Dragon Quest – The Traveling Draman is the fourth installment in my series of fantasy novelettes. This FREE serialized story won’t be found anywhere else, and you get to see it first! (In case you missed it, here’s part 1 and part 2)
Croft and Rueloo journey to a far away land, seeking information about their special bond. Along the way, they meet new dragons, make friends, and arrive to find a nation on the brink of war. Caught up in Pinnacle’s problems, the two become pawns in a dangerous game of conquest. Follow Croft and Rueloo on an exciting DRAGON QUEST!
Dragon Quest 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 QUEST – PART 3
Dramanshire, early morning
Juliana knew exactly where her husband would be, walking carefully down two flights of darkened stone stairs and across the great hall to the library door. She knocked softly once, paused, then knocked twice. Without waiting, she opened the heavy door, slipped inside the candlelit room, and joined Hugh on the kneeling bench in the corner. Without interrupting his prayers, Juliana silently joined him, interceding for the orphans under their care.
He finished in due time, lifting his head to find Juliana watching him. He kissed her once, twice, three times, before wrapping his arms around her. Hugh considered her a treasured gift from God and did everything in his power to remind her of it. She pulled back to find a look of concern on his handsome face and reached up to smooth the creases between his eyes.
“Thee are worried about Croft and Rueloo, are thee not? God holds them in the palm of His hand, husband. We must trust Him.”
Shamed, Hugh wished for greater faith.
“Thee have the right of it, wife. Dane worries so, and I promised him my prayers. He was reluctant to see them go alone, and I agree with him. I will feel much better when they have returned safely to us.”
Noises from the kitchen interrupted their discussion as Margery busied herself making breakfast. They left the quiet library, making their way upstairs to awaken the children for another busy day. Life at Dramanshire continued without pause, despite the absence of Croft and Rueloo.
Thomas planned another trip to Orchid today for supplies, with an aside visit to see Beatrix at the Inn. The Boar’s Head was a respectable place, serving an ever-increasing number of travelers through Orchid. Smitten from their first meeting, the pair were expected to make a marriage announcement soon.
All recently-bonded orphans were busy planning for their trip to Rose. The king’s invitation caused quite a stir at Dramanshire and Wheet agreed they needed to learn first-hand about life at the palace. It was important for he and Augustus to understand each other’s intentions as they moved ever closer to an integrated kingdom. The dragonlets, who missed their Dam and nestmate, would travel to Rose with Echo and Sabina. They were still too young to be left unattended, and the trip would be a good learning experience.
The construction of Snapdragon, the king’s new summer home, was well underway. The main tower sat atop the hills near the crossroads of the King’s Highway and Dragon Road. Nearby sat the new dragon stables, barn, and barracks for the soldiers. Thanks to the overflow of gold into the treasury, there were many other projects being financed around Spiredale: road improvements, more dragon stables at Rose, and new sailing ships down by the harbor. At the same time, Orchid blossomed from a sleepy village into a busy town, adding new homes and businesses wherever space could be found.
Dane continued his weapons training instruction for the Draman, bringing pairs of soldiers with him to demonstrate the use of the baton, crossbow, longbow, and spear. Plans were being made for special saddle bags to hold various weapons and supplies while the dragons were in flight. Eventually, the Draman would learn to use them whether on the ground or in the air, making the dragon and its rider a lethal pair.
Planning ahead, Juliana consulted with the military healers at Rose to identify and treat common wounds of war. The gold worked wonders for healing, but setting bones, stitching up gashes, and removing arrows was knowledge all Draman and their dragons might need to know. Juliana spent long hours preparing Elenore and Scree for more intensive training when they reached Rose with the others.
Whitehaven, the king’s council chambers
Favian pounded the tabletop with both fists, startling his advisers.
“Explain thyself! What do thee mean, Merek is missing?”
The king’s unofficial spymaster remained unnaturally calm as he gave Favian the bad news.
“Thy brother has not been seen since the evening before the storm. His horse remains in the stable and his bedchamber undisturbed. It is possible he heard of our plans and fled the kingdom, but not a trace has been found. If he did escape, it was on foot and with only the clothes on his back.”
The king’s steely glare could stop a beating heart, and his advisers flinched as it was trained on them.
“Redouble thy efforts. Find him, or his rotting carcass, and bring it to me! Remember this – he will not stop at removing my head only. Thou art also in peril as long as he lives, and all our plans are for naught.”
While the king’s foul mood was understandable, it threatened to get worse when his Chamberlain shared another bit of troubling information.
“There is a matter of some concern, Thy Majesty. We have received news from the northern reaches that Pinnacle is mining for gold near Exeter.”
Favian’s eyes narrowed and he leaned forward over the table.
“Who lays claim to the land?”
“There has been no claim, as yet. Thy father considered annexing the area some time ago, but decided against it. I expect Pinnacle to send us an official declaration at any time.”
The king’s expression twisted with fury.
“Damn those infernal dragons! They would take over the world if we let them! How is the place guarded?”
“We are told they have a very generous agreement with Exeter to help mine the ore and protect the site. Short of diplomacy, we would have to take the land by force if we want the mine for ourselves.”
Favian turned to his Minister of War.
“Do it then! How soon can we take what is rightfully ours?”
“We cannot, Thy Majesty. Our forces are undermanned and in disarray. Between Exeter’s army and the dragons, we would suffer tremendous losses and gain nothing in return.”
Favian’s curses prevented the ministers from saying anything else, and he finally fell silent in thought. At every turn he faced problems inherited from his father’s incompetent handling of the kingdom. The coffers were nearly empty, his army gutted and ineffective, and the long-established agreements with neighboring kingdoms left Whitehaven weakened. He would have to address the issues one at a time, starting with Pinnacle’s claim to the gold.
“Since this cannot be settled as I wish, I will send formal notices to both Pinnacle and Exeter that my father did indeed officially lay claim to the land in question. While the ambassadors are busy talking, we will start rebuilding the army with conscripts and prepare to take the land by force.
“Send for my scribe. I want those dispatches delivered before the sun sets.”
Pinnacle, later that day
Zelara and Mirabelle finished up a long day of visiting each of the islands; something they did regularly to deal with problems, listen to complaints, and interact with their people. So it was, as they approached Dome, a Whitehaven ship sat in the harbor, flying the Ambassador’s flag. Zelara’s displeasure could be clearly felt by her scale-sister.
“Unless the ambassador is here about something else, Favian wasted no time lodging a complaint about the new mines.”
“It was expected, and no doubt Exeter received the same message. Had it been his father, we would have received a note of congratulations and nothing more. Oh, how I miss the old king!”
“As do I, but there is hope for changing the situation.”
“Hmph…hope moves too slowly for my taste.”
Merek was still getting settled in among them, rarely seen in public, and then only in disguise. So far, only Zelara, Mirabelle, and their trusted inner council were aware of his true identity and purpose. He would be invited to witness today’s meeting, as his insight and advice could prove invaluable.
Zelara swooped down from the sky to land on the terrace of meeting. The Ambassador’s retinue began making their way towards them from the ship, but she and Mirabelle needed a few moments to refresh themselves after a rigorous day. If King Favian’s representatives were kept waiting in the wind, so be it.
Mirabelle finished reading the king’s missive aloud, mostly for the sake of the advisers standing behind her, but also because it made the Ambassador and his party more uncomfortable. She lowered the parchment scroll and cocked her head as Zelara provided her initial response, turning her gaze on Whitehaven’s official representatives.
“King Favian’ss claimss have no merit. We were informed by hiss father that Whitehaven wass not interessted in the land ssome time ago, and we have no intention of giving up the miness or altering our arrangement with Exeter.”
The Ambassador’s sour expression made it clear he was neither surprised nor pleased to hear Zelara’s words. He opened his mouth to express a more sternly worded warning, but the dragon wasn’t finished speaking. Mirabelle continued to translate.
“You may alsso inform the king that any attempt to interfere with our planss or alliess will result in… sserious conssequencess.”
The Ambassador stiffened, allowing anger and sarcasm to color his response.
“I see. I find thy unjustified threats amusing, though His Majesty will not. Surely we can come to a more beneficial agreement, unless this is thy final word?”
Mirabelle spoke for herself this time.
“Our nationss were once closse alliess, but the king’ss greed hass now caussed a rift between uss. Let there be no missunderstanding – the miness and the land belong to Pinnacle and we will defend them as we would the ssoil upon which thee sstand. There iss nothing more to negotiate regarding this matter. Thee may leave uss.”
The Ambassador did not take kindly to being summarily dismissed, keeping his anger in abeyance long enough to bow stiffly and hastily return to his ship. Mirabelle looked up at Zelara to see smoke pouring from her snout, even as her claws made deep gouges in the soft soil of the terrace. Without another word, they all turned and retreated to Zelara’s caverns.
Merek listened carefully to the heated discussion, keeping his opinions to himself as they tried to understand Favian’s latest move. Some considered it mere posturing and bluster, while others, including Zelara, were convinced the situation could get much worse. Once everyone had their say, Mirabelle asked him what he thought of the whole affair.
“There is no question Whitehaven needs the gold, but Favian wants it for other reasons as well. He needs to prove he is a strong and decisive leader for all to see, and is desperate to demonstrate his rule will be nothing like our father’s. He also fears Pinnacle’s power and influence in the region and wants to put ye in thy place. His pride will not allow anyone, especially Pinnacle, to be bigger, better, richer, or smarter than he.”
Zelara, sharp as always, sensed something more. Mirabelle spoke for her.
“What iss it you are not telling uss, Merek? We musst know if we are to avoid the wrong decisson.”
Embarrassed and worried, Merek found it difficult to meet their eyes.
“Favian would like nothing better than to destroy the nest on Pinnacle and take the islands for himself. When he is able he will attack, and ye may soon find thyself at war. Forgive me, friends, if my words seem harsh, but they are the truth.”
Though Zelara appreciated his honesty, Merek thought it best to remove himself from the discussion. He felt terrible for having to tell them what they did not want to hear, and it hurt knowing his own brother caused their fear and resentment. He bade them good evening and headed home with a heavy heart. He’d been given a small stone cottage, close to the meeting terrace, but isolated from the other inhabitants of the island. This, too, was more difficult to bear than he imagined, unaccustomed to spending so much time alone.
Distracted by dreary thoughts, Merek stopped abruptly when he spied a lone figure through the open window. A merry fire burned on the hearth and the comforting smell of food made his stomach grumble. Who had made themselves at home while he was away? Zelara had spoken of someone on the island he might wish to see – could this be the one?
Caution won out over curiosity and he pulled the dagger from his boot to quietly approach the house. He yanked the door opened and stepped inside, brandishing the knife.
“Who are thee? Why are thee here?”
The stranger turned, gracing him with a small, sad smile.
“Have thy manners left thee so soon, my son?”
Merek gaped at what must be an apparition. There before him stood the queen mother, dressed in common clothes and seemingly alive.
“Mother? How can it be you? Thee are dead and buried!”
The familiar voice held firm, even as her face reflected shadows of grief and loss.
“Put away thy knife and trust thy eyes and ears. I fled the kingdom when thy brother’s plans became known to me. The fire was set to make him think me dead, and I escaped to Pinnacle. Forgive me for not telling thee, Son, but I could not risk thy life as well as mine.”
Merek put away the dagger and approached the woman. He reached out slowly to touch her hair, convincing himself of the reality before him. They burst into tears at the same moment, clinging to one another in joyous relief – impossible to express with words. After the tears came laughter and a hundred questions which they asked and answered over their meal.
The body found after the fire belonged to a poor beggar woman who died at the palace gate. The queen’s devoted ministers came up with the plan and helped her escape across the border. From there, a message to Zelara brought the dragon to the rendezvous herself, and she flew the queen back to Pinnacle for safekeeping.
When Merek set out to describe his own arrival on the islands, including the miraculous rescue at sea, his mother nearly fainted.
“To have lost thee so would have broken my heart. Perhaps it was best this way, as Favian cannot be certain if thee are alive or dead. We are safe here from his spies, but I want to hear of thy plans for the kingdom, my son. Thy brother’s black heart will surely bring destruction to Whitehaven unless he can be stopped.”
Far into the night they relived happy memories, grieved the departed king, and tested ideas for regaining Whitehaven’s throne. More importantly, they rejoiced in simply being together once again, pushing back the shadows which had hounded them into exile.
The next morning
Having arisen early, Croft and Rueloo ate a hasty breakfast and broke camp – eager to reach Pinnacle, complete their mission, and start for home. If things went according to plan, they would only be away from Dramanshire for a fortnight. Early in their flight, Rueloo banked sharply to the left, altering course away from the coastal Kingdom of Whitehaven and over the Talon Sea.
Croft filled his lungs with the distinctive scent of open water, even as the lush green of field and forest disappeared from view. A flock of noisy gulls parted, wisely avoiding Rueloo’s powerful wings and went about their business. In the distance, the islands of Pinnacle broke up the vast expanse of the sea, illuminated by warm sunshine. While his home in the mountains was beautiful, he relished the change of scenery, and the panorama below drove every other thought from his mind.
Gliding lower for a better look, Rueloo skimmed over the calm surface of the water, filling the air with her distinctive call. Up ahead, the sea suddenly came alive with a burst of foam and bubbles, startling Croft.
The large head and upper body of a gray-green water dragon rose out of the water, answering Rueloo’s call with one of its own. Croft knew they were speaking, but only caught part of the exchange.
“What did he say?”
“He wants us to land on the island up ahead.”
At last, Croft would meet one of the great creatures of the sea Wheet described months ago. Oh, the stories he would tell when they returned home! The water dragon began swimming near the surface, churning the sea as he went, twisting this way and that like a serpent on land. He traveled much faster than Croft imagined he could, headed for a tiny spit of rocky land rising above the water. Not really an island, but he and Rueloo needed something solid on which to stand and this was the only spot available.
When the great sea serpent reached it, he pulled himself up on dry ground, leaving his back half in the water. Plenty of room remained to alight and Rueloo brought them down on a relatively flat patch of sandy soil, speckled with moss and scrubby plants. The dragons leaned forward to scent one another, both rumbling with pleasure. Rueloo made the introductions.
“This is WaveWatcher, Croft. His pod lives here in the waters near Pinnacle. Do not fear him, little one. You are unlike the merfolk, and he is curious.”
Rueloo crouched down so Croft could dismount, and a few short steps brought him face to face with the intriguing water dragon. They scented each other first and then WaveWatcher licked his face and outstretched hand with a long, black, tongue which smelled of fish. Croft reached out to stroke the fine smooth scales of his face, avoiding the rows of sharp spines which ringed a wedge-shaped head. His enormous, heavy flippers began halfway down the long body, scaled like the rest of him, and the same gray-green color. Croft finally thought of something to say.
“Thee are a fine dragon, and very fast in the water! Do thee ever wish to fly the way Rueloo does?”
A rumble of laughter shook the rocks beneath Croft’s feet.
“No. Rueloo and her kind command the sky, while my kind rules the sea. This is the way of the world and I am content.”
“Are thee bonded to a human? I have been told they are called merfolk here, but I have never met one of them. Where I am from, we are called Draman.”
“I am not bonded. If you were unclaimed, I would take you into the sea with me, little Draman.”
The idea startled Croft and Rueloo assured him he could not be bonded to two dragons at the same time. She remained unworried, slightly amused, and a little bit jealous. Croft relaxed.
“I thank thee. Would thee like me to look for someone for thee while we are here?”
WaveWatcher laughed, both pleased and amused.
“If you wish. I will tell the merfolk you want to see them. Be sure to bring gifts or they will be offended.”
Croft smiled at the strange idea.
“Oh! All right. Will I see thee again?”
“I hope so, yes. Take care on your journey.”
With that, the sea dragon bid them farewell, slithering backwards into the sea and beneath the surface. Croft hated to part with him, but they still had a ways to travel before reaching the islands. Rueloo licked his outstretched hand in a dragon kiss and he climbed aboard to continue on their way.
Approaching from the south, they crossed over the islands of Lava, Plume, and Fissure before reaching Dome. Rueloo made no attempt to land, calling out instead to alert the nest of their presence. Four dragons flew up to meet them; three males and a female, all brightly scaled in shades of orange, yellow, and brown. Aside from their coloring and fewer horns, they looked much the same as the dragons back home. The most obvious difference was the shape of their tails, which did not taper to a point. Instead, they ended with a flat, diamond-shaped piece of heavy bone, and Croft wondered if it served some special purpose.
Rueloo explained why they were here and that they wished to see Zelara and Mirabelle. Forming a protective circle, the dragons escorted Rueloo and Croft to Dome’s surface, landing on a broad grassy terrace. Fortunately, the NestMistress and her scale-sister were not busy with other matters and came out to greet their visitors. When they reached the elevated platform, both Rueloo and Croft bowed in respect and waited to be addressed. Mirabelle spoke first.
“Welcome travelers. From where do thee come?”
Croft answered for them.
“We are from Dramanshire, in the kingdom of Spiredale.”
Mirabelle’s eyes widened in surprise.
“We know of Spiredale and the great nest residing there. What is the purpose of your long journey?”
“Our NestMaster, Wheet, sent us to learn more about dragon bonds.”
Intrigued, Zelara lowered her head to scent Croft first, and then Rueloo. Satisfied, she responded.
“We were not aware of any bonded among you. Why have you come to us for help?”
Rueloo spoke this time, as she would be able to explain it better.
“Our NestMaster’s Sire and Dam were hatched in Pinnacle. He has ancient memories handed down to him of this place. He hoped we would be welcome here and provided with the information we seek.”
“How may we help you?”
“Our understanding is limited and there are things we must know to protect both human and dragon. There are no nests close to us who bond with humans and we have traveled many days to reach this place. If you so desire, we will leave…”
Embarrassed, Mirabelle interrupted and stepped forward.
“No! Forgive us, please. Thee are our guests and most welcome here, only… thee have come at a difficult time. Whitehaven has disrupted the nest, and we are suspicious of strangers and their motives. Thee are not to blame, of course, but thee must be made aware of our situation. Please, come inside where we may talk further.”
Croft expected a somewhat warmer welcome, but Rueloo assured him privately that these were honorable people. He wondered if Wheet or Augustus would have sent them here alone had they known there was trouble. Still, they should be able to accomplish their primary mission of learning more about bonds. The remaining question of what to do with the diplomatic note for Whitehaven would have to be answered later.
Next time – the conclusion of DRAGON QUEST!