DRAGON QUEST – Part 4

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, part 2, and part 3.

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

Author’s Note – the books must be read in order to be understood, beginning with DRAGON CHILD, DRAGON VALLEY, and DRAGON BONDS. Get started!

 

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.

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.

For permissions and other inquiries, contact Alexander Elliott at aelliottbooks@gmail.com

 

DRAGON QUEST – PART 4

 

Chapter 8

The castle at Whitehaven

The role of Chamberlain was not the easiest or most pleasant at the royal court. While the position enjoyed almost unlimited access to the king, a deep level of trust, and a valued opinion, it also meant having to deliver bad news and suffer the displeasure of the monarch – not an easy task when one served Favian. The Chamberlain hurried through the castle corridors to answer his summons, and found His Majesty pacing in an otherwise empty throne room. He dropped to one knee, bowed his head, and waited for the king to address him.

“Speak! When will my orders be carried out?”

The Chamberlain lifted his head and replied cautiously.

“It is taking more time than we hoped, Thy Majesty. The new soldiers must be equipped and given at least minimal training before we send them out. As thee know, our borders are extensive and we can only cover the most obvious routes in and out of the kingdom. Our ships will be ready sooner, however, only needing to take on sufficient supplies.”

“Thee have not answered the question, Chamberlain! How long will it take?”

“Three days for the ships, and at least five for the troops. I apologize, Thy Majesty. The men are moving as fast as they can.”

Favian grunted in annoyance. The delay was not totally unexpected, but it galled him not to be able to put that blasted dragon in her place immediately. He may not be able to attack Pinnacle yet, but he could certainly make things difficult for Zelara in the meantime.

“Remind them I wish to act at the earliest possible moment. When all is in readiness, I will have one more message for the Ambassador to deliver and then we can watch them squirm.”

####

The royal palace at Rose

Trumpet blasts rent the warm air as eleven dragons, their riders, and three dragonlets were spotted approaching the palace. King Augustus, Queen Nelia, Prince Jahn, and Princess Lillain hurried outside to welcome their guests. This task was usually the monarch’s alone, but Augustus planned to involve his children in every aspect of the week’s training and events. They, too, needed to understand the changes taking place in Spiredale and how they would alter the way the kingdom was ruled. One day Jahn would ascend to the throne, and he must be prepared to work hand in hand with the dragons and Draman.

Lillain, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to be surrounded by the wondrous beasts. If her interest turned out to be more than casual, as Nelia believed, the royal family might have some interesting issues to face in the near future.

After circling once, the dragons landed one at a time, facing each other in a rough circle on the grassy lawn. Echo, Sabina, Dane, and the dragonlets placed themselves nearest the royal family. Augustus, pleased to see them all, secretly wished Croft and Rueloo could have also been in attendance. Dane and Sabina approached, bowed, and led the king and his family to the center of the large circle where they stopped to greet each dragon/Draman pair.

The midday meal appeared first on the day’s agenda. While the Draman were escorted into the palace, the dragons flew to the far side of the king’s private lake for their dinner. Some of the children were unhappy being separated from their dragon, even for a short time. Dane and Sabina reminded them this, too, was part of their training and that they still remained close enough to mind-speak.

After dinner, there were tours of the palace, a trip into town, and games on the great lawn. When it came time to bed down, small tents were provided for the Draman to stow their things or change clothes. Everyone knew they would be sleeping out in the open with their dragons, and as long as it did not rain, there would be no hardship. By the time the first orphans arrived for their formal studies next year, the new dragon stables would be complete and the pairs would enjoy the finest of accommodations. Until then, camping out in the warm summer air kept everyone content.

As the week progressed, the orphans were exposed to life at court and service as a soldier in the royal forces. If a child expressed a particular interest, they and their dragon were given additional instruction. As expected, not every Draman was well-suited for palace work or military service. Through careful questioning and suggestions, Augustus sought meaningful work for each bonded pair. By doing so, he hoped to convince them to settle in Rose when they left Dramanshire instead of scattering all over the kingdom.

As an apprentice, Elenore spent a great deal of time with the palace and military healers. She presented them with a copy of Juliana’s book containing everything she knew about dragons, the bonding process, and the use of gold. She and Scree allowed themselves to be poked and prodded, answered endless questions, and talked about their own experiences. In turn, they were taught about herbal remedies, tending and stitching wounds, setting bones, and dealing with the most common ailments. Elenore thrived under the attention, eager to return home and share what she’d learned with Juliana.

While Prince Jahn and Princess Lillain were unaccustomed to rubbing elbows with commoners, they ended up learning just as much about the kingdom as their new orphan friends. Jahn, always a quick study, began to understand what kind of kingdom Spiredale would become in the future and it excited him. The foundation his father laid now would serve him well when it came time for him to take the throne. He enjoyed exchanging new ideas with his father and the advisers, pleased to finally do something other than watch quietly in the background.

Princess Lillain, to no one’s surprise, spent every possible moment with the dragons. After several days of begging, the queen finally agreed to allow her to go for a brief flight, and the girl talked of nothing else. The dragonlets, missing their Dam and nest mate, decided to lavish their attention on the Princess instead. Small enough to go indoors, they followed her around the palace like a pack of dogs, investigating everyone and everything. It was anyone’s guess where her love of dragons might lead, and despite the opposition of some, Augustus quietly encouraged her.

 

Chapter 9

Pinnacle

Croft’s original idea of spending a day or two gathering information, and then returning home, proved to be unrealistic. The dragons of Pinnacle were spread out, requiring at least one visit to each of the seven islands. Delighted to have visitors from a far away kingdom, Croft and Rueloo were welcomed with celebration at every turn. Untold hours were spent listening to personal stories, old legends, and practical observations about the blood bonds between dragon and human. Croft’s own bonding experience, filled with danger and drama, left many speechless or in tears.

Like Catrain, Croft met many adult scale-brothers and sisters who looked much more like their dragons than he did. While some wore clothing, many did not, and Croft couldn’t help being curious about how certain things were done. When they enjoyed a few moments alone, he asked Rueloo to explain.

“They are all smooth down there! How do they excrete or make babies?”

Almost nothing shocked a dragon, and she answered his question as she would any other.

“Their bodies only look different on the outside. The scales move aside when they need to eliminate or if they wish to mate. Your body will undergo the same changes when you mature, and it will feel right to you.”

Most of the bonded humans on Pinnacle had children, and Croft took some comfort in their company. Apparently, they did not have to undergo the dangerous blood fever, but were born looking much as he did: pseudo-scales, flat nose, forked tongue, and clawed hands and feet. Even a mixed pair of bonded and human gave birth to children with the same dragon features as the others.

The presence of little ones, however, brought momentary heartache for both Croft and Rueloo. While it was necessary to leave the hatchlings behind, they were sorely missed. Spark, Huff, Billow, and Ember were being cared for by Echo and Sabina, but everyday life simply wasn’t the same without their antics and endless questions. For Croft, the absence of his nestmates threatened another wave of homesickness and Rueloo gently reminded him they would be reunited soon.

Interaction with such a large and well-established community brought Croft face to face with another striking truth – he and his Draman friends would live much longer lives than their fully human counterparts. Still, it did not compare to the normal age of a healthy dragon, and it led to interesting consequences. Some bonded to more than one human at the same time, while others enjoyed a long string of bondings over the years. Rueloo explained.

“Dragons live a very long time compared to humans. My brothers and sisters tell me that once we experience the bond, it is very difficult and lonely to live without it. Many years from now, when you die, I will be compelled to find another in your place.”

Croft’s initial feelings were a jumbled mix of sadness, jealousy, and resentment. Further thought led him to the conclusion that he wanted Rueloo to be happy no matter what might happen to him. Still, he wondered how the dragons could stand loving and losing so many in their long lives. Rueloo sensed his discomfort and made a point to remind him they had only started their life together and there was no reason to dwell on the distant future.

####

During a visit to Plume, at the southern end of the island chain, they were taken to a protected cove to meet with their kin from the sea. There in the clear waters were several sea dragons, including WaveWatcher, and a large group of merfolk. Croft, Rueloo, and their hosts waded into the shallow water to meet them for an unusual, and wet, afternoon of play and discussion. While all bonds shared certain similarities, Croft found the human transformation into merfolk fascinating. Their life in the sea was so different from his own, and he peppered them with questions.

When it came time to eat, the merfolk provided freshly caught fish – roasted for the scale-brothers and sisters or eaten raw by everyone else. Following their meal on the beach, WaveWatcher offered to take Croft for a ride through the waves. Rueloo agreed, insisting on flying overhead to make sure nothing happened to her beloved. Croft whooped with delight as WaveWatcher and two other dragons played racing games, zig-zagging across the surface at high speeds.

Once they returned to the cove, Croft retrieved gifts for the merfolk from the pack he carried. Most were necklaces and bracelets made of worked gold, shells, or small colorful stones. Croft blushed as they showered him with kisses or petted his curly hair. As the day came to a close, he and Rueloo said their goodbyes and watched as the water dragons and merfolk swam away and out of sight.

####

The days flew by as Rueloo and Croft made new friends and gathered the information they were sent to collect. In return, they told Zelara and Mirabelle about the nest in the Great Peak Mountains and the growing number of orphans and Draman among them. They also relayed warm greetings from King Augustus and described Spiredale and its people. When they revealed their intention to deliver the king’s diplomatic note to Whitehaven, Zelara strongly advised against it, citing Favian’s aggression.

The problem solved itself when Whitehaven’s Ambassador arrived on Dome several days later. It was an unusually brief visit, as he stayed only long enough to hand over a sealed document before leaving. At Mirabelle’s suggestion, Croft and Rueloo interrupted his return to the ship by introducing themselves and presenting him with the king’s message. While it wasn’t delivered exactly as Augustus intended, it enabled Croft to discharge his duty without putting himself or Rueloo at risk.

This temporary triumph was soon overshadowed by the upsetting news their friends received. Favian’s message turned out to be an official notice of hostilities between Whitehaven and Pinnacle. Zelara hastily called her advisers together and asked Croft and Rueloo to observe as her guests. The enormous cavern where they met erupted with anger and confusion when the note was read aloud. In response to opening a new gold mine on land “already claimed by the kingdom of Whitehaven” and Pinnacle’s “unlawful agreement with the kingdom of Exeter”, Favian chose to enact harsh penalties.

All borders with Whitehaven were now closed, trade by land or sea halted, and all diplomatic ties cut. Any attempt by Pinnacle to continue mining gold or trade with neighboring kingdoms would be met with deadly force. While not exactly a declaration of war, Pinnacle was effectively isolated from her neighbors and left to fend for herself. As the impact of the restrictions began to sink in, Zelara’s advisers grew quiet and pensive. Since worry never produced results, she quickly explained how they were going to respond.

“Favian believess he can frighten uss into giving him what he wantss or sslowly sstarve uss to death. The mine is ourss, even if we musst wait until it iss ssafe to operate. He hass forgotten we rule the air and our brotherss rule the ssea. If hiss sships attack, we will ssink them, and if he harmss our people we will retaliate.

“There will be no reply to hiss demandss, and we will continue trading at night when they cannot ssee uss. We have access to the ssea and other kingdomss too far away for Whitehaven to cut off all of our ssuppliess. It will require sstealth and hard work, but it can be done! Call in our defenderss and courierss – we must begin immediately.”

####

Meanwhile, in Favian’s private chambers

Several hours passed before Favian opened the message passed on by the Ambassador. Why, after all, should he care about some insignificant kingdom on the backside of nowhere? There were enough troubles on his mind without wasting energy on useless diplomatic overtures. In the quiet of his own rooms, he reconsidered his first response and opened the message from Spiredale. The unremarkable missive contained only a friendly greeting, condolences on the death of Favian’s father, and a vague offer of mutual cooperation.

While the king knew of Spiredale’s existence, he remained ignorant of the place and its people. It seemed significant that the messengers were a Scalie and a dragon – specifically mentioned as “honored representatives” of the kingdom. Favian needed more information and called for his Chamberlain. When the man arrived, he read the short note and told the king everything he knew about Spiredale.

“It is a small, peaceful, kingdom along the shores of the Talon Sea, and is reported to be rich in gold. The nearby mountains contain a large nest of dragons who defeated the armies of Thorn when they attacked some two years ago. Our spies tell us Thorn’s forces were destroyed in a matter of minutes. A close relationship with them could prove very beneficial. It is unfortunate they did not bring the message directly to us, for we could have obtained additional information.”

Favian’s mind began to turn with possibilities. If Whitehaven had access to abundant gold and a fierce nest of dragons as Spiredale did, he could finally wipe out Pinnacle, expand his kingdom, and enjoy the riches he should have inherited from his idiot father. Spiredale was too distant to conquer easily, but perhaps he could gain their cooperation another way.

“Do we know how long the Scalie and his dragon will remain at Pinnacle?”

“No, Thy Majesty. The Ambassador was on his way back to the ship when they handed him the message and he did not ask questions or extend an invitation to the palace. Apparently, both the boy and his dragon are blue, and should be easy to identify. We may have to move quickly if thee wish to… intercept them.”

Favian’s eye’s narrowed as an audacious plan blossomed in his mind. It might be risky and complicated, but the opportunity could not be wasted. The operation required precise timing and careful cooperation to be successful, and if it failed he was no worse off than before. If the plan bore fruit – Zelara and her people would forever cease to be a problem.

####

Caught up in Pinnacle’s troubles, Croft and Rueloo offered to stay a while longer and help their friends establish the new supply lines. With so much to do, Zelara expressed her gratitude and put them to work. The job became much easier after Croft suggested they use giant nets to carry supplies back and forth, as was done when building the orphanage. Soon, every available pair of hands on all seven islands set to making rope and weaving it together.

Clandestine meetings with the surrounding kingdoms arranged pick up and delivery times and locations. Mirabelle assigned a different person for each place and tasked them with keeping track of the schedule. As soon as the sun set each night, the dragons began carrying nets full of island goods such as fish, fruit, pottery, and gold jewelry the humans loved so much. In exchange, they brought back grain, firewood, metal, leather, or other things not readily found on Pinnacle.

Flights over Whitehaven were avoided for the most part, and even then, much higher than the dragons usually flew. The soldiers possessed many of the spear-throwing devices, called ballistas, stationed along portions of the shoreline and near the disputed gold mine. There may have been others, but without flying dangerously low they remained hidden. The only other obvious change in their enemy’s behavior was an increased naval presence.

Every day, one or more ships were chased away from the islands and back to Whitehaven’s shoreline. Twice, Zelara’s defenders raked a ship with fire in order to force them out of their waters. At least once so far, a sea dragon nearly swamped a ship before it got the message and backed away. Zelara believed these were clumsy attempts to spy on them, though they could not understand what Favian hoped to see. Most of their activity was hidden in darkness or on the opposite side of the islands where Whitehaven’s ships wouldn’t dare go.

Mirabelle, certain Favian was up to no good, urged everyone working near Whitehaven’s borders to be especially cautious. In her mind, a quiet enemy presented the most danger, and the king already proved he lacked honor. Whatever he planned did not bode well for her people and she remained on edge, expecting something to happen. As it turned out, she didn’t have to wait much longer.

####

Whitehaven’s border, shortly before sunset

Favian’s network of spies finally uncovered useful information when the village of Shorewood, which included Lord Wellington’s estate, was caught red-handed trading with Pinnacle. Outraged, the king made an example of the disobedient Lord by throwing him in the dungeon and seizing his home and lands. To pay for their disloyalty, he levied a new tax on the entire village and a stationed a permanent squadron of soldiers there to keep watch on them.

Punishing his citizens became secondary, however, when Favian learned the blue dragon took part in the secret food pickups. This was exactly the break he needed to bring his plans to fruition, and he moved quickly to intercept tonight’s exchange. The ballistas were carefully placed and well-hidden along the heavily wooded shoreline, while the archers were instructed to target Scalies only – with one exception.

####

Pinnacle, after dark

Croft shifted uneasily on Rueloo’s back, eager to get tonight’s pick up over with and weary with late nights and lack of sleep. Tomorrow would be their last day on the islands before heading home, and he yearned to see Dane and his friends. The trip back would take just as long, but at least they would be heading towards Spiredale instead of away from it. He leaned down to stroke Rueloo’s neck, reassuring her of his love. In turn, she sent a mental image of the day he awoke from the bonding fever, awash with wonder and the reassurance she would never leave him.

While tonight’s supply run was already familiar to most of the assigned group, it would be considerably larger than the previous ones. Ten dragon-and-rider pairs finally took to the air for the short flight, including Zelara and Mirabelle. Though urged by their advisers to stay behind, Pinnacle’s leaders insisted on doing their part and no one could dissuade them. A crisp breeze followed them across the water, masking whatever scents they would normally pick up from shore.

Zelara and Mirabelle took point, coming in cautiously when they did not see the usual signal torches. The darkened beach put Mirabelle instantly on guard and she broadcast her thoughts to the entire group.

“The torches are missing and the wind masks the scent. Wait here while we take a closer look.”

The others obeyed, circling offshore above the water. Though Croft understood Mirabelle’s caution, he simply wanted to complete the task and return to Dome. After another low pass, Mirabelle broadcast the all-clear. The dragons quickly lined up along the beach to enter the narrow opening in the trees and retrieve the filled nets. Rueloo, third to go in, wasted no time snatching one of the bundles in her powerful jaws. Once on the beach, she could grasp it in her talons before taking flight.

As the moonlight bounced off her scales, one of the soldiers recognized the blue dragon and fired. The “thwip”, “thwip”, “thwip” sound of arrows and ballistas filled the air as bellows of pain and confusion erupted all around them. Spears lodged in dragon flesh as the alarmed beasts struggled for room to take off. Some managed it, only to be struck while in the air. Their riders fared no better, with sharp arrows penetrating bodies amid screams and spilled blood.

Croft lay as flat as he could on Rueloo’s back as she ran into the shallow water near the beach where there was more room to fly. As they lifted into the air, Rueloo’s left wing was shredded by spears and she tumbled from the sky with a roar of pain and confusion. She landed with an enormous splash, spilling Croft from her back. The frightened boy struck a large rock hidden just below the surface, snapping his left arm like a dry stick. His scream was lost in the confusion, and he struggled to keep his head above water as the pain and nausea tried to pull him under the cold waves.

“Rueloo! Help me!”

She did not answer – the warm mental connection with her having gone dark and silent. She lay crumpled in the water, unmoving, as blood flowed from her injured wing. He opened his mind to find someone to help them, but was battered by a maelstrom of anger and agony as the others dealt with their own injuries and attempts to get away.

The sound of hurried splashing caused Croft to look up in alarm as two soldiers waded through the water towards him. He screamed again for help, but no one heard his pleas.

“NO! Wake up Rueloo! Don’t let them take me! Rueloo!”

The soldiers roughly grabbed his arms to drag him to shore, wrenching his broken arm. The pain was too much for Croft and his troubled mind plunged mercifully into darkness.

END OF BOOK 4

   To be continued in book 5, DRAGON RESCUE!

DRAGON QUEST – Part 3

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

Author’s Note – the books must be read in order to be understood, beginning with DRAGON CHILD, DRAGON VALLEY, and DRAGON BONDS. Get started!

 

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.

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.

For permissions and other inquiries, contact Alexander Elliott at aelliottbooks@gmail.com

 

DRAGON QUEST – PART 3

 

Chapter 5

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.”

 

Chapter 6

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.

 

Chapter 7

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.

“Rueloo! Look!”

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!

 

 

DRAGON QUEST – Part 1

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!

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

Author’s Note – the books must be read in order to be understood, beginning with DRAGON CHILD, DRAGON VALLEY, and DRAGON BONDS. Get started!

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.
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.
For permissions and other inquiries, contact Alexander Elliott at aelliottbooks@gmail.com

 

DRAGON QUEST – PART 1

 

Prologue

Three months ago, in the far away Kingdom of Whitehaven

The king was dead. Thrown from a skittish horse, the beloved monarch’s sudden demise plunged his family and people into sorrow. The neighboring kingdoms were equally grieved at his passing, having enjoyed peaceful and profitable relations during his reign. The queen and her youngest son, Merek, were inconsolable, while the crown prince, Favian, remained unusually quiet and pensive.

Most believed he was simply mourning his father’s untimely death or felt overwhelmed by royal obligations. Privately, he considered his father a bumbling fool who mismanaged the kingdom and undermined the power of his position. Favian vowed he would make no such mistake and started by replacing his father’s trusted advisers in favor of those who appreciated a strong and decisive leader.

Together, they began making changes to strengthen the throne’s power, expand Whitehaven’s borders, and deal swiftly with unsavory neighbors – especially the powerful and meddlesome nation of Pinnacle. Favian feared the dragons, resented their greedy acquisition of gold, and was repulsed by the unnatural half-dragon people he contemptuously called “scalies”. The once-close relationship with Pinnacle became one of the first victims of the new king’s leadership, causing bewilderment and a mutual mistrust.

The relationship with his mother and brother deteriorated quickly, as they argued against many of Favian’s decisions. The king had little tolerance for those who disagreed with him, and palace gossips whispered of plans to permanently silence them. A month into his reign, the issue took a shocking turn when a horrific fire consumed the queen’s cottage. While Merek could not prove her death at his brother’s hands, he began making plans of his own to avoid a similar fate. Whitehaven’s future now lay in the hands of a despot, and no one could predict where his leadership might take them.

 

Chapter 1

The royal palace at Rose, present day (July)

A steady stream of petitioners kept Augustus busy through the morning hours, and he breathed a sigh of relief when the last one exited the throne room. As he stood to leave, the Doorman hurried in with an apologetic look on his face and gave a perfunctory bow.

“Forgive the intrusion, Sire. Captain Barda has arrived, desiring an audience.”

Such a request by his chief naval officer meant he brought important news. The meeting with his advisers would have to wait, and Augustus reseated himself on the throne.

“Very well. Show him in and inform the others I shall be briefly detained.”

Following Thorn’s nearly-successful invasion, Augustus invested heavily in his armed forces, both on land and sea. The navy now boasted more trade vessels and a fleet of sturdy ships for defense. Spiredale’s gold mines made it a lucrative target, and an enemy invasion by sea became a real possibility. Thus far, the biggest threat came from pirates, and the king’s navy was busy hunting down a particularly vicious band who infested the waters in the spring.

Barda stopped before the throne, bowed, and waited to be addressed.

“Do thee come bearing good news, captain?”

Barda’s self-satisfied smile gave him away.

“I do, Thy Majesty. Another pirate vessel has been taken – the very one we have sought for some time. The ship and its surviving crew are being held at port, awaiting thine instructions.”

“Is there sufficient evidence to charge them?”

The captain’s expression soured.

“Yes, Thy Majesty. They are guilty of theft, murder, kidnapping, the destruction of peaceful maritime vessels, and sundry other crimes.”

The king’s eyes grew cold at the list of charges, knowing full well there were things Barda chose not to mention. While normally known for his kindness and generosity, Augustus considered pirates a loathsome scourge to be eliminated with haste.

“Very well, captain. See to the reading of the charges before the crew is hanged, and destroy the ship. Word should spread quickly that Spiredale will not tolerate piracy in our waters. I am most pleased, and thee and thy men are to be commended.”

“Thank thee, Thy Majesty. I also bring word on the new ships. The galley is now complete and ready for trials and three new cogs will be finished in a fortnight.”

“Ah, good news indeed, captain. Inform me when thee are ready and I will attend the commissioning.”

As Barda took his leave, the king made his way to one of the smaller antechambers and took his seat at the head of the table. The group awaiting him included his Chamberlain, Chief Steward, Minister of War, and Sir Geoffrey, the newly appointed Minister of Dragon Affairs. Eager to put the nasty pirate business behind him, Augustus began the meeting without delay.

“As ye already know, Croft and Rueloo left at sunrise today for Pinnacle and, at my behest, will also carry a diplomatic note to the nearby coastal Kingdom of Whitehaven. While the two have enjoyed friendly relations in the past, this appears to be changing with Whitehaven’s new king. From all accounts, Pinnacle is co-ruled by a dragon and her Draman, and we would do well to cultivate a friendship with them. Everything depends on what Croft and Rueloo discover while they are there, and we will meet with them upon their return.

“Before they left, we discussed the growing number of Draman and their possible future in the Crown’s service. The orphans know nothing about life here at the palace or in what positions they might serve. Therefore, the Draman and their dragons have been invited to Rose so that ye may instruct them. They will be shown all aspects of palace life, including the military, and I expect the first trainees to begin in the spring of next year. Make no mistake – there are many changes ahead for Spiredale – good ones I believe – and the presence of Draman and their dragons here at court will become commonplace.

“As this event falls under the purview of Sir Geoffrey, he shall require thy cooperation in the planning and details. The needs of both Draman and dragon must be considered carefully while they are our guests, and I will remind ye that none will be forced to serve against their will. Service to the Crown is an honor, but as I want them happy in their life here, they must be free to choose their vocation. This is an exciting time for the kingdom, and what we do today will determine the security and prosperity of Spiredale for generations to come. What say ye, gentlemen?”

The king’s advisers burst into animated conversation, discussing ideas, delegating tasks, and asking many and varied questions. It pleased him to witness their enthusiasm as they took an important step towards a truly integrated society of human, Draman, and dragon – the first of its kind in this region of the world. At present, Spiredale’s neighbors either loathed, coveted, or ignored the plucky little kingdom. One day, Augustus believed, his tiny nation would enjoy the admiration and envy of the known world.

 

Chapter 2

En route to Pinnacle, day two

With the sun behind them, Croft enjoyed an excellent view of the jagged coastline below. To his right lay the vast open expanse of the Talon Sea, an enormous body of fresh water which dominated this part of the world. Spiredale itself was bordered on the north by the Sea, and from the very first, never completely out of their sight. A direct route across the water could have shaved two days off their journey, but only if they remained in the air without stopping.

Flying close to the coastline gave them ample opportunities to stop for rest, food, or sleep. It also made the trip much more interesting as they glided over the farms, towns, and villages along the way. Croft knew approximately where they were, having studied the maps at the palace. Though it probably wasn’t necessary, Rueloo also looked them over carefully, comparing the human-made drawings with Wheet’s directions. She had never been anywhere near Pinnacle, but dragons possessed an innate ability to find their way, even in the worst of conditions.

Up ahead Croft spotted a large forest and let Rueloo know he needed to relieve himself. Following their normal routine, she glided lower, skimming over the treetops to scent the air for human activity or the presence of other dragons. While they were not expecting trouble, some humans or even other dragons, would not welcome strangers in their territory. Finding nothing except the usual forest creatures, Rueloo circled back to land in a small grassy meadow with an adjacent pond.

While Rueloo drank from the pond, Croft hurried over to the nearest tree and emptied his bladder with a satisfied sigh. Since Rueloo needed to eat more frequently during long flights, they quickly returned to the sky in search of wild game. Minutes later, they spotted a sound of wild boars who scattered at her approach, and the chase was on. Confusing them with her call, Rueloo managed to swoop in and snatch two who mistakenly left the safety of the trees in their rush to get away.

She returned to the small meadow to feast, keeping an eye on Croft as he sat in the shade to eat some of the rations Margery had packed for him. Croft’s love for animals meant he generally avoided Rueloo’s extremely messy mealtime activities, and she acknowledged his discomfort by being quick and quiet when he was nearby. As a rule, Dragons were very fastidious creatures, always keeping themselves and their nests clean. At her insistence, Croft himself learned new bathing habits to keep her happy, and he ceased arguing with her about it long ago.

When Croft finished eating, he stripped next to the pond and waded in to wash himself and his clothing. While he redressed in the wet, heavy garments, Rueloo waded in to clean the blood from her scales and refresh herself. Between the sunshine and breeze as they flew, it wouldn’t take long to dry off and be comfortable once more. Soon, they were on their way and Croft enjoyed the time alone with his dragon, recalling the freedom of their early days when it was just the two of them.

Now, duty to both Wheet and the king brought them far from Dramanshire, even while Croft’s heart longed for home. His thoughts bounced from what he might be missing to what they faced when they reached their destination. Rueloo patiently listened, ignoring his worries. Instead, she tried to distract him by pointing out features of the land below or the different types of dragons they might encounter in their travels. Croft gave in and let her, knowing it was better than fretting about things he could not change.

####

Meanwhile, at Dramanshire

Eleven Draman sat clustered together on the stone courtyard, their dragons watching intently from nearby peaks as Dane began their weapons training. He was experienced in teaching grown men, but a dramatic shift in thinking and methods was required to instruct children in the art of self defense. More difficult still would be including girls in the classes – something unheard of in their society.

“His Majesty wishes all Draman to be instructed in the use of weapons. Some of ye will become soldiers and will be given additional training at Rose. For the rest of ye, being Draman marks ye as different, and, therefore, a potential target. It is wise to be able to defend thyself from attack.”

Sabina and some of the older Draman nodded in agreement, while the others looked confused. Eight year old Henry clearly thought the entire idea preposterous.

“My dragon will jusst burn them up! Why would I need to fight?”

Murmurs of agreement rippled through the group and Henry looked defiantly at Dane as though he’d won the argument. Dane proceeded to set him straight.

“Yes, thine dragons are very powerful, but can they protect ye always? What if ye are inside a building or separated? What if they cannot reach ye before thine enemy does? What if ye are taken by surprise?”

Clearly, Henry and some of the others were not yet convinced, so Dane decided a short and somewhat risky demonstration might be beneficial.

Calling the boy forward, he waited until Henry was within reach before acting. In a swift, smooth movement, he grabbed the startled Draman, pulled him back against his body, and lifted a sharp dagger to his throat. The surprised boy cried out, even as the other children gasped in shock. At the same time, Henry’s dragon, Drum, dove towards them with sharp talons extended, his thumping call echoing off the surrounding rock.

With only a moment to spare, Dane dropped the dagger, released Henry, and dove out of the way before Drum could reach him. The angry dragon squawked in surprise, lifting back into the air just far enough to turn, and landed with a resounding thud. Black smoke poured from his nostrils as Henry ran over to calm the agitated beast, stroking the smooth scales of his neck.

“Do not be angry, Drum. I am not harmed.”

 The other dragons were either rumbling with laughter or annoyance, but they seemed to understand what the foolish human was trying to show his students. Dane got up from the ground, slipped the dagger back into its hiding place, and slowly approached the now-smiling Henry. He bowed to the Dragon and extended his hand to the boy.

“Forgive me for scaring thee, Drum. I do not wish to harm the child.”

Henry patted Drum’s neck once more and then stepped away from the irritated dragon to take his instructor’s hand. Drum shifted from foot to foot, still uneasy, but allowed his Draman to be returned to the group. Nervous laughter greeted them as everyone settled down once more, and Dane continued.

“The weapon I used today, the dagger, will be the first one ye will master. They are small, easy to carry and conceal, and can save thy life. We will begin with practice blades while ye learn to use them, so no one will get hurt. Please explain it to thy dragon before we begin.”

The rest of the lesson went smoothly, and while the dragons hovered protectively, they did not interfere. Dane knew somewhere along the way they would learn their Draman could not be protected from all harm, nor could they attack at the slightest provocation. Like everything else, time, training, and experience would be their teachers.

As the lesson progressed, one thought continued to worry Dane. Croft left on his mission before he could teach the boy how to use any of the beautiful weapons given to him by the king. It was too late now, and he could only hope his son would have no reason to need them.

To be continued…

DRAGON BONDS – Part 1

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!

Author’s Note – the books must be read in order to be understood, beginning with Dragon Child and Dragon Valley. Get started!

 

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.
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.
For permissions and other inquiries, contact Alexander Elliott at aelliottbooks@gmail.com

 

DRAGON BONDS – PART 1

 

Prologue

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.

 

Chapter 1

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.

 

Chapter 2

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!

DRAGON VALLEY – Part 4

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.
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.
For permissions and other inquiries, contact Alexander Elliott at aelliottbooks@gmail.com

 

Dragon Valley – Part 4

Chapter 9

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.

 

Chapter 10

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.”

“Returned? Where?”

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.

####

Ceremony day

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.

 

Epilogue

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.”

The End

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed Dragon Valley, please take a moment to share your thoughts with me at aelliottbooks@gmail.com

DRAGON BONDS, book three of the Rise Of The Draman series, is now available. Get started HERE!

DRAGON VALLEY – Part 3

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!

If you are new to the series, you will need to read Dragon Child to understand the backstory: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

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.
For permissions and other inquiries, contact Alexander Elliott at aelliottbooks@gmail.com

 

DRAGON VALLEY – PART 3

 

Chapter 6

Present day

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.

 

Chapter 7

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.

 

Chapter 8

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.”

End of part three. Continue reading HERE for the conclusion of DRAGON VALLEY!

 

DRAGON VALLEY – Part 2

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!

If you are new to the series, you will need to read Dragon Child to understand the backstory: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

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.
For permissions and other inquiries, contact Alexander Elliott at aelliottbooks@gmail.com

 

DRAGON VALLEY – PART 2

 

Chapter 3

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.

 

Chapter 4

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.

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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.

 

Chapter 5

 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.

End of part two. Continue reading HERE!

 

DRAGON CHILD – Part 4

Today concludes my four-part novelette, Dragon Child. If you have missed the previous posts, get caught up here:Part 1 , part 2 , part 3.  I hope you enjoy the story!

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The kingdom of Spiredale, known for it’s reserves of gold and a nest of dragons, is also home to a little orphan boy named Croft. When his curiosity leads to a life changing encounter, he becomes the endangered kingdom’s only chance for survival. Will Croft lose the only home he’s ever known or is this the beginning of something new? Dragon Child.

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Dragon Child 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.
For permissions and other inquiries, contact Alexander Elliott at aelliottbooks@gmail.com

 

DRAGON CHILD – Part 4

 

Chapter 8 – Threat

One month later. The royal palace at Rose

A breathless scout waited impatiently for the throne room doors to open. His message was urgent, every minute counting, but his arrival in the very early morning was long before the court began its work for the day. The scout cared only about his duty, even if it meant rousing the king from his bed. A rattle of locks and bars on the other side had him dancing from foot to foot, eager to deliver his message at the earliest possible moment.

The doorman appeared wearing an annoyed scowl and ushered the scout into the opulent throne room on the other side. Ignoring the formalities, King Augustus motioned the man forward and took the parchment from his extended hand. As he read the message, all blood drained from his face and he stood to shout orders.

“Send for the Minister of War and my commanders at once!”

Servants scattered and the palace sprang to life as word spread. Soon, the king and his ministers were assembled in an inner chamber to hear the scout’s message firsthand.

“I have ridden all night from the southern district, Your Majesty. An army from the kingdom of Thorn is advancing toward our borders. We estimate they will arrive three days hence with forces twice our size. Spies have determined they intend to capture the mines and then advance on the Royal Palace. I have dispatched an alert to Commander Kersen at Wort to await your orders.”

Augustus blanched as the ministers around him reacted to the news with worried exclamations, shouts of indignation, and useless claims of superior forces. The babble rose and fell around him as he struggled to find an answer – one he must find if the kingdom were to survive. The mention of Wort brought to mind the fantastic stories reported to him regarding the half-dragon boy from Orchid. The arrival of the dragons was too late to save his father, but if the stories were true and the child could communicate with them…

“Enough!”

The room quieted instantly as the assembled military experts stopped talking long enough to listen to their monarch.

“Our forces are not strong enough to repel an army of this size. We need outside help and we need it now. If the dragons will help us, we have a chance.”

The absolute impossibility of the king’s pronouncement stunned the assembly into silence. As was his duty, the Minister of War was forced to point out the flaw in His Majesty’s idea.

“Your Highness, the dragons have shown no interest in human affairs since their arrival. In addition we have no way to communicate with them and no guarantee they would help us even if we could. I fail to see how this idea will be of any help.”

Augustus hid a small smile before standing. Out of respect, the others rose along with him.

“I have information which may prove your assumptions incorrect. I require the assistance of my secretary and the fastest rider available. Meanwhile, assemble our men at the southern border and prepare for a traditional engagement. I want your plans in place by the time I return.”

####

Summoned to the capital by the king’s messenger, Commander Kersen moved quickly to prepare for the journey. He cursed silently, wondering what good his presence at Rose was going to do when the ones he needed to talk to were only a few hours away at Orchid. Additionally, if enemy forces intended to capture the mines, his place was here and not traipsing around the royal palace! Unfortunately, his duty was to obey and not question.

It was obvious the king intended to seek the dragons help in their defense, even if he were going about it the wrong way. If it were possible to bring Croft, the NestMaster, and King Augustus together, they could finally talk face to face. Whatever the dragons eventually decided, they must act within the next few days or all would be lost. They needed more time and didn’t have it!

An urgent knocking interrupted Kersen as he finished up his preparations to leave. His second in command, Findlay, blurted out the message as soon as the door was opened.

“The dragon rider is here again, Sir. I thought you should know.”

This was exactly what he needed, and Kersen thanked heaven even as he responded.

“Collect my things and join me with the dragon. Hurry man, we have no time to waste.”

Kersen followed a confused Findlay out of the barracks and into the warm sunshine. A quick glance told him where Rueloo and Croft were perched, watching the miners process ore. As soon as he was close enough, Kersen called to Croft, asking permission to approach. The miners and nearby soldiers were astonished at the commander’s bravery, watching curiously as he stood at the dragon’s feet and spoke to the rider. After a few minutes, Kersen turned to find Findlay waiting nervously with his things and broke off his discussion with Croft.

“Findlay, I am on a special mission for His Majesty and will be leaving shortly. You are in command until instructed otherwise. I need you to send a message to the king via carrier pigeon as soon as I’ve gone.”

Kersen dictated the short message, asking Findlay to repeat it back to him to assure accuracy. The poor man was incredibly confused, yet trusted Kersen implicitly. He handed over the saddlebags, along with the commander’s heavy cloak and watched in shock as the dragon lowered itself to the ground so the man could climb on behind the small rider. Moments later they were airborne, headed south. Findlay called his officers together and briefed them concerning the change in command.

“Commander Kersen is engaged in the king’s business and I have a message to send. Prepare the men – we are now on high alert. Dismissed.”

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Riding a dragon was a game for the young, Kersen decided, and his old bones protested vigorously as he dismounted in the NestMaster’s valley. The trip by air was much shorter than it would have been by horse and he’d actually enjoyed most of it after his stomach settled down. None of that was important now as Kersen was introduced to the midnight-black dragon leader. The creature was enormous and beautiful in the same way a fine weapon was both elegant and lethal. Kersen swallowed hard and looked up at the green-eyed beast as he spoke, Croft at his side to translate.

It took some time for the NestMaster to understand the concepts of human warfare and the threat to Croft’s group of humans. When the dragon asked where the enemy forces were coming from, Kersen told him it was from the kingdom of Thorn, a desert area to the south and many days travel. The dragon instantly became agitated, ominous growling accompanied by dark billowing smoke. Croft listened, head cocked to the side, before turning to explain that the aggressive humans at Thorn were the reason the dragons moved here years ago. The NestMaster finally asked Kersen what he wanted him to do.

“We do not have enough soldiers to fight them and need your help. If we lose, they will destroy our kingdom and be a danger to you once again. The gifts of gold and animals will stop, as they will not be willing to share them as we do. I beg you to travel with us to see our leader, King Augustus, and find a way to stop the enemy before they reach these mountains.”

Kersen was met with an uncomfortable silence. Croft told him the dragons were talking and would give him an answer when they were finished. While they waited, Kersen suggested they bring along Captain Dane as well, and Croft thought it was a wonderful idea. Before long, the great beast gave his answer.

“I will come.”

 

Chapter 9 – Battle

The palace at Rose

Thanks to Kersen’s quick thinking, the messenger pigeon arrived before he did. Being forewarned of a dragon’s imminent arrival, the palace was ready to receive their unorthodox guest without panic. Though queen Nelia insisted on witnessing the event, Augustus was uncertain she could withstand the strain of a face to face meeting. It was true neither he nor his ministers had ever personally encountered one of the beasts, even if the king was eager for the experience.

Added to the state of affairs was an even greater unknown – the child. How could they place the survival of the kingdom, the only link between human and dragon, in the hands of a young half-breed boy? Desperate times called for desperate measures, it was said, and this situation certainly qualified.

Warning trumpets sounded, heralding the dragon’s approach, and the entire welcoming party rushed out to the great lawn to meet them. Instead of one dragon as expected, there were five, with an enormous black beast in the center of the formation. The black one carried a single uniformed passenger while a smaller blue dragon carried a child and an adult. The beasts circled the palace once before coming in for a graceful landing, powerful downdrafts buffeting the waiting hosts.

The king recognized Kersen instantly, but he’d never met the other man and child. The three dismounted and approached, bowing before the king and a flustered queen. The dragons remained where they were, watching the humans warily with green and gold eyes. Augustus addressed his human visitors without delay.

“I received your unorthodox message, Kersen, and am impressed with your actions today. You are to be commended. Now, who do we have here?”

Dane and Croft stepped forward. Both king and queen gasped lightly as they got a good look at the strange boy, schooling their faces quickly into pleasantly neutral expressions.

“I am Captain Dane, of Your Majesty’s forces in Orchid. This is my son, Croft.”

“Welcome to Rose, Captain. Hello, Croft. Would you be so kind as to introduce me to the dragons?”

Croft looked up at Dane, pleased to have been called the man’s son, and received an encouraging nod. He’d been practicing his words on the way here, wanting to make a good first impression.

“Of coursse, your majessty.”

Careful with his claws, and totally ignorant of royal protocol, Croft grasped the queen’s hand on one side and king’s on the other and led them towards the waiting dragons. He stopped first before the beautiful blue-scaled creature.

“Thiss iss Rueloo. My dragon. Sshe will want to ssniff, but sshe won’t hurt you.”

The king, face to face with a real dragon at last, stood still while Rueloo inhaled his scent. The queen, pale and shaking, muttered a whispered phrase he’d often heard.

“Saints above, I shall swoon!”

Fortunately, she didn’t, and Croft took them to stand before the mighty black beast.

“Thiss iss Wheet, the NesstMasster.”

Wheet lowered his head to scent them quickly and then spoke directly to Croft for a moment. The boy nodded, explaining to the royals that the dragons were very hungry after the long flight, and needed to eat, drink and rest before they talked. Without hesitation, the king ordered cattle be led to the fields next to his private lake. Croft explained where to find the food and they were airborne in moments with a promise to return.

Meanwhile, the humans were brought indoors for their own supper, and with a slight rearrangement at the table, Croft was seated between the king and queen. Directly across from them were Dane and Kersen, both beaming with pride at the boy’s performance so far. Conversation revolved around the dragons, of course, and Croft enjoyed answering questions about his life among them.

####

The actual negotiations took very little time, as Wheet was more than willing to help the kingdom defeat the onerous humans from Thorn. Afterwards, Croft was kept very busy relaying questions, instructions, and battle plans, even though he had to ask for his own explanation of things in terms he could understand. The Minister of War was very patient with the boy, not allowing anyone to berate or embarrass him unless they wanted to be banished from the room.

Wheet and Rueloo, on the other hand, interacted with Croft from an open balcony, which happened to be at head height. It required a lot of back and forth, but eventually the plans came together to everyone’s satisfaction. By the end of the night, all were exhausted, and the dragons retreated to the lakeshore, including Croft, who snuggled up against Rueloo’s warm belly.

Their departure in the morning was bittersweet. Augustus and Nelia had grown very fond of Croft and showered him with presents. Wheet, eager to erase the threat and get things back to normal, asked the king if the gifts of food and gold would continue and he was assured they would. All they could do now was wait for the enemy forces to reach the agreed upon spot just south of the border. The kingdom held its collective breath; their future depending on an untested alliance with the dragons and a young boy.

####

Thousands of Thorn soldiers marched confidently across the flat arid plains which were only now giving way to trees and green grasses. Nothing, they believed, could stop them from taking the arrogant little kingdom of Spiredale, and its riches, for themselves. Their only concern was the report of dragons in the nearby mountains, but once the kingdom was under their heel, they, too, would be driven out.

At the sound of trumpets, the Thorn forces looked to the horizon and saw the pitifully small Spiredale army assembled on a small rise, green and gold banners fluttering in the breeze. The signal was given to draw weapons, and the heavily armed soldiers prepared themselves for the slaughter. As they advanced, Spiredale’s troops remained curiously dormant, as though they had no need for defense. Victory seemed assured as the distance between them shrank steadily and nothing happened.

Suddenly, the very ground beneath them began to shake. Behind the Spiredale forces, an ominous cloud of dust billowed upwards into the sky until out of it emerged – dragons! One after another, the nightmare beasts flew towards the Thorn army, punctuating the air with roars of rage. Surprise gave way to dismay and panic as the frightened men hid under their shields or broke ranks to run. Down the center of the formation, the dragons pelted the enemy with heavy rocks, leaving smashed bodies and confusion in their wake.

Behind them, the Spiredale army poured into the opening, splitting the enemy forces down the middle. On either side, the dragons regrouped to rake the Thorn soldiers with gouts of fire and smoke. The smell of cooked flesh filled the air as the soldiers scattered, looking for somewhere to hide. Overwhelmed and outnumbered, the enemy continued to fall as the battle reached its peak. By fire or by sword, their numbers dwindled steadily until the two forces were more evenly matched.

To protect their friends from the flames, the dragons landed, using their powerful tails to sweep large numbers of the enemy aside. Those who were not killed outright became easy pickings for the uninjured Spiredale soldiers. Seeking escape, many of Thorn’s men tried to retreat the way they came, but it was to no avail. More dragons appeared from the south carrying massive tree trunks in their powerful talons.

Swooping in low to the ground, the trunks were released with enough speed and momentum to mow down the fleeing soldiers. Great swaths of men, bowled over and crushed, lay strewn like fall leaves, spattered with crimson. Those who escaped the rolling trunks were finished off with flame until none were left standing. Minutes later, the battle was effectively over and Spiredale’s men spread out over the battlefield to dispatch the grievously wounded.

With the dragons help, the soldiers gathered the bodies into a great heap. The tree trunks were used as kindling for a mighty funeral pyre and the air filled with stench and roiling smoke. It was decided to leave the battlefield as it was – serving as a gruesome warning to anyone foolish enough to attack them in the future. By order of the king, ten of Thorn’s surviving soldiers were sent back home to give a first-person account of their harrowing defeat. The message was clear – anyone with a covetous eye on Spiredale would pay a heavy price.

At last, the kingdom was at peace.

 

Epilogue

The victory was celebrated in every town, village, and household in the kingdom. Bards began spreading stories about the dragons, the battle, and about Croft – their new hero. There was some initial confusion among the people about what to call the strange dragon/human child. The problem was neatly solved by a clever minstrel who christened him as the first Draman, and the name stuck.

With the new relationship between nest and kingdom came splendid changes. Fear of the mighty beasts was replaced with respect and friendship as the dragons began patrolling the skies above Spiredale. At Rose, special quarters were arranged for them, since they visited often with Croft to confer with the monarch. News of the partnership quickly spread to the surrounding kingdoms, resulting in chastened delegations of peace-seekers.

Not long after the battle, Commander Kersen retired from the king’s service and his post at Wort was offered to Captain Dane. He respectfully declined the promotion, preferring to remain in Orchid and close to Croft. The villagers, no longer afraid of the boy’s appearance, showed the Draman great kindness. He and Rueloo became popular visitors, especially among children who wanted to touch the dragon or hear her sing.

After her eggs hatched, Croft enjoyed an immediate connection to his nestmates; a bond as close to siblings as he would ever get. Visits to the village now became a family affair, and the dragonlets were taught how to play, carefully, with the human children.

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In early fall, Croft and Rueloo were summoned to the palace to confer with the king. While the church usually dealt with homeless children, Augustus wanted to establish an orphan house in Orchid and train the youngsters to work with the dragons. Any who chose to become Draman could also be schooled to serve the court or in the military. Wheet agreed with the idea and soon Croft found himself surrounded by eager students, excited to learn dragon ways.

Before the first snow, Croft was approached by Echo and one of the girls his age named Sabina. It seemed the time had come for the first Draman to welcome the second.

The End

 

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed Dragon Child, please take a moment to share your thoughts with me at aelliottbooks@gmail.com

Book two of the Rise Of The Draman series, DRAGON VALLEY, is now available. Get started HERE!

DRAGON CHILD – Part 3

I am very excited to share with my blog readers a four-part novelette entitled Dragon Child. This FREE story won’t be found anywhere else, and you get to see it first! Today features Part 3, so be sure to read part 1 and part 2 to get caught up!

Feedback is always appreciated, so feel free to email me at aelliottbooks@gmail.com . Have any friends or family in the 10-12 year old age bracket? I’d love to hear what they think, too! I hope you enjoy the story.

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The kingdom of Spiredale, known for it’s reserves of gold and a nest of dragons, is also home to a little orphan boy named Croft. When his curiosity leads to a life changing encounter, he becomes the endangered kingdom’s only chance for survival. Will Croft lose the only home he’s ever known or is this the beginning of something new? Dragon Child.

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Chapter 5 – Flight

Meanwhile, in the foothills

Feeling ill and weak, Croft made slow progress up the rocky path in his bid to climb the mountain and find Rueloo. He would rather have continued on horseback, but the animal would not have been able to maneuver the narrow, winding path. He felt badly for borrowing Nella without permission and hoped she would find her way back home without him. The leather travel bag he carried contained clothing, food, and a water skin; things he would need which the dragons would not have.

He’d awakened in his room, alone and confused, mind filled with thoughts of Rueloo. What he originally believed were just dreams became clear calls for him to join her. While the captain would be angry to find him gone, Croft easily slipped away while he and the soldiers were busy. The throbbing in his head was almost as bad as the pain in his hands, but the desire to reach Rueloo drove him onward and upward.

There was an open flat area ahead where the path formed a switchback and Croft was determined to call his dragon from there. If he could be heard, he could also be seen, and Rueloo would carry him the rest of the way. It wasn’t much of a plan, but Croft didn’t know what else to do and was wearing out fast. If he was sensing the dragon’s thoughts, maybe the dragon could sense his, too. In his mind, he called out in return.

“I’m coming, Rueloo. I’m coming!”

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Rueloo heard her human’s call and rose higher in the sky to get a better view. Up ahead was the valley and beyond that the human nest, yet she sensed the young one was in neither of those places. Where could it be? A group of humans riding the large four-leg beasts caught her eye. Amid their shouted mouth noises, they appeared to be searching for something. If they were looking for her little one, too, she would need to find it first.

Rueloo dove lower, making her unique call in the hopes it would bring a response. Amid the sound of rushing wind and fearful noises from the group of humans, arose a feeble cry. There! It was standing on a broad flat rock along the mountain path with a forelimb in the air. Rueloo slowed her approach, intending to land gently and coax it to ride on her back. As she drew near, the hatchling wavered and collapsed in a heap, no longer moving.

There was only one thing to do and Rueloo moved swiftly to scoop the little one up and against her body with her forelimbs. Noticing the bag, she snagged it in her rear talons and leapt into the sky just as some of the large humans reached the rocky shelf. Ignoring their shouts and blades, she made haste to reach the safety of her nest, hoping it wasn’t already too late.

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Riddled with guilt, Dane sought refuge in the village tavern, downing drink after drink until his men came to collect him. Beyond caring, he let them take him home and put him to bed. As the night wore on, he rose to vomit more than once, cursing himself all the while for his stupidity. Who left a sick, feverish child all alone? He had proved himself unworthy of fatherhood and failed Croft in every way possible. What a fool!

The boy, obviously delirious with fever, could not be held accountable for his actions, but it made no difference. Dane’s mind was haunted with the image of poor little Croft held in the dragon’s clutches as he was carried off. Was he dead? If not, how would the child ever survive or escape to return home? Dane feared he would spend the rest of his miserable days seeking forgiveness which could never be granted.

####

Rueloo nervously rearranged the glow-ore nest she’d made for her human, careful to surround the hatchling without preventing movement. She could feel the heat coming from its body and smell the difference in its scent from the night before. It was an odd mixture of her kind and human, yet Rueloo did not know what it might mean.

The small, smoky fire she’d built was meant for the human, as they were not known to be active after the light in the sky disappeared. Perhaps it could not see in the darkness as her kind did easily, and she did not want it to be afraid if it should open its eyes. The animal bag contained human food, water, and more body coverings. She was pleased the human thought to collect them, and they would need to be replenished if it remained in the nest very long.

Rueloo remained awake through the night, tending to her eggs and watching over her human. The fire-colored aura coming from the glow-ore bathed the hatchling’s soft body with its power, and she began to notice small changes. Light bluish lines appeared under the skin on its face and limbs, looking very much like her own scales. The NestMaster said it would become “more like us”, and Rueloo wondered if this is what he meant.

Would the human be afraid? What else might change? She would have to speak to the NestMaster again and find out more. Whatever lay ahead, she was determined to take care of her little one and protect it from harm, just as she would for her own hatchlings.

 

Chapter 6 – Change

Three days passed while Croft slept and changed. He woke only to eat, drink, and void; seemingly unaware of his surroundings or circumstances. Gradually, he was able to understand Rueloo’s thoughts, though he believed he was dreaming. By the time the fever disappeared on the fourth day, Croft’s transformation was complete and he woke to find himself utterly changed and badly frightened.

The first clue was when he opened his eyes. Not only did they feel strange, he saw things in a totally new way. He sat up to find Rueloo watching him closely as he looked around the cavern, noticing the soft glow emanating from the gold and the unique scents which he instantly knew to be either human or dragon. He reached up to rub his nose and gasped when he saw the blue scale pattern on his hand and arm. Not only that, his nose was now broad and flat like Rueloo’s and both his hands ended in short sharp claws. He did not understand.

Out of habit he spoke out loud, for some reason having difficulty with the words.

“What iss happening Rueloo?”

Rueloo made a grumbling noise he now knew to be laughter, and using his name for the first time, spoke directly to his mind.

“I am happy you are awake, Croft. There is much to explain, and I am still learning your words. When you wrapped my injured leg, the blood caused changes to your body. You have become more like me… a dragon.”

Croft stood up carefully and examined what he could see of his body more thoroughly. While he did not have actual scales, the blue ridges were raised, leaving his skin with a similar look and feel. His clawed feet meant he would need a different kind of shoe, if he wore them at all. Without a mirror he was uncertain what else might have changed, suddenly realizing he could never go home looking this way and started to cry.

Rueloo gestured with her forelimb and Croft ran to wrap his arms around her long neck, showering her with his tears. She crooned to him while he sobbed, following his thoughts without saying anything. When he finally settled down, she pulled him to her broad, warm chest and explained what the NestMaster told her.

“I did not know this would happen when you touched my blood. I am sorry, Croft. Your appearance cannot be changed, but you have new abilities which the other humans do not. The nest has agreed to let you remain here with us and there is much about your kind we do not understand. You can become our teacher, and when my eggs hatch, they will be your nestmates.”

Croft thought about this for a few moments before asking the next question. This time, he did so with his mind and not his mouth.

“Why can’t I talk like I used to? What else is has changed?” 

“Your mouth sounds are different because your tongue has changed. Your eyes are now like mine and are the color of the grass, as are all male dragons. Since I am female, my eyes are the color of the glow-ore; the gold. If you wish, I can take you to a still pond where you can see for yourself. Then we must go to the NestMaster; the one who leads us. He is curious about you.”

Croft ate some of the food he’d brought and followed Rueloo to the cavern’s opening, high up on the mountain’s side. He could see the valley and a part of the village from here, but it was an awfully long way down. Rueloo lay on the rock and instructed Croft to climb up and sit at the base of her neck, using a pair of small horns to hold onto. When he was ready, she lifted her wings and leapt into the air.

Croft was terrified at first and the rush of wind hurt his eyes until he realized he had an additional eyelid which protected them. His new eyesight was much clearer and reached farther than ever before. The scent of many things reached his altered nose and he asked Rueloo about them as they flew. In turn, she asked him about her name, explaining that dragons did not have names the way humans did. He thought it was silly, insisting he would name all of them so he could remember who was who.

Croft dismounted on shaky legs when they arrived at the small clear pond, and he gasped at his new appearance. The vertical iris and green coloring were different enough, but his ears were gone, replaced by small nubs. The only familiar features remaining were his hair, lips, and teeth and it would take time to get used to the way he looked. Unlike the villagers, the dragons would not be bothered by it.

Before they left, Rueloo encouraged him to wash himself, since the NestMaster would find his odor… unpleasant. When he complained about the temperature, she blasted the shallow water near the shore with flames to warm it, allowing him to wash himself and his clothes quickly.

His interview with the NestMaster went very well and Croft decided to name him “Wheet”, based on the sound of his call. When the boy declared the ancient beast to be a splendid dragon, and especially handsome, the NestMaster laughed so hard gouts of flame shot out of his nostrils. Before he and Rueloo returned to her nest, they were instructed to come and see him to learn more about the history of dragons; something Croft was very eager to do.

 

Chapter 7 – Reunion

By the next morning, it finally occurred to Croft that the captain might be worried about him. The village was the last place he wanted to go, but he needed food, blankets, and a new pair of shoes. If he could talk to the captain alone he would probably be willing to help, though the man would surely be frightened by Rueloo and Croft’s altered appearance. After some discussion, they settled on a plan and left the nest.

Normally, it was unheard of for a dragon to be seen in or around the village in broad daylight – except for today. Rueloo swept down from the mountain, broadcasting her musical call and glided beyond the valley until she reached the barracks. She circled several times while Croft waved to the frightened people below who dropped what they were doing and ran inside. Once the warning trumpet sounded, Croft knew the soldiers would come and Rueloo took them back to the valley to wait.

She landed near the gates where the grass was short and she could be easily seen. At Rueloo’s insistence, Croft remained where he was so she could escape quickly if there was trouble. Soon, the sound of many horses could be heard on the road, and Croft watched the dust cloud which accompanied them grow closer. His anxiety increased as the soldiers appeared, led by the Captain. The man looked both weary and nervous, his eyes focused not on Rueloo, but on him – as though looking at a ghost.

Dane ordered his men to halt while he dismounted and walked slowly forward, stopping when he could see the rider more clearly. Eyes wide with surprise, he gasped at the odd looking creature which from a distance looked like Croft. Who was this? Why was he riding a dragon? What did all of this mean? Dane jumped when the stranger spoke.

“It iss me, Captain. Croft.”

A mixture of disbelief and fear clouded Dane’s features.

“Croft? How can it be you? What has happened?”

“We came to exssplain and assk for your help. You musst tell the men not to attack before Rueloo will let me down.”

“Rueloo?”

“My dragon.”

Croft stroked Rueloo’s neck while Dane told his men to stand down. It was clear they were unhappy with the order but obeyed him by sheathing weapons and backing away. Satisfied, Rueloo lowered her head to scent Dane thoroughly. The captain stood still, stiff with fear and legs shaking, while the great beast looked him over. Her rumble of laughter startled the soldiers, afraid it meant the dragon was about to dispatch their brave Captain. Instead, she lowered herself to the ground, allowing Croft to dismount.

He approached Dane slowly, allowing the man more time to get used to his appearance. Though Croft’s overall size and mop of dark curls were the same, everything else was altered, and he knew the man was having a hard time believing. Croft didn’t blame him. The captain got down on one knee and reached out to stroke the boy’s hair in a tentative caress.

“Croft? Son, is it really you?”

Before the boy could answer, Dane pulled him into a fierce hug, tears falling freely.

“I feared you were dead. I should never have left you alone that day. Please, forgive me. Please.”

They cried together for a while and then Dane pulled away to get a closer look. He gently traced the blue pseudo-scales on the boy’s skin, examined his clawed hands and feet, and noted the altered nose, ears, and forked tongue. Croft explained how the changes came to be, allowing Dane to ask questions and relying on Rueloo’s input when he did not know the answer. Dane was shocked to learn Croft was able to speak directly with the dragons and stood to address the mighty beast.

“I understand why you took Croft away, but how will he live? I am ashamed to say our people may no longer accept him.”

Through Croft, Rueloo responded.

“Croft and I are now blood-bound. It is my duty to teach, provide and protect. He will live in the nest with us, but there are some things we cannot provide. Will you help?”

Croft explained what he needed and Dane readily agreed to take care of it. While they spoke, the captain instructed one of his men to fill a saddlebag with rations and wrap it up in a blanket so Croft could take it with him. Since tomorrow was gifting day, they decided to meet each week here after the dragons were done feeding. Croft hugged the captain and gave him several small nuggets of gold which had lost its power. The dragons had no use for the spent metal, but to humans it was still very valuable and would more than pay for the needed supplies.

Though Dane fervently wished Croft could return home with him, he was overjoyed the child was alive and being cared for by the powerful dragons. He rejoined his men and waved as Rueloo launched herself up into the clear blue sky with a smiling dragon-eyed passenger. His report to Commander Kersen, and the king, would surely be met with the same astonishment and wonder he’d felt. What it might mean for the kingdom remained unknown.

####

In the weeks which followed, Croft, Rueloo and Dane fell into a comfortable routine. While everyone now knew about Croft, the only ones who saw the boy were Dane and the soldiers – and then only after dark. To give them more time together, Rueloo began leaving the boy with Dane while she fed. Croft sat with the captain on horseback, pointing out various dragons as they flew by.

“The black one iss Wheet, the NesstMasster.”

It took a while for Dane to correctly match the garbled names with the right dragon, and eventually he came to recognize several. In the darkness they all looked the same to him, but since Croft named them based on their unique musical calls, he figured out who Scree, Echo, Lute, Cymbal, and Bell were, among others. While they waited for Rueloo to return, they exchanged stories about life in the nest and in the village.

Croft shared everything he was learning about the dragons with Dane, and knew that Commander Kersen, who usually sat next to them, dutifully reported the information to the king. Twice now, Rueloo had flown him all the way to the gold mines in the north to see for herself where the precious ore came from. It caused quite a stir when the pair arrived the first time, as dragon riders were unheard of, and the miners shook their heads in amazement. Only Commander Kersen knew who it was, and he remained silent when asked.

To make it easier for Croft to mount and dismount his dragon during visits, a small platform was constructed on the valley side of the fence. Once Rueloo returned from feeding, she would find both Croft and the weekly bundle of supplies waiting for her there. With a wave and an excited whoop, the great dragon would take off with Croft on her back and a bundle gripped in her fore-claws. Dane’s love for the boy only grew more intense each time he said goodbye, but he was grateful the poor waif finally found some happiness.

End of part three. Continue reading with part four!

DRAGON CHILD – Part 2

I am very excited to share with my blog readers a four-part novelette entitled Dragon Child. This FREE story won’t be found anywhere else, and you get to see it first! Today features Part 2, so be sure to go back to last week’s post if you missed it.

Feedback is always appreciated, so feel free to email me at aelliottbooks@gmail.com .

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The kingdom of Spiredale, known for it’s reserves of gold and a nest of dragons, is also home to a little orphan boy named Croft. When his curiosity leads to a life changing encounter, he becomes the endangered kingdom’s only chance for survival. Will Croft lose the only home he’s ever known or is this the beginning of something new? Dragon Child.

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Chapter 3: Rescue

As hoped, Rueloo managed to acquire a pouch of nuggets and carry the heavy burden back to her nest. While pleased to have the glow-ore, she was unhappy to have missed her human. After several close passes, she gave up trying to spot the little one and went in search of something to eat. The four-legged antlered ones were fond of drinking from the stream at the far end of the valley, and it was there she found her prey.

With a full belly, Rueloo decided to make one last pass over the moonlit valley before returning to her nest. It was then she heard a strange sound and turned her head to focus on it. One of the humans was imitating her unique call. This was something new, demanding she investigate further. She glided lower and caught sight of the source – it was her human! The hatchling stood alone in small patch of scrubby grass, looking up into the sky, calling for her.

Unfortunately, the young one did not see the ferocious mountain cat which was stalking nearby, ready to pounce. The beasts were dangerous and hard to kill, and her human would not survive without help. She pulled in her wings for a steep dive and whooshed silently past the young one to pelt the cat with a lash of fire and smoke. The beast roared in pain and confusion, turning away from its prey to face the new threat.

Rueloo landed with a ground-shaking thud and charged the cat at full speed, hoping the little one was safely out of the way. Sharp spines covered the cat’s head and back, making a frontal assault difficult. Rueloo unleashed another gout of flame, blinding the enraged predator as she lowered her head to gore its soft underside. The cat turned as she made contact, cutting a deep gash in her right foreleg as she flipped the animal over and clawed its belly open in one smooth stroke. With a final groan, the cat lay still in the grass, no longer her concern.

Her leg bled freely and pained her as she turned to look for the human. Careful not to frighten the young one, the dragon quietly coaxed the two-leg out with her musical call. She could smell the hatchling now, a distinct odor which could not be mistaken for anything else. Her sharp ears heard its deep breathing and the rustle of tall grass as it made its way cautiously towards her. She lay on the soft ground so as not to tower over the small human and lowered her head, yellow eyes gleaming with delight when it stepped into the clear.

Making mouth noises, the little one came closer with an outstretched limb the humans used for grasping. It was pale, without claws, and looked both smooth and harmless. Instinct took over and Rueloo flicked her forked tongue across the strange warm flesh for a taste. The human jumped back, emitting a series of high pitched noises. It didn’t seem frightened and moved closer once more to gently touch Rueloo’s wide, flat snout.

The odd sensation was actually pleasant in a way; her scales gently stroked while avoiding the sharp spikes elsewhere on Rueloo’s face. The human lowered the limb and looked behind her at the remains of the dead cat. More mouth noises followed and then a quick inhalation of breath as the young one spotted her bleeding forelimb. The mouth sounds changed now, and Rueloo was certain the human was unhappy. She watched in confusion as it removed some of its outer covering and crouched down to wrap her wound.

Though the gash pained her, it would heal quickly enough during the night with the powerful fresh glow-ore waiting in her nest. The human would not know this, of course, but it seemed to want to help. She crooned to it while it secured the covering and pulled back to wipe her blood from its grasping limbs on the soft grass. Amid more mouth noises and gestures she finally understood it was taking leave of her to return to its nest, just as she needed to do.

After several steps toward the trees, the human turned and made the now familiar gesture which seemed to indicate farewell. Rueloo called quietly to it in response and leapt into the air, intent on watching the hatchling from above until it reached its nest safely. Once it did, the contented dragon hurried back to her mountain home and her precious eggs.

####

Croft couldn’t stop smiling, shaking with excitement as he made his way through the woods. He’d finally met his dragon! Nearly being eaten by a razorcat frightened him badly, but then Rueloo swept down and rescued him. She’d been hurt doing it, and Croft hoped his efforts to bandage her leg would help a little, though for some odd reason his hands felt strangely warm and tingly. Eventually, his missing cloak would be noticed and he would have to make up a convincing explanation of how he lost it.

Every so often he looked up to see Rueloo’s silhouette in the moonlight, convinced the dragon was still protecting him. He didn’t know how or when, but he was determined to see his friend again soon. If only there were someone he could tell about his adventure! It couldn’t be the captain, for he would forbid any more contact with the dragon, saying it was too dangerous. While the man was very kind to him, and he was treated well, there were so many rules to follow it made Croft’s head hurt.

The barracks were close now, and Croft remained hidden in the trees as he watched carefully for the sentry. He waited until the soldier was out of sight and then made a quick dash for his open window, lifting himself up and into the room. When Croft turned around, it wasn’t the lit candle he noticed first. On his cot sat the captain, waiting for him with a troubled expression and a switch. The whipping didn’t last long, and Croft’s bottom and legs stung fiercely when the punishment was over.

Instead of a long lecture, the captain pulled the boy into his lap and held him until he finished crying. Finally, the man spoke.

“You disobeyed me twice today and wandering about at night is dangerous. Where did you go, Croft? To see the dragons?”

Croft merely nodded his head, prompting a deep sigh from the captain.

“It was already dark and the dragons go back to the mountains as soon as they finish feeding. You know this, Croft. Was it just to defy me? Your punishments are meant to teach you something and there are reasons for the rules I set. I want to keep you safe and see that you grow up knowing right from wrong. You must learn to obey me if you wish to remain here. Do you understand?”

Croft answered him, relieved the man didn’t know what he’d really been doing.

“Yes, Sir. I’ll try to do better.”

Dane grunted, knowing this oft-repeated promise would soon be broken. He stood and instructed the boy to wash up and get into bed. The hour was late and they both had responsibilities awaiting them when the sun rose. Perhaps tomorrow would provide a fresh start.

Chapter 4: Trouble

Croft woke with a start, hands throbbing and hot, and his hair soaked with sweat. The darkness of the room meant it wasn’t yet morning and he realized he’d only been dreaming of dragons. Afterimages of Rueloo fighting the razorcat flickered through his mind, along with other things which seemed so real: caves, huge speckled eggs atop piles of gold, dragons of all colors, and flying high above the village.

Croft turned on his side in an attempt to get more comfortable but it only increased the pain in his hands. Instead, he rose from the cot to relieve himself and get a drink of water, swaying dizzily as he’d seen some men do when they had too much wine. Croft stumbled back to the cot and was soon asleep once more, mind awash with dragons.

####

When Croft failed to appear for breakfast, Dane found him feverish with hands swollen and hot to the touch. When the healer arrived, he mixed a foul-tasting tonic for Croft to drink and advised cool cloths to help abate the fever. He was uncertain what might have caused the other symptoms, having never seen anything like it before.

Dane brought in a chair so he could sit with the boy for a while. Before long he would have to join his men as they escorted the regiment to the village borders on their way back to Wort. Meanwhile, the child thrashed in his sleep, mumbling about dragons and razorcats. Coincidentally, his men reported finding an eviscerated razorcat in the valley this morning, evidently killed by a dragon. Could Croft have witnessed the deadly encounter?

Dane rinsed and replaced the cool cloth on Croft’s forehead before stepping out of the room. His official duties wouldn’t take very long and then he could arrange to have someone keep an eye on the boy until evening. The worry was an unwelcome distraction, yet the child’s welfare was his responsibility now and he was forced to admit he loved Croft. This was part of what it meant to be a parent, he supposed, and the trials of the last six months faded into insignificance in the face of illness – or worse.

####

Rueloo’s sleep was interrupted once more by strange thoughts not her own: pain, confusion, fear, longing. They could only be one thing – human thoughts. Her human. But how? There was no denying a unique connection to the young one, even if she had never heard of such a thing happening before. She was certain something was wrong, yet unsure what to do about it. The NestMaster, much older and wiser, must be consulted, though she would probably be chided for interacting with the human in the first place.

The NestMaster lived at the center of their range near a wide, sheltered vale which served as a meeting place for their kind. When Rueloo arrived, she found the ancient one resting near the stream, age-blackened scales shining in the sun. As she landed, he lifted his head, sniffing the air for clues even as dark green eyes studied his visitor. They exchanged greetings and she waited respectfully for him to speak.

“Your fire burns hot. What has disturbed you?”

“Something is wrong with my human, NestMaster, and I do not know what should be done.”

A deep rumble of annoyance accompanied the smoke curling from the NestMaster’s snout.

Your human? I see you have ignored my warnings. What trouble have you brought to the Nest?”

Rueloo shared her encounter of the previous day, as well as the strange thoughts and images now plaguing her mind. While the NestMaster listened carefully, she noticed his unspoken surprise, disappointment, and anger. He wasted no time responding.

“Our legends speak of this, but it has not happened in my time or to our nest. The tending of your wound has exposed the human to your blood and its power. If it survives, you will be forever bonded and it will become more like us. It may be best if you do nothing and allow the young one to end.”

Rueloo’s anger and disbelief stoked her fire and she momentarily forgot to whom she was speaking.

“I will not! The hatchling needs my help and I will give it. Tell me what to do.”

Despite his disappointment in her carelessness, the NestMaster recognized her loyalty and responsibility toward the young human. Though he was certain this would end badly, it was his duty to advise her.

“The humans will not thank you for your intervention, and we risk losing the gifts they bring. Once you act, it must be explained to the others. You may have to leave this nest.”

At that moment, Rueloo’s only concern was saving her human.

“I understand, NestMaster. What can be done?”

“Bring the young hatchling to us. The power of the glow-ore is its only hope.”

Rueloo bowed her head, thanked the NestMaster, and rose into the sky to retrieve her human. It would be difficult to do without the others seeing her, but it was a risk she was willing to take.

END of part two. Continue reading with part three!