happened since he’d run away from the Abbey, and Croft was eager to tell them about his adventures.
Connected to the backside of the cottage was a large, sturdy lean-to for firewood. Rueloo carefully swept the area with flame to get rid of the accumulated snow and dropped her burden. Swinging back around, she did the same all around the cottage, making it much easier for the family to maneuver outside. Edward opened the door just as Rueloo landed and rushed forward to remove the heavy sacks and take them into the house. Croft leaned against her, stroking the smooth scales of her neck. They were not often parted, and he was a little anxious.
“I will miss thee. Give the others my greetings, and I will see thee soon!”
Rueloo licked his outstretched hand while a soft low rumble emanated from her deep chest. In human terms it was the equivalent of a hug and kiss, and Croft stepped back so she could take off without injuring him with her powerful wings. She circled once while he waved, her musical call drawing the dragonlets from the nest to meet her in the air. When they were out of sight, Croft turned towards the cottage, only to find Edward watching him.
“Can thee speak to her when she is parted from thee?”
Croft shook his head and followed the man into the warm house.
“Not if sshe iss too far away. I can sstill ssensse her, and if I were in danger, sshe would know.”
Though Edward nodded in agreement, he could never truly understand the bond Croft shared with Rueloo. No one but another Draman knew what it was to be linked to a dragon, which, at present, meant Sabina was the only person he could talk to about such things. While she was nice, they were not the closest of friends. She tended to be a loner, and her interest in fighting and warfare, while honorable, was not compatible with Croft’s gentle spirit. If the dragons seeking blood bonds had their way, there would be many more Draman in a few months, and surely some of them would share Croft’s interests.
He left those thoughts behind as Olive hugged him and then stepped back so he could say hello to her children. Adam, five, and Beatrice, three, no longer hid from him, yet they were uncomfortable if he got too close or tried to touch them. For some, it took time to get used to his strange dragon-like appearance, and while he understood the stares and whispers, his feelings were often hurt. It was, perhaps, the reason he preferred the company of the great scaly beasts. Dragons, he knew, cared little about looks, showing much more interest in what a person was like on the inside.
Since the meal was already prepared, Croft took a seat on the bench next to Edward, while Olive, Adam, and Beatrice sat across from them. As they ate, Croft told them about his escape from the Abbey, traveling with Gilbert the Tinker, and how he met Rueloo and became Draman. Since neither Edward nor Olive knew much about the battle with Thorn’s army, Croft explained how he and Rueloo helped the king make an agreement with the dragons to protect the kingdom. Finally, Edward stopped eating and turned his smiling gaze towards Croft.
“By all the saints, child! I knew thee was smart and determined, but never have I seen the good Lord’s hand on one so young. Had thy parents lived, they would be as proud as we.”
Croft was embarrassed by the praise, but his interest was piqued by Edward’s comment.
“My parentss? Did thee know my mother and father?”
Olive chose to reply.
“We were neighbors and friends to thy parents, and much more to thee, Croft…”
Her explanation was interrupted by a shout from outside. Croft’s excellent hearing told him it was Ralf who came to escort Adam and Beatrice to the tower so they could play with the other children. The boy was invited inside while Olive dressed them in heavier clothes and wrapped them each with a cloak, hat, and mittens.
“Thee will behave well, and do as Margery tells thee. Remember not to tarry long in the cold.”
Turning to Ralf, she gave further instructions.
“I will trust thee to bring them home before supper, and bring Robin and Henry with thee to help carry the milk pails. Give Margery my thanks for the supplies. On thy way now, before I put thee to work!”
Grabbing a hand on either side, Ralf left the cottage in a hurry, eager to deliver his charges so he could play with the older children. While Olive cleaned up after the meal, Croft accompanied Edward to the enormous barn to help him with whatever needed doing. Once the heavy door was closed, the pair easily fell into their old pattern, conversing very little as they mucked out the stalls and filled the feed and water troughs. It brought back good memories for Croft, and he was grateful to have Edward and his family here in the valley with him.
When their chores were finished, they returned to the cottage and Olive joined them before the fire with heavy mugs of hot cider. After a moment, Edward began speaking.
“There are things thee has not been told, Croft. We were very good friends with thy parents, Walter and Isabella. We were married at the same time and they lived next to us. Both Olive and thy mother bore babes within a few days. Our child died in the night and your mother and father died of the fever soon after. Twas a miracle thee survived, child, and since thy parents were dear to us, we took thee into our home and cared for thee until thee were weaned. Twas then we brought thee to the Abbey so the monks could care for thee.”
Croft said nothing for long moments while he considered the story. Why hadn’t they told him this before? What else did they know about his parents? Though he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the answer, there was one question burning in his mind which needed to be asked.
“Why did thee not keep me? Wass I a bad child?”
The tears in Olive’s eyes threatened to spill as she got up and knelt before him, gently holding one of his hands between both of her own.
“Thee were a blessing from God and a beautiful child! We loved thee as our own, but we could not raise thee as well as our own babes. If we took thee to the Abbey, Edward could watch over thee and make sure thee were all right.”
Croft’s expression soured.
“I wass not all right. SSimon wass there!”
Edward looked stricken and guilty.
“We could not have known he would treat thee so poorly. I did my best to protect thee, Croft. Thee must believe me!”
By this time all three were weeping and the conversation ground to a halt. When it seemed everyone was calm, Croft explained what happened to Simon. The couple tried not to laugh when he told them Cymbal dropped the monk in a pile of manure, and they were grimly satisfied that Simon had apparently lost his mind and was now in seclusion. Edward finally spoke for both of them.
“May God forgive me saying so, but it would have been right and just for Wheet to have killed him. If I were thee, I would not have pleaded for his life.”
While it ultimately changed nothing, Croft felt better knowing they were firmly on his side. With the ugliness behind them, Croft asked for more information about his parents. In story after story, he was able to piece together a better picture of his mother and father, finally filling the empty space in his heart.
While Hugh was busy with the orphans’ formal schooling, he was also responsible for helping them learn more about the dragons. In turn, the great scaly beasts began to understand the humans who shared their mountain nest. Hugh believed learning first-hand was always best, so he invited the NestMaster to teach dragon history to his students in person. While Wheet wasn’t especially fond of venturing out in the cold months, Hugh’s persistence payed off when he agreed to come once a week and “speak” to the children.
Since Wheet would never fit in the tower, a compromise was arranged. Adjacent to Croft and Rueloo’s nest were many other empty caves and chambers, and huddled together in one of them were Hugh, Juliana, Thomas and all of the orphans. Their impromptu classroom faced the main entrance to the cavern itself where the NestMaster stood, ready to begin his lesson for the day. Since only the Draman could “hear” his mental voice, Croft listened carefully and then repeated Wheet’s words to the group.
“There are many dragon nessts in the world, but not all are the ssame. There are white ice dragonss where it iss cold all the time. There are ssmaller dragonss who live only in the deep foressts and are green like the treess. Some dragonss can run very fasst but cannot fly. Otherss will attack humanss and kill them. There are even dragonss in the oceanss, though they do not look like uss.”
The children began calling out questions, especially about the ocean dragons. Once Hugh quieted them down, Wheet continued.
“Humanss know them as ssea sserpentss. Instead of wingss they have powerful flipperss and can breath under water like the fissh. They cannot breath fire, but they are sstrong, fasst, and rule the oceanss. They also have Draman who live with them in the ssea.”
Again, the children wanted to know how this was possible. Wheet explained.
“Their blood bonded are known as the merfolk. They have gillss like a fissh, and powerful tailss insstead of legss to sswim, and sscales which cover their bodiess. Long ago I sspoke with them when the nesst was closser to the sea.”
Hugh and the other adults were as fascinated by Wheet’s stories as the children. Most people knew almost nothing about dragons, since they normally avoided humans and, without a bond, could not communicate. The presence of Draman in Spiredale provided them with a unique opportunity to interact and learn from each other. The king, of course, was hoping some of the future Draman would serve the kingdom, both at the palace and in his army.
When the lesson concluded, Wheet joined many of the dragons outside who came to spend time with the children. Hugh led the boys and girls down through the cave’s connecting passage and finally out the main door of the tower. Though the air was cold, the skies were clear, allowing bright sunshine to keep the children reasonably comfortable. The dragons, who were warm from the inside out, ignored the weather and focused solely on the young ones.
In moments, each dragon attracted a small group of admirers, eager to ask questions, play “ride the tail”, or call for a demonstration of fire and smoke. Croft and Sabina were kept busy serving as translator for the dragons who wished to speak to specific children. Most of these were seeking blood bonds and wanted to become better acquainted with their chosen human. With Wheet’s permission, these dragons were allowed to take their child for a short ride near the valley, resulting in laughter and whoops of delight.
Fascinated by her winged neighbors, Juliana wandered from group to group, listening and observing as the orphans interacted with their guests. Just like people, each dragon was a unique individual with a distinct personality and appearance, and she enjoyed getting to know them better. Suddenly, the harsh sound of a rusty gate hinge announced the arrival of Scree and a passenger. As she landed, a familiar ragged cough caught Juliana’s attention, and she spotted Elenore dismounting.
The girl should not have been taken for a ride, or even be outside today. She’d been ill since arriving in Dramanshire: underfed, weak, and short of breath. The only reason she wasn’t currently abed was because the stubborn ten-year-old begged to be allowed to see “her” dragon. Scree was a beautiful female with crimson scales and a circular crown of thorns which framed her head. Unfortunately, she was also known to be fiercely independent, even for a dragon.
Juliana approached to usher Elenore inside before the cold air made her cough any worse. Scree warned her off with an ominous growl, blocking Elenore’s body with her massive tail. This was not going to be easy.
“Thee must come inside now, child. Thee are not yet strong enough to be so long in the cold.”
Rather than obey, Elenore’s eyes narrowed as she backed up against the dragon’s body.
“No! Scree is MY dragon and I want to bond with her!”
The only way to break the impasse was to talk some sense into Scree, and for that she needed one of the Draman. Sabina was busy interpreting for someone else so Juliana motioned Croft and Rueloo over. Once the problem was explained, Croft tried to reason with the headstrong dragon.
“Bonding with Elenore would be dangerous right now, Scree. She is weak and needs more time to rest and get better. Thee must wait.”
Scree snorted black smoke and pulled the girl closer.
“Why? You did not wait, nor did Sabina. Would you deny us our bond?”
Before speaking, Rueloo sent a silent message to Wheet on the other side of the valley, asking him to come.
“We do not deny your right, but bonding now could kill her. Is this your wish?”
Wheet landed nearby, listening to the conversation, yet Scree became more defiant.
“If we bond now, my blood will make her stronger. We will wait no more!”
Wheet’s angry rumbling got everyone’s attention, and he broadcast his words so all dragons in the valley could hear it.
“You will do as I have decreed! There will be no new bonds until the spring – or will you challenge me?”
Disobeying the NestMaster was considered a serious offense, resulting in expulsion from the nest or even a fight to the death. While Scree was impatient and sometimes reckless, even she was not prepared to cross him and lowered her head in obedience.
“I do not challenge, NestMaster.”
Scree moved her powerful tail out of the way to release the girl, yet Elenore clung to her dragon, crying pitifully. It took both Juliana and Thomas to loosen her grip on Scree’s leg and take her back to the warmth of the tower. Scree launched herself into the sky, her ear-piercing call ricocheting off the surrounding mountain peaks. While the others were distracted, Croft spoke to Wheet.
“We must keep them apart. Scree is… very determined to complete the bond.”
“They have learned their lesson. The bond’s call is powerful at this stage, and if Elenore were stronger, I might have allowed it. The two are well-matched; both headstrong and impatient.”
Croft was not convinced the trouble was over, but an idea came to him which might help Elenore and the others who were eager to bond.
END of part one. Look for part two next week!