DRAGON QUEST – Part 2

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 one.)

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 2

 

Chapter 3

The Talon Sea, between Whitehaven and Pinnacle

Lightning bolts sliced the leaden sky like jagged knives, even as deafening rumbles of thunder shook the earth beneath. Six frightened humans clung desperately to each other and the small fishing boat which was supposed to be their means of escape from Whitehaven. On an ordinary night they had a good chance of safely reaching Dome, Pinnacle’s largest island, without being spotted. The sudden, violent summer storm overtook them halfway to their destination, and unless the Almighty intervened, they would never reach the island alive.

Fierce, gusting winds rocked the fragile vessel, even as the waves grew higher, threatening to swamp the boat. Two young children huddled together in the center as the others made a vain attempt to bail out the rapidly rising water. The storm’s intensity continued to increase, along with their desperation, until it was obvious they were about to sink. Just as water began pouring in over the edge, the boat’s rocking motion abruptly ceased. The small vessel lurched sideways, spilling its excess water and one of the passengers back into the sea, coming to rest on something solid.

Beyond them, the enormous head of a Sea Serpent rose through the gloom, turning dark eyes towards the tiny boat now resting on its back. Strangled screams of fright were cut off as their missing passenger was suddenly pushed back into the boat, coughing up sea water. Three scaled merfolk watched with interest as he caught his breath and then began pointing towards Whitehaven’s shores. Despite the howling storm around them, they understood the merfolk were asking where they wanted to go.

When the adults all shook their heads “no” and pointed in the opposite direction, the merfolk nodded in agreement and slipped beneath the heaving waves. Moments later, the great water dragon began its undulating journey across the sea towards Dome. Excitement, relief, and prayers of thanksgiving filled the tiny boat as the large island loomed before them out of the darkness. Upon nearing the shore, the sea dragon opened its enormous jaws and barked out a short choppy call.

Minutes later, a welcoming party appeared on the beach – apparently drawn there by the dragon’s signal. Without warning, the great beast submerged, allowing the boat to rest in the water once more. Using its powerful tail, it gently pushed the ailing vessel all the way to the shore where it stuck fast in the sand. Relieved and shaking with the cold, they left the boat and followed their hosts to the nearest shelter. Behind them, the sinuous dragon and its merfolk watched in satisfaction before slipping beneath the storm-tossed waves and out of sight.

####

Dome, the next morning

With the dawn came clear skies, a gentle breeze, and a host of dragons busy with clean up and repairs. Major storms always made a mess, and no self-respecting dragon would allow their home to remain littered with vegetation, driftwood, or decaying remains of sea creatures. Some of the human houses and buildings would no doubt need repair, and it would take days to restore the small island chain to its former glory. While many of the people were bound to dragons, a sizable human population also existed; one which grew quickly following the death of Whitehaven’s king.

Pinnacle’s method of governance was unique, being co-ruled for generations by a dragon and its bonded human. Under Zelara and Mirabelle’s leadership, the islands were well-known and respected by nearly all of its neighbors, with the notable, and recent, exception of Whitehaven. Since ancient times, the island nation and its nearest coastal neighbor enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship – including open borders, free trade, and the right of immigration. Things began to change shortly after Favian ascended the throne, disrupting life for everyone in the region.

Unhappy with the new king’s harsher rule and disdain for dragons, emigration to Pinnacle increased steadily. It was an arduous journey by sea, usually in small fishing boats and under the cover of darkness. Many died in the attempt or were captured by the royal fleet. The king did not look kindly on such behavior, and rumors abounded of various punishments inflicted on would-be immigrants. While Zelara welcomed all, the islands were becoming crowded and most new arrivals had to be relocated elsewhere.

While some of Pinnacle’s seven islands were small and volcanically active, Dome was large, stable, and boasted the greatest number of people. It also served as the home of their leaders, and thus, the center of government. Zelara and Mirabelle’s nest could be found directly behind the raised open-air platform from which they conducted official business. A broad, grassy terrace surrounded the structure, providing plenty of room for dragon and human alike to seek audience with their rulers. Last night’s dramatic rescue at sea would be one for the storybooks, and the relieved survivors turned out this morning to ask for refuge.

Without fanfare, the dragon and her scale-sister emerged from their nest, joined on the platform by several human advisers. They were an impressive pair, both in appearance and demeanor. Zelara’s orange and yellow scales glimmered in the bright sunlight, while the tall spiked crest on the crown of her head gave a regal bearing. Mirabelle was tall, muscular, and covered by orange and brown-tipped scales. She wore a simple knee-length white tunic and wide gold bracelets on each wrist.

The small group of petitioners before them included a husband and wife with two small children, the fisherman who owned the boat in which they came, and a young man of indeterminate age wearing peasant clothing and a scruffy beard. Zelara leaned down to scent the group, jerking her head up in surprise when she recognized the young man.

This would have to be handled carefully, and she shared her thoughts with Mirabelle before proceeding.

“This one is not what he appears. We shall deal with him last.”

 “Do thee know him? Is he a danger?

 “He is known to me from long ago. This is most curious, but I see no need for concern. Call the others first.”

Zelara and Mirabelle interviewed the rest of the group, quickly making suitable arrangements to get them resettled elsewhere, far from King Favian’s grasp. Advisers were assigned to help the new immigrants, leaving the nervous young man alone with Pinnacle’s rulers. He stepped forward, and this time Zelara questioned the man herself, using Mirabelle to translate.

“Why are you here? Your pressence is a danger to uss both if it were discovered.”

Surprised by the dragon’s comment, the youth decided to stick with the story he had rehearsed.

“I come seeking to preserve my life, nothing more.”

“Who wishess you harm?”

The man answered honestly.

“Alas, my own brother wants me dead.”

“With good reasson?”

“None that I am aware of.”

Mirabelle gasped as she translated Zelara’s thoughts, revealing the man’s identity at last.

“Your wordss are truth, yet there iss much more to discuss if I am to protect the next in line to Whitehaven’s throne. I know who you are, Prince Merek.”

Caught in his deception, Merek’s jaw dropped under the withering gaze of Pinnacle’s rulers. His plan to pose as a simple peasant until he could decide what to do or who to trust was no longer an option. He dropped to one knee and appealed to the pair who held his life in their hands.

“Forgive me. I discovered Favian’s plot to kill me and fled with haste. I hoped to remain hidden here until a way was found to remove my brother from the throne and rule the kingdom as my father once did. How… how do thee know who I am?”

Zelara snorted smoke with a friendly rumble of laughter.

“I wass a frequent guesst of the palace in dayss gone by and sscented both you and your brother as hatchlingss. Much hass changed ssince, but I ssee you have the heart of your father. Removing Favian from the throne may be… difficult.”

A small smile of hope brightened Merek’s face.

“Perhaps, yet I must try. Will thee allow me to stay?”

“Your pressence musst remain a ssecret. Too many of Whitehaven’s people now resside on the islandss, and you will ssurely be recognized. The king musst not know you are alive and well among uss.”

“What would thee have me do?”

“You will be given a ssecluded place to live and become one of my adviserss. Perhapss together we can thwart your brother’s planss and place you on the throne in your father’s sstead. Meanwhile, there is ssomeone here on Dome you may wissh to ssee.”

 

Chapter 4

En route to Pinnacle, day four

Before landing for the night, Rueloo flew much higher than usual to get a look at their destination. The Pinnacle island chain formed a curving line of mountainous green jewels; a necklace on the blue-gray sea. Dome, the largest land mass, lay in the very center like a decorative brooch, shining in the sun. Two of the smaller islands sported active volcanoes, sending wispy columns of sooty ash into the sky. To Croft, it was exotic and beautiful – so very different from his stark mountain home and the flat lands of Spiredale.

While they could have reached Pinnacle today, Rueloo thought it wise to stop early, enabling them to arrive the next day refreshed and rested. Wheet believed the island nation would be safe and welcoming, yet Rueloo remained cautious. No one from their nest had ever visited Pinnacle, even Wheet, and she did not want to take unnecessary risks while Croft was with her. He relied on her for protection and she would need to be at her best if they ran into trouble.

She drifted lower, scanning the forest canopy for prey and a good place to make camp. Croft stiffened in surprise as he took in the scents wafting up from below. His nose informed him this land was claimed by dragons, even if the scent differed slightly.

“I think there is a nest here, Rueloo. Is it safe to land?”

“There are forest dragons here. If we go beyond their borders, they will not challenge us.”

Rueloo eventually found an open grassy strip of land, wedged between the bank of a swiftly-moving river and swath of thick forest. Best of all, the scents revealed plenty of prey and no other dragons. When she deemed it safe, Rueloo landed, helping Croft gather wood for a fire and clear space for a temporary nest. Since they stopped earlier than usual, it left plenty of time to hunt prey, enjoy their evening routine, and talk about the day while relaxing by the fire.

####

Catrain and her dragon, Moss, peered through the tree canopy at the odd strangers. As pack scouts, it was their responsibility to check on intruders, though the winged one and her bonded human didn’t seem to be any cause for concern. While they should have reported back to the nest, curiosity kept them concealed and watching – wondering where the two came from and what they were doing here. Catrain had never seen a blue dragon before, and while the two must be bonded, his physical appearance confused her.

“They must have come from far away, Moss. She does not look like those from Pinnacle, and the boy has no scales at all! Is it safe to meet them?”

Moss snaked his long flexible tail around Catrain’s waist and chirruped in amusement. Forest dragons and their bonded loved to investigate new things, and he shared her curiosity of the strangers.

“She knows we are watching and is protecting her bonded, but I do not sense any danger. Let me ask.”

Moss opened her mind wider and spoke directly to Rueloo from their hiding place.

“We wish you no harm. May we join you?”

Rueloo wondered how long it would take for them to ask, and since it was only the two of them, saw no reason to refuse.

“Come. Share the fire with us.”

####

Croft’s senses were not as powerful as Rueloo’s, and while he saw nothing, he believed they were being watched.

“Rueloo, someone is out there!”

“Fear not, little one. There is a single forest dragon and her bonded watching us from the other side of the river. They must have seen us land and came to investigate. I have invited them to join us. You will not be harmed.”

Even as they spoke, the pair began to move towards a narrow portion of the river where the trees from either side met in the middle. Swinging from branch to branch, they made quick progress until emerging from the woods at the far end of the grassy bank. Rueloo eyed them cautiously as they approached, saying nothing even as Crofts’ fascination trickled through the mind link.

The dragon was the size of a small horse, with muscular legs, a long, thin tail, and a mixture of smooth green and brown scales. Her eyes were large and midnight black, and while she did not have wings, her open mouth revealed razor sharp teeth to match her formidable claws. Beginning with her snout and ending at the tip of her tail was a ridge of short, pointed horns. While not as impressive as Rueloo, the dragon was both intriguing and well-suited for life in the forest.

Alongside stood her blood-bonded; a mature female just as striking as her dragon. While she wore no clothing, most of her body was hidden under actual green and brown scales. Somehow the woman looked more finished, more dragon-like, than the other female Draman he knew. She was sleek and exotically beautiful with large black eyes, no visible hair, and a centered ridge of short horns extending from forehead to lower back.

Silence hung in the air as they looked at each other, broken only by the sound of the river and the wind. At Rueloo’s urging, Croft slowly approached the pair and made the introductions.

“Welcome. I am Croft, and this is my dragon, Rueloo. Who are ye?”

The female’s eyes widened briefly in surprise when she heard his mind-voice, and she glanced sideways at her dragon before responding.

“I am Catrain, and this is Moss. We are pack scouts and came to see if ye were a danger to us. Where have ye come from and why are ye here?”

“We are on our way from Spiredale to Pinnacle, on a mission for our NestMaster. We only mean to stay the night, and will be gone in the morning. Come sit by the fire while we talk.”

 Moss made a strange chirruping sound, much like a cricket, and gestured with her head towards the fire. When Catrain hesitated, Croft reached for her hand, noting that the underside of her hand and fingers were scale-covered, rough, and tipped with sharp short claws. They sat down together on the smooth log bench, backs to the fire, and looked one another over thoroughly and without embarrassment. The dragons were, of course, doing the same thing as they scented each other, finally resting on their haunches side by side.

Eager to know more, and unwilling to wait, Catrain started asking Croft questions.

“I have never seen anyone like thee before. Why do thee have no scales?”

Should he have them? Croft did not know what to say and, thankfully, Rueloo answered for him.

“Croft was the first of our bonded, who we call Draman. There is much we do not know and came to Pinnacle with our questions. It is thought Croft and the others will develop scales when they mature. Is this so?”

Moss nodded her head as a human would.

“Yes. Humans must already be grown before they are allowed to bond with us. This is why Catrain has never seen someone like Croft. When his body begins to mature, he will fall into a deep sleep and undergo more changes.”

They spoke for some time about their nests, way of life, and the bonds they shared with humans. As the sun began to set, Rueloo asked Moss about what they could expect to find at Pinnacle and Whitehaven.

“You have much in common with the nest at Pinnacle. Zelara and Mirabelle will be pleased to welcome you and answer questions, but I warn you – do not fly over Whitehaven. The new king is not friendly toward us and they have sharp weapons which they fling into the sky. You must be very careful.

 “Catrain and I can delay no longer. We will tell the nest of you and would be pleased if you stay with us on your journey home. Be well, my friends.”

When they stood to leave, Croft hugged Catrain tightly. She stroked the messy curls on his head and kissed him on the cheek before disappearing with Moss into the darkened forest. He missed them already, threatening to cry, and it was with some difficulty Rueloo lulled the homesick Draman to sleep.

To be continued…

DRAGON BONDS – Part 4

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 4

 

Chapter 9

The NestMaster’s valley, two days later

Wheet’s summons could not be ignored, and the valley was crowded with every single dragon in the nest. The meeting began with Scree’s admission of wrongdoing and submission to the NestMaster’s leadership. Her rebellion could have led to disastrous results, not only for Elenore, but for the entire nest. The days of fierce independence and little structure among them was coming to an end, and Wheet was not shy about using Scree’s error to reinforce his position and the changes to their way of life.

When Scree was finished, Wheet got right to the point.

“Blood bonds are broken only by death, and you must be well-matched. Spend time with your human to understand how they think and what kind of life they desire. You must also teach them dragon ways and how to use their new abilities. Some humans fear the Draman, so you must always be ready to protect your chosen one. Only then will both of you be ready to consider the bond.

 “To safeguard the children, the nest, and our agreement with the humans, bonds must be planned ahead of time and attended by the healer or a trained Draman. You will prepare the nest for their comfort and bring in fresh gold before the bond is started. Even so, humans are weaker than us, and some of your chosen ones may not survive.

 “Once they are grown, there are other changes you will face. They may wish to take a mate and have young ones of their own. Some, perhaps many of the Draman, will choose to serve the human King, and you will neither forbid nor compel them. Your home would no longer be in this nest, but wherever the Draman is required to go. The life you have lived will never be the same, and you must be willing to accept it for their sake.

 “What we are doing here has only been done in other places. It affects all of us, including how we live and interact with the humans. They will change us, as we will change them – making us both stronger. If you do not agree, leave this place. Do not oppose me. Those who do risk banishment from the nest, separation from your human, or a challenge. If you wish to know more, come to me or those already bonded.”

Here and there, grumbles of dissent could be heard, yet no one spoke openly. Those who were already planning to bond with one of the children made their way to Wheet, Rueloo, Echo, or Scree to ask questions. Others who were interested also remained behind to learn about the benefits of bonding with a human. Though Scree’s disobedience angered Wheet, it gave him the opportunity to settle the issue before something unfortunate happened. The creation of a thriving Draman community would finally bridge the gap between human and dragon in this part of the world, bringing new life and purpose to the Great Peak Mountain nest.

####

Meanwhile, in the Great Hall

The large room held every single orphan, including Croft and Sabina, as well as the adult caretakers. Edward and his family, who only visited the tower occasionally, were all in attendance today. The only ones missing were the dragons, who were gathering in Wheet’s valley at the same time for a meeting of their own. A hush fell across the group as the newest Draman stood before them.

Elenore’s bond with Scree transformed her into an extraordinary Draman, not unlike her dragon. Childish beauty was replaced by light crimson pseudo-scales and deep yellow eyes. Most of her long blond hair, except for the back of her head, was gone. In its place were three crown-like ridges of bone, starting at her forehead and ending at the top of her skull. The rest of her features were common to all Draman: broad, flat nose, short claws, ear nubs, and forked tongue.

Though clearly uncomfortable, she faced the group bravely and started to speak.

“I wanted to ssay how ssorry I am for dissobeying, running away, and making everyone sso worried. What I did wass wrong and very dangerouss. I almosst died. I want to thank thee for thy prayerss, and for those who took care of me while I was ssick. Sscree and I are very happy together, but if thee wish to bond do not make the ssame misstake I did.”

Juliana came forward and hugged Elenore before guiding her to a seat between Croft and Sabina. In solidarity, they each took one of Elenore’s hands and turned their attention to the healer.

“Many of ye are considering a bond with one of the dragons. This is expected and encouraged, but we want all of ye to be safe. I have spoken to our Draman and the dragons to learn more about the bond and what it means. We have decided on some rules which we expect both ye and thy dragon to follow. If ye do not, ye risk death or banishment from the nest. This almost happened to Elenore and Scree and it could happen to ye if ye decide not to listen.

“The bond itself is dangerous, and ye will become very ill with a fever for several days. If ye come to us, we will prepare things for ye so it is safer, but ye could still die. If ye survive, ye will be permanently changed and forever linked to thy dragon. It cannot be changed, so ye must be certain it is what you want before ye start. Some people will be afraid of ye and may treat ye badly because ye are different. This may be hard to accept, yet it is true.

“Bonding to a dragon also has many advantages. Ye will be able to hear and speak to all the dragons, and will live longer than the unbonded. Ye will have better hearing and sight, be stronger, healthier, and be able to serve the kingdom one day if ye wish. When ye get older and grow up, there may be more changes to thy body and other things ye will need to know. If ye have questions, come to me or any of the Draman and we will answer them. We want ye to know both the good and bad so ye can make a wise choice. Remember this – no one may force ye into a bond, and if someone tries, we must know about it right away.”

When Juliana finished speaking, the children were dismissed to their chores or classes, chattering excitedly about what they’d heard. Croft, Elenore, and Sabina remained where they were, deep in silent conversation. Abruptly, they stood and approached the curious healer. Elenore smiled at her and asked a surprising question.

“I have heard thee wissh to train ssomeone as a healer. Would thee take me as thy apprentice?”

Epilogue

April

Once the bitter cold and heavy snows were behind them, six more Draman were welcomed into the community. Thanks to careful preparation and much prayer, all survived the bonding and were happily settling into their nests together. Juliana, along with Elenore as her new apprentice, were kept busy for weeks caring for the four boys and two girls who had waited patiently for spring to arrive. The caves near the tower were filling up and eventually the newer pairs would need to search for comfortable nests elsewhere.

Wheet and Juliana were both pleased with the changes made after Scree and Elenore’s nearly disastrous bonding. The children didn’t miss a beat as human and Draman worked, played, and studied together as if they had done so all along. The dragons were having a bit more difficulty adjusting to the new rules and restrictions. They were used to doing as they pleased without a thought for the two-legs; happy to take the human gifts of food and gold, but ignore them the rest of the time. With all the changes to the nest, this was no longer possible.

While Juliana and Elenore were working hard in their reading and writing lessons, they still relied on Hugh to record their thoughts, observations, and experiences. By the time Croft and Rueloo were ready to start traveling again, Hugh would have a copy of the first book finished for the king. In time, the palace would be sending future healers to Dramanshire to study, observe, and train for themselves.

####

May

With the arrival of warmer, drier weather, projects in both Dramanshire and the kingdom began in earnest. Thomas worked long hours transforming acres of grassland into a series of vegetable gardens and berry patches. It was backbreaking work, but the royal palace provided extra hands and teams of oxen to turn the soil and help with the planting. The valley was not nearly large enough to provide everything Dramanshire needed, and they relied on the royal farms south of Orchid for animal feed, grain crops, and anything else they could not grow for themselves.

Not only was the valley brimming with activity, the king’s ambitious plans were also well underway. The east/west road running from Rose to Orchid was now being improved to make travel easier and safer for the royal family and increased business. Eventually, it would be paved with stones, just as Dragon’s Road had been last year. Construction on the king’s summer estate, Snapdragon, was also coming along nicely. Foundations were already in place for the main tower, barn, stables, and barracks for the soldiers, as well as a unique structure found nowhere else.

Since dragons and their Draman would be visiting or conferring with the king while he was in residence, they would require their own living space. The land at Snapdragon did not contain any of the natural caves dragons preferred for nesting, so the king’s builders consulted with Rueloo and Croft to come up with a substitute. In the end, they designed an enormous oversized stable made of stone and timber. Large doors on either end of the building kept out the worst of the weather, while the interior was divided into individual stalls for their privacy and comfort.

With the sudden increase in Draman, it wouldn’t be long before those who wished to serve the crown were summoned to Rose to begin their training. They, too, would need a place to live, and Augustus ordered another structure like the one in Snapdragon, only larger, to be built on the palace grounds. Already, the king’s advisers were busy making plans to teach and incorporate the bonded pairs into the king’s service. It required fresh ways of thinking, but it opened up exciting possibilities, and Augustus was eager to see them get started.

 

July

Rueloo, Echo, Scree, and their riders maintained their position above Dragon’s Road as they followed the open carriage from Orchid to Dramanshire. Each dragon tail was festooned with brightly colored ribbons which fluttered in the breeze behind them as they flew. Escorted on horseback by Dane and Orchid’s mayor, the newly married couple looked up and waved from the open carriage as they approached their mountain home.

All the valley’s occupants, along with the bride’s family from Wort and a number of dragons, were assembled on the tower’s stone courtyard. A cheer went up as the carriage pulled to a stop at the road’s terminus, while the festooned dragons swooped and danced overhead. Juliana, wearing a beautiful blue jewel-tone dress, blushed as Hugh handed her out of the carriage and kissed her soundly.

Instead of using the Great Hall, the wedding feast was held outside on the courtyard so the dragons could observe and participate. Wheet and the others were baffled by the strange human customs surrounding the taking of a mate, keeping Croft and the other Draman busy explaining things. When the meal was over, minstrels sang love songs and recited romantic poems as the adults danced and drink. Croft was happy for Hugh and Juliana, not at all surprised they ended up together. He began to wonder if Thomas or Margery would marry one day too, and if it would change things here in the valley.

When the children were finally sent up to bed, Croft and Rueloo brought Dane to their nest for a rare overnight stay. The dragonlets swarmed Dane, looking for belly rubs and licking his exposed skin. They were very fond of him, and he gave them all some attention before Rueloo called them to her side. It was a treat for Croft to be in familiar surroundings and spend time with his father, as he and Rueloo had been traveling for weeks. Their recruiting efforts resulted in a steady stream of new orphans, eager to begin their life at Dramanshire.

For most of them, the adjustment was surprisingly easy, as life in the mountain settlement was so much better than what they were used to. It was not only the warm family atmosphere, but a real sense of belonging and purpose – something sorely lacking in their lives up to now. Growing up in Dramanshire also offered them an education and the possibility of a dragon bond – things which were impossible anywhere else. Even if they eventually left the valley unbonded, they would be able to choose something other than farming for their life’s work.

Before settling down to sleep, Dane asked Croft and Rueloo about their upcoming trip to gather more information about dragon bonds.

“No one in Spiredale has ever been to Pinnacle, and it is a very long journey. I would be less uneasy if thee were not going alone.”

Rueloo chose to respond first.

“Wheet is confident the information we seek will be found there.”

“Why must thee go so far?”

“There are no nests near us who understand the bond. Wheet’s Sire and Dam came from Pinnacle, and many in the nest there were bonded to humans. They will be able to answer our questions.”

Dane looked at Croft; worry etched on his face.

“How do thee know the nest there will be friendly? My heart cannot bear the thought of thee in danger so far from home.”

Croft wrapped his arms around Dane and tried to comfort him. In truth, he was a little nervous about the trip himself, yet both Wheet and Rueloo assured him there was no reason to worry.

Sensing their discomfort, Rueloo spoke once more.

“We will be very careful, and Croft will be safe with me. If what we seek cannot be found, we will return without delay. I promise.”

####

The next morning

Croft and Rueloo watched while Dane saddled his horse and prepared to go home. It would be some time before they saw each other again, and the discomfort of their separation hung heavy in the air. When all was ready, Dane wrapped Croft in his arms and kissed his forehead.

“I will miss thee, son. Will thee send word upon thy return?”

Yess, father. I will misss thee alsso, but it will be exciting to ssee new placess and I will have sso much to tell thee!”

Dane laughed, rustling the boy’s curly mop of hair before mounting his horse for the ride back to Orchid. There was no doubt Croft’s new adventure would result in many stories, and he couldn’t wait to hear them.

THE END

A note from the author – Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the story. Watch for the nest in series, DRAGON QUEST, coming soon!

DRAGON BONDS – Part 3

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 3

 

Chapter 6

With everyone upset and worried, the children were given free time after their chores instead of attending classes. Hugh was alone in the library, praying for Elenore and the searching dragons. Margery kept herself busy in the kitchen, while Thomas went to give Edward a hand with the animals. Juliana did her best to comfort the worried children; telling them stories, drying tears, and trying to remain cheerful.

Hugh opened the door to the library as Rueloo’s call suddenly echoed through the valley, startling everyone in the house. By the time they opened the door to peer outside, she had already landed on the stone courtyard in a cloud of loose snow. Croft was nowhere in sight. Using a human gesture, Rueloo pointed at Juliana with her front foreclaws and then lay down. The message was clear – she was to come with her, which meant Elenore had been found!

As Juliana dressed in her heavy clothes, Hugh and Margery loaded the dragon with the prepared supplies. Rueloo was restless, eager to get back in the air as soon as possible. They finished just as Juliana came through the doorway, already nervous about flying for the first time. Hugh approached to help her mount the dragon, and in a surprise move, leaned down to kiss her lightly on the mouth.

“Godspeed. Thee have my prayers, and my heart.”

She blushed hotly as he helped her settle on Rueloo’s back, placing her hands on the short horns at the base of the dragon’s neck. Still rattled by Hugh’s declaration of affection, she gasped when Rueloo stood up and opened her wings. They were airborne moments later, and while Juliana’s heart pounded, her thoughts turned to what she would find when they arrived.

####

Meanwhile, at Scree’s nest

Elenore’s labored breathing was the first thing Croft noticed when he entered the nest. Scree had not prepared the cave properly for a bonding, leaving him to make do until Rueloo arrived with Juliana and the supplies. Thinking quickly, he asked Wheet for three things: firewood, fresh gold, and snow. While he waited, Croft carefully removed Elenore’s heavy cloak and used it as a pillow for her head. Her skin was flushed with fever and she lay limply on a pile of almost powerless gold ore.

Soon, a bundle of branches was dropped off at the cave entrance, along with a large ball of packed snow. Giving Scree something useful to do, Croft asked her to break up the wood and start a fire. Using his own cloak, he carried some of the snow inside, using it to cool Elenore down and reduce the swelling in her hands. He also placed small bits of it in her mouth, fearing she would choke if he tried to give her a drink. Most of it dribbled down her chin and Croft wondered if he was helping at all.

The transition from human to Draman required gold’s power to keep the fever at bay and help the body change. Without a fresh supply, Elenore had no hope of surviving. The minutes dragged by as Croft waited, wondering when it, and Juliana, would arrive. He could sense Rueloo through the bond, and knew she was drawing closer, but she was still too far away for them to speak.

Frustrated and worried, he placed more snow on Elenore’s body and sat down to hold her swollen hand gently. Though it might not make any difference, he began telling her about the search this morning and that the whole nest was helping. Scree, silent until now, interrupted him.

“I do not think she can hear me. Will she be angry?”

Croft wanted to ignore her, but it would serve no purpose.

“I did not hear Rueloo clearly until the last day of the fever. Thee must be patient. Thee have set a very bad example for the others, Scree. She will not be angry, but the others are.”

“Will we have to leave the nest?”

“That is for Wheet to decide. First, she must live through the bond.”

“Thank you for helping, Croft. I am… grateful.”

While it must have been difficult for the proud, stubborn dragon to admit she needed help, Croft made no reply. He got up to put more wood on the fire and jumped at the sound of several loud thumps coming from the cave entrance. Sabina’s hurried footsteps followed as she entered the inner nest, exhausted by worry and lack of sleep.

“We brought the gold, but it is too heavy for me to lift. Hurry, Scree!”

As the dragon went to retrieve the filled leather pouches, Croft asked about Echo.

“He and the dragonlets went to feed and will bring something back for Scree. The others are outside with Wheet, waiting for news. How can I help?”

Together, they opened the bags and surrounded Elenore’s body with the fresh gold nuggets. To dragon or Draman eyes, the metal emanated a fog of warm yellow light, and it looked as though she were wrapped with the sun itself. Many hours had passed since the fever started, and while the fresh gold was powerful, Croft feared they had not reached her in time for it to do much good.

Scree fidgeted nervously as Sabina went to tend the fire and Croft tucked some snow around Elenore’s neck and head. There was nothing the crimson dragon could do for the girl, and it only increased her guilt and fear for the precious human. Despite Croft’s anger at Scree’s foolishness, he understood her concern for Elenore and went over to stroke the smooth scales of her neck.

“We are doing what we can. The gold will help, but we must wait and see…”

Like a sudden clap of thunder, Rueloo’s mental voice burst through Croft’s worried thoughts.

“We are here!”

Croft heaved a sigh of relief, even as he and Sabina scurried out to meet them.

 

Chapter 7

Escorted by Wheet, Rueloo and her rider winged their way ever closer to the cave entrance. Croft and Sabina waved, more for Juliana’s sake, since the dragon would have no difficulty spotting them. The perch was icy and even more difficult to negotiate because of Rueloo’s passenger and the supplies strapped to her back. Wings fluttering like a small bird, she reduced her speed and touched down on the slippery rock surface. Juliana cried out as the dragon scrambled for purchase, nearly tossing her to the ground as they came to an awkward stop.

Rueloo crouched low, allowing the frightened healer to dismount. Though shaken and red-faced from the cold, Juliana began wrestling the bags and baskets of supplies off the weary dragon. As Juliana and Sabina started carrying them inside, Croft paused for a moment to hug Rueloo’s neck and make sure she was all right.

“I have missed thee! Did thee have any trouble?”

Rueloo scented the boy and then rumbled with laughter.

“No, little one. I am tired and must feed before I join you. Is Elenore…”

“I am afraid for her, Rueloo. I did what I could, but she is very sick. Scree is frightened, too.”

“Go and help Juliana. We will talk when I return.”

Croft hurried inside with the last of the supplies. Sabina was busy unloading one of the baskets while the healer hovered over her patient. He watched as she felt Elenore’s forehead and listened closely to her breathing. Worry creased her brow, even as she gave Sabina instructions and asked Croft to bring in more snow. Some of it went into a small pot and was settled on the fire to warm. Much of the rest was placed on or around Elenore’s body, leaving her clothing soaked from snow melt and sweat.

Juliana searched through one of the baskets for aromatic herbs, throwing them in the pot to steep. While they waited, the healer took stock of her surroundings, eyes settling on Scree who was watching every move. Juliana spoke to the dragon and Croft translated for them.

“I have been told the desire to bond is difficult to resist, but thee have risked her life by being so impatient. If Elenore dies, thou will bear the guilt and I may never forgive thee!”

Scree hung her head in shame.

“You speak the truth, yet I cannot undo what has been done. Can you help her?”

“It is too early to say. If she does not improve by nightfall it may be too late. Croft and I will remain here and tend to her, but we may need thee to fetch things for us.”

“I will do anything you ask. Elenore must live!”

What the girl needed most, Croft explained, was a layer of gold underneath her body, and with Juliana’s help they could now move her. With a sweep of her tail, Scree leveled out a new area on the floor of the cave. Next, she lifted the heavy bags of gold one at a time, dumping their contents in the center of the cleared space. When she was finished, Juliana, Croft, and Sabina moved in to create a level, human-shaped “bed” for Elenore to lay on. To make it more comfortable, it was covered by one of the blankets Juliana brought with her.

Croft busied himself with the supplies while Juliana and Sabina carefully removed Elenore’s wet and soiled clothing, replacing it with a clean, dry shift. When she was redressed, the three of them carried her to the golden mattress and lay her down. More gold nuggets were piled near her head, feet, and sides while another blanket covered her body. Satisfied that the fragrant herbs had steeped long enough, Juliana soaked a heavy cloth with the mixture, wrung it out, and laid it on Elenore’s chest so she could breath in the vapors.

Since nothing more could be done at the moment, the trio opened the provisions Margery sent along and ate a late dinner. By the time they finished, Rueloo arrived and encouraged Scree to leave the nest long enough to eat the deer Echo brought for her. After checking with Juliana, the reluctant dragon hurried out with a promise to return shortly. Rueloo asked Sabina if she and Echo would care for the dragonlets over the next few days, since she and Croft were planning to stay here with Elenore and Scree. Wheet was also waiting for news on the girl’s condition, and Sabina promised to speak with him before leaving for home.

While Juliana refreshed the herbal cloth, Croft snuggled up to his dragon – happy to be together after their dramatic separation, and explained what they had been doing.

“The gold is helping. Her fever is not as high as it was and she is breathing easier. I am very glad thee are here.”

Despite the fire, the large cave remained too cold for human comfort, and Croft invited Juliana to warm herself against Rueloo’s heated body. After settling down, she looked at Croft fondly.

“Thee helped Elenore more than thee knows. Using the snow to keep her fever down may have saved her life. I am proud of thee, but am reminded of my need for an apprentice. Who might thee recommend?”

Croft thought carefully about the group of orphans, considering who might be a good fit for the job.

“Thee will need a Draman – unlesss thee bond to a dragon thyself.”

Though it was certainly possible, Juliana and Rueloo both laughed at the idea.

“Do not be giving any of the dragons ideas! Besides, I believe Hugh prefers me this way.”

Croft smiled impishly.

“He thinkss thee are beautiful, even if he does not ssay sso.”

Juliana smiled, blushed, and looked away, thankful Scree chose that moment to return and end the discussion. Croft was not there to witness Hugh’s declaration of love earlier in the day, and Juliana wanted to savor the warm feelings by herself for a while. If he truly meant what he said, everyone would know soon enough.

 

Chapter 8

Elenore remained unresponsive through the afternoon, though the fever seemed to be under control and her breathing greatly improved. As sunset approached, Croft helped Juliana prepare a simple stew of beans and smoked meat, brown bread, and dried fruit. While they ate, Rueloo brought back more wood for the fire while Scree maintained her vigil. With a sudden hiss of surprise, she announced a change.

“Elenore is moving!”

Juliana hurried to her side as the girl uttered a weak moan and opened her eyes, blinking owlishly. She whispered something and Juliana reached for the chamber pot so she could relieve herself. As it was with Croft, Elenore seemed unaware of her surroundings. While accepting food and drink, she said nothing more, and fell asleep as soon as Juliana lay her down. Scree leaned over to smell the girl and gently licked her face.

“Her scent has changed. The bond is taking hold!”

The built up tension in the cave finally burst as Croft hugged Juliana tightly. She laughed when he did the same for Rueloo and Scree. Elenore wasn’t out of danger yet, but it appeared the worst was over. Several more days of fever and deep sleep lie ahead as her body changed, and keeping her comfortable was a far cry from trying to prevent her death. Since it was already dark, Rueloo would take the good news to Wheet and Dramanshire in the morning. Worn out by the stressful day, Croft and Juliana were encouraged to get some sleep while the dragons kept watch through the night.

####

As soon as the good news was announced, the somber mood hovering over the nest vanished almost as quickly as it came. While everyone was relieved at Elenore’s survival, and happy for the new bond between her and Scree, the consequences of their reckless behavior would forever change the relationship between dragon and human. Those intending to bond would now be expected to follow a strict set of rules based on Wheet and Juliana’s discussions before the near-tragedy occurred.

As soon as Elenore was well, both the dragons and humans would be meeting to discuss and agree to the changes. In addition, Croft would be making a detailed report to the king regarding the new safeguards. No more freewheeling bonds, no more sneaking around, and no excuses for disobedience. The risk was simply too high.

As the days slowly passed, Croft, Juliana, Scree, and Rueloo watched Elenore steadily change. While she was only the third Draman, it was obvious each person’s appearance would be unique – much of it based on what the dragon half of the bond looked like. Scree, of course, was delighted the girl began to take on her own characteristics, even as Juliana warned her it would be something of a shock to Elenore. Every few hours, the girl would awaken to use the chamber pot, eat, drink, and go back to sleep, and she never seemed to realize where she was or what was happening to her.

On the fourth day, Scree began to get brief flashes of thought from Elenore while she slept. A strengthening of the bond as time passed was expected, though for now it remained intermittent and jumbled. Croft claimed he remembered nothing until he awoke, thinking his murky thoughts of Rueloo were only dreams. Still, Scree was delighted with the newly forged connection, happily sharing the frequent glimpses into Elenore’s mind.

Juliana spent much of her time discussing every change in detail, no matter how minor, with either Croft or the dragons. She fully intended to get all of her observations and experiences written down with Hugh’s help when this was over, and didn’t want to miss anything of importance. Future healers who dealt with dragon bonds would need all the information they could get, and it was up to her make certain it was recorded accurately.

####

By the morning of the fifth day, it was clear Elenore’s physical alterations were complete. The fever was all but gone, and according to Scree, her mental voice was increasingly sharper and more powerful. She would awaken as soon as her body and mind were ready, and they would help her adjust to the enormous changes the bond brought with it. As they waited, Rueloo decided it was time for a heart to heart discussion with her sister dragon.

“Your beloved one will awaken soon and there are things you must know.”

 “Beloved? A human word I do not understand.”

 “You have much to learn about humans. Beloved means cherished, special, cared for deeply. You will be as treasure to one another and be willing to give your life for hers, if necessary. Do you see?”

 “Yes, but I did not know exactly what to call it. Will Elenore feel the same?”

 “She will. She will show it many different ways, and will not wish to be separated for long. Never fail to acknowledge these things or you will confuse and hurt her.”

 “This is not our way. I thought the bonding would make her more like us.”

 “It will, but she will never be fully dragon. She is still young for her kind, and will be easily influenced by your example. The bond itself is only the beginning.”

 Scree pondered the ideas for a moment, realizing she considered Elenore as a kind of pet instead of a partner. Clearly, there was much she did not know and she was ashamed of her ignorance.

“I was not as careful as I should have been, and now Elenore is bound to me. Will you help?”

 “Yes, but you have stirred the nest and Wheet has decided what to do with you.”

 “Are we to be banished?”

 “No. Not yet. He believes it would be too hard on Elenore and might anger the human King. If you wish to remain, he requires certain things.”

 “Tell me.”

 “Our cavern has many suitable nesting places, and you are to take one of them. Wheet wants me to help you adjust to the bond and life with humans. It will also keep Elenore close to her own kind as she grows. Both of you will acknowledge your foolish behavior and apologize to the nest and the humans. In addition, you will be expected to help with future bondings. If there is any further disobedience or trouble, you will be banished.”

Scree’s first reaction was anger and she almost refused Wheet’s requirements. Before she could say anything, Elenore’s mind voice interrupted her thoughts.

“We were wrong, Scree. Please do not be angry. I cannot leave the valley!”

Surprised by Elenore’s ability to speak so clearly, Scree changed her mind when she realized the two of them had nowhere to go and the girl would be terribly unhappy. She couldn’t do that to her, and with some difficulty gave Rueloo a different answer.

“Agreed. I do not envy the task you have been given. I can be very…stubborn.”

 Rueloo laughed at the understatement.

“Yes, but so can I!”

END of part three.

DRAGON BONDS – Part 2

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 2

 

Chapter 3

Hugh’s present discomfort had little to do with Juliana’s question and everything to do with the beautiful girl asking it. They sat in his small office, which also served as the library, with the door open to protect her reputation. He would never even think of taking liberties with her or anyone else, but it was best not to leave any hint of impropriety. The truth was, he knew absolutely nothing about courting a woman. Life as a monk did not prepare him for his undeniable attraction to the lovely, young healer, and he was uncertain what to do about it.

Since her arrival in Dramanshire, Juliana was a frequent visitor to his small office. Like most women, she was unable to read and write. As part of her new duties, she was eager to record everything about dragons and Draman. With unlimited access to them, and as the one charged with keeping the settlement healthy, there was much to learn. Having a written record, she believed, would assist future healers and document the unique needs of both dragon and Draman for the king’s library.

As Hugh was the only one who could help her, they found themselves meeting often as she recounted her experiences, discussions, and observations. It took some practice for her to fashion and speak her thoughts in a way which allowed Hugh to continue writing without asking her to stop or repeat things. They both came to treasure these sessions together, exchanging smiles and blushes equally as she spoke and he wrote. Hugh found the information fascinating and tremendously useful, but he also came to appreciate Juliana’s lilting voice, intelligence, and loving care for people.

As he finished up the last of her dictation for the day, Juliana shared her thoughts about recent events.

“Right now we only have two Draman, but there are least six who hope to bond in the spring. Many of the other children are interested, and I know not what to tell them! I believe it may be the same for the dragons. The problem with Scree and Elenore has given Croft and Rueloo an idea, and I wanted to know what thee think of it.”

Hugh lifted an eyebrow, carefully considering what she told him.

“Yes, thy thoughts match my own. What have they asked of thee?”

The sparkle in Juliana’s blue eyes did strange things to Hugh, and he briefly looked away to catch his breath as she answered.

“They wish me to speak with Wheet and see what he knows about blood bonds. Later, I can teach the children and answer their questions while Wheet meets with the dragons. If both sides understand the dangers and changes involved, the bondings will be safer and bring fewer surprises. Would thee consider going with me? Perhaps thee will remember what I do not when it is time to write it down.”

While Hugh was both flattered and intrigued, he was also eager to spend more time with Juliana. Besides, there was a good chance he could be of help.

“I would be pleased to go with thee. Perhaps it would be wise for us to consider what to ask before meeting with the NestMaster.”

Juliana flushed with pleasure at his answer, rattling off a long list which Hugh scribbled down as fast as he could write. The number of things to ask Wheet nearly doubled after they paid a visit to Croft and Rueloo’s nest following supper that night. Apparently, dragons shared little with one another until the need to know arose, so convincing Wheet to discuss the issue with the nest ahead of time might prove to be a challenge. Rueloo was confident he would understand the need and cooperate, especially with the Scree and Elenore problem fresh in everyone’s mind.

####

Two days later

While Scree was allowed short, supervised visits with Elenore, neither of them were happy about being kept apart. The petulant dragon believed she was being punished for disagreeing with the NestMaster, while Elenore thought it should be her choice when to bond, ignoring the supposed danger. Between visits, she was given easy chores or confined to her bed for more rest. While the cough was improving, she had to admit she was still weak and tired easily.

The other children came to sit with Elenore when she wasn’t sleeping, telling her about the events of the day which might have been missed. When she heard about Juliana’s trip to see Wheet, it gave her an idea. Claiming to have questions about the bond, she requested a visit from Sabina. Because Elenore actually did have things to discuss, they enjoyed an interesting conversation about what she could expect when the time came. Some of it frightened her, but she was determined to have a bond with Scree no matter what the cost.

Before Sabina left, Elenore asked if she would translate for her when the dragons came for a visit later in the day. She wanted to tell Scree about a wonderful dream she had, but couldn’t unless Sabina spoke for her. Feeling sorry for the girl, Sabina agreed to help with such a simple request. Elenore thanked her and then spent some time planning exactly what to say so that no one would know what she was really up to. If this worked, she and her dragon would finally get what they wanted.

 

Chapter 4

Early evening, the same day

It was almost time for supper before Juliana and Hugh finished recording all the information gleaned from their meeting with the NestMaster. Having never dealt with Draman before, Wheet’s stories were all second-hand and left a number of questions unanswered. How long will Draman live? Will gold heal all their ailments? What changes are in store when they mature? Can adults form a bond or only children? Is it possible for a dragon to bond with more than one person at a time? Can they marry and have families? Will their offspring be human or Draman?

Undoubtedly, there were other questions to be asked and answered later. If the future of his nest was to include Draman, Wheet realized he was responsible to discover all there was to know about them. Since he knew of a nest where Draman were common, it was decided that Croft and Rueloo would be sent on a special mission in the near future to find out more.

Between Wheet’s memories, and the experiences of Croft and Sabina, Juliana believed there was enough information to move ahead with the planned bondings and meet with the children to explain it all. While there were certainly some wonderful things for Draman to anticipate, there was an equal number of frightening realities they must face to bond with a dragon. It wasn’t all one-sided either, as the dragons would have to make dramatic alterations to their way of life.

In the end, Wheet readily agreed to speak with the dragons about their part in the bonding process. His concern and respect for Croft was the key, and he was unwilling for any of the other children to experience the bond without the greatest level of care they could provide. It meant many changes for the nest over which he presided, but he was committed to seeing the king’s grand idea become a reality. Only by working together could they succeed in building the Draman into a bridge between both peoples.

The scent of another of Margery’s wonderful meals filled the lower level of the tower. Juliana and Hugh left his office, only to find the children finishing up the supper preparations. As usual, Hugh began counting heads to make certain everyone was present. Somehow the count was off. On his third try, the number remained short by one person and he was forced to interrupt the meal to find out who was missing.

“Attention, children! Someone is not at the table. Is anyone ill?”

Noisy chatter filled the space as they looked eagerly about to see who was gone. Cecily waved at Hugh to get his attention.

“Elenore said she was tired and went upstairs to sleep after the dragons came to visit.”

It wasn’t the first time the girl overslept and he sent Cecily up the stone staircase to bring her down to supper. Soon, she came running back, face flushed and eyes wide.

“I don’t know where she is! The bed is empty and some of her things are gone!”

A quick glance at Juliana told Hugh she came to the same awful conclusion.

“Continue eating children. Margery will stay here with ye while we go take a look, all right?”

Thomas took a torch to search outside while Juliana and Hugh investigated the upper floors of the tower. When the girl could still not be found, they looked through the caves behind the kitchen and then asked Croft to join them in searching the upper chambers near he and Rueloo’s nest. When they were about to give up, Rueloo noticed a very faint trace of Elenore’s scent near the cavern entrance – along with Scree’s. They were gone.

####

While the adults calmed the other children and put them to bed, Croft and Rueloo made a valiant attempt to find the missing pair. Despite their excellent nighttime vision and sense of smell, it would be difficult to find any clues after so much time. Hoping that Echo knew the location of Scree’s nest, they roused him and Sabina from sleep to enlist their help. Guilt-stricken, Sabina admitted her part in the fiasco.

“Elenore assked me to tell Sscree about a dream sshe had. Sshe talked about waving to Sscree from the cave opening, and then being picked up and taken away. I did not know it wass a lie! What can we do?”

Echo volunteered to show Rueloo where he thought Scree’s nest was located, and the four of them flew silently through the inky blackness. When they arrived, they found the nest empty – apparently abandoned for some time. The quick-tempered, elusive dragon guarded her privacy, moving from nest to nest to keep from being disturbed. There was no way to know where the two of them might be, and an extensive search would have to wait until daylight.

Rueloo and Croft accompanied Echo and Sabina back to their nest, having agreed to start looking again in the morning. Wheet would have to be told, of course, and Croft intended to do it himself first thing. The NestMaster would be very angry, and rightly so, though Croft’s primary concern was for Elenore. As soon as they returned home, Croft took the twisted passageway down into the tower. Thomas, Margery, Hugh, and Juliana were all waiting for him in the Great Hall. He knew they would be upset by his news, yet they must be told.

“We did not find them. Tomorrow, Rueloo and I will tell Wheet, and assk otherss to help uss ssearch. Elenore will have a fever by morning if they bonded, but we musst find her quickly or sshe may die.”

The men’s faces twisted with worry and the women began to cry. Hugh reached out to hold Juliana’s hand, offering what little comfort he could. Croft encouraged her to gather what she might need, ready to leave at a moment’s notice in case they found the girl. The others helped her pack baskets with healing herbs, food, water skins, rags, extra clothing, and blankets. Fresh gold would be needed to help strengthen Elenore’s weakened body as she changed, and Croft assured them it would be provided.

There was nothing more to be done until daylight, and the group wearily took themselves off to bed. Sleep eluded them all, leaving Thomas to pace, Hugh to pray, the women to fret, and Croft to tremble with nightmares.

 

Chapter 5

Croft arose well before the sun in search of his breakfast. It was going to be a long day, and he might not have time to eat later. By the wonderful smells coming from the tower kitchen, Margery was already busy cooking. He made his way down to the Great Hall, wondering if she had been able to sleep. The answer was written on her haggard face. She was not surprised to see him this early and stooped down to envelope him in a hug.

“There now, child, I have confidence thee will find them. I made thy favorites this morning. Sit down now and eat thy fill before thee go.”

The meal was delicious, but Croft was too distracted to enjoy it properly. When he finished, Margery pressed a food-filled saddle bag into his arms and kissed his forehead.

“I thank thee. We will ssend word as ssoon as they are found. Tell Juliana to be ready.”

Croft returned to the nest and found Rueloo and the dragonlets ready to leave. Spark, Huff, Billow, and Ember were excited to take part in the adventure, though too young to understand the importance of their task. With the sun’s rays peeking over the horizon, they took off and headed for Wheet’s valley. The NestMaster did not appreciate being roused so early in the morning, but he recognized the distress in Rueloo’s call.

The great black dragon appeared as Rueloo and the little ones landed, and Croft remained on her back as she explained why they were here.

“Scree has taken Elenore from the tower, but it was not discovered until after the sun went dark. We believe they have bonded and the humans fear for the girl’s life. If they are not found quickly, Elenore may die.”

As expected, Wheet reacted badly to the news, tail thumping against the ground as he roared into the sky. With smoke billowing from his open mouth, he broadcast a unique bark-like call three times, paused, then did it again, and again. Confused, Croft asked Rueloo what he was doing.

“It is used to summon the nest together. He is telling all the dragons to come right away.”

By the time the sun was up, Wheet’s valley was filled with dragons – many Croft had never seen before. The NestMaster used his powerful mind voice to explain what happened and sent them out to search. Everyone was expected to help until Scree and Elenore were found, including Wheet himself, who joined Rueloo and the dragonlets in the air moments later. The Nest covered an enormous amount of territory, with perhaps hundreds of caves and caverns to investigate. Croft was surprised when Wheet began flying north towards Wort.

“Scree believes she can hide from me, but I have been told she has a nest near the mines. We will start there.”

####

Scree paced nervously about the large cavern, wondering why Elenore was not moving. When they reached her nest, Scree used a claw to slice a gash in her leg and Elenore spread the thick green blood on her hands. Before long they began to tingle and throb and the girl eventually fell asleep atop the pile of gold ore. She thought they followed Croft and Sabina’s bonding stories carefully enough, but she now feared they may have missed something important.

Through the night Elenore began to have a harder time breathing and thrashed about, mumbling mouth sounds Scree could not yet understand. Now, as the sun rose in the sky, she lay unnaturally still, her face red and hot, with a peculiar scent which smelled… wrong. It wasn’t supposed to be like this! What if the humans were right? What if Elenore was not yet strong enough to be bonded as they claimed? For once in her long life, Scree was forced to admit she did not know what to do and it shamed her.

Guilt, embarrassment, and fear struggled for control of her racing thoughts, yet the most important thing was Elenore. Could the human really die? If she did, it would be no one’s fault but her own, and Scree could not accept a life without the girl. She must act, now, even if it meant punishment and humiliation. She only hoped it was not too late.

####

Wheet’s larger wingspan meant he could fly faster than Rueloo, and the dragonlets were beginning to tire. Croft knew they would have to stop soon to rest which meant another delay they could not afford. Just as he was about to ask Rueloo about it, the air split with Scree’s rusty-sounding screech. There was no mistaking this was a desperate call for help, and it was coming from the same area Wheet intended to search. The NestMaster answered her and then gave Rueloo instructions.

“Croft and the little ones will come with me. Turn back and bring the healer. I will guide you when you return.”

It took a moment for Croft to understand they were not going to land first. Though he trusted Wheet, the thought of moving from one dragon to another during flight made him nervous. He watched as the black dragon slowed to fly directly over Rueloo, lowering himself until he could curl his front talons gently around Croft and lift him off her back. The dragonlets obediently followed the NestMaster, even as Rueloo turned sharply in the opposite direction, heading for Dramanshire.

END of part two.

 

 

DRAGON VALLEY – Part 1

Back in March I posted Dragon Child, the introductory volume in a series of fantasy novelettes. Today begins the second installment of my fantasy series, Dragon Valley – Draman at Home. This FREE serialized story won’t be found anywhere else, and you get to see it first!

Through his blood bond with a dragon, Croft becomes the first Draman – able to communicate directly with the mighty mountain beasts. Now, King Augustus wants to create a new home for orphans who may serve both the kingdom and the nest. As construction begins, Croft’s disturbing past threatens to undo their carefully laid plans. Will the grand experiment end before it even starts? Find out in Dragon Valley!

Author’s Note – the books must be read in order to be understood, beginning with Dragon Child. Missed it? Get started HERE!

 

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 1

 

Prologue

Rueloo’s nest, mid-winter

Croft finished eating as he watched his sleeping nestmates, curled up together against Rueloo’s immense belly. Since their hatching, he immediately felt the shared connection through his bond with their mother. Now the size of large dogs and flying on their own, Spark, Huff, Billow, and Ember became the siblings he had always wanted. While they looked harmless enough in repose, he knew from painful experience it was dangerous to get too close while they slept.

The dragonlets always napped after meals, but they tended to belch fire and smoke at unpredictable moments. While Croft had the appearance of scales, he retained his human skin and risked serious burns if he was not careful. Until they learned better control, he would remain safely out of reach by resting against Rueloo’s chest. She lowered her head as he approached, flicking her forked tongue across his outstretched hand in a dragon kiss. He took a moment to stroke the smooth patch of scales on her snout and then straddled a foreleg to lean back against her warm body. Her voice echoed in his mind as soon as he was settled.

“Something troubles you, little one. Will you tell me?”

Never fearful of sharing his thoughts with Rueloo, Croft answered the question.

“I miss the others. We were just getting to know each other before winter started and now I am here and they are in the village. How will they learn about us if we cannot be together?”

The king’s new orphanage in Orchid started in late fall with eight children, but the harsh winter weather restricted them to the village. Croft and Sabina, who bonded with a beautiful brown male dragon named Echo, were the only ones who could live with the dragons during the cold months. Rueloo understood Croft’s frustration and agreed with him.

“The children must live with us if we are to teach them our ways. Could not a house be built for them in the nest?”

Croft thought for a moment before responding.

“Yes, I think so. In the spring we should see the king and ask for his help. We need a place to live and room for a garden and animals, too. Will the NestMaster allow it?”

Rueloo was too far away to speak directly to Wheet’s mind, and it was unlikely he would wish to be roused from a warm nest to entertain visitors.

“When the snows have stopped we will go to him before seeing the king. This has never been done before, little one, so we must find a way. Until then, we will think and plan.”

Though Croft trusted the dragons to help with the project, he feared what the king and others might want to do. Sleep was impossible while he fretted and it was some time before the comforting rumble of Rueloo’s breathing enabled him to nod off.

 

Chapter 1

Early March

From the air, the landscape was a patchwork of brown, green, and white, with great heaps of unmelted snow stubbornly clinging to the slowly warming earth. The cold air would have once bothered Croft, but his dragon blood and a heavy cloak kept him warm as he and Rueloo approached Orchid from the east. Their trip to see King Augustus left Croft unsettled, and he wanted to talk to Dane about all the proposed changes to the orphanage. Besides, he and Rueloo were eager to see their friends after being kept apart by weeks of intense cold and bad weather.

Rueloo swept low over the village, announcing their presence with her distinct musical call. They were greeted enthusiastically with waves and smiles, some already rushing to meet them next to the soldiers’ barracks. The great blue dragon made one more pass, gently landed, and lowered herself to the ground so the young Draman could dismount. Dane was there, welcoming his son with open arms while the orphans waited impatiently to visit with Croft and Rueloo.

“Oh, how I have missed thee – but I am not the only one, as thee can see.”

Dane gave Croft’s hair an affectionate rustle and then stepped back, allowing the children to say hello and catch up on the news. Rueloo quickly became the center of attention as they played “catch the tail” and asked questions.

“Did the hatchlings stay home?” Yes, with Echo and Sabina.

“Where have ye been?” To see the king.

“Do dragons eat rabbits?” No, they are too small and hard to catch.

After a few more minutes, it was time to say farewell. Croft promised to visit again on Sunday with the dragonlets and tell them all about his talk with the king. Alone now with Croft and Rueloo, Dane inquired after the welfare of her children. She responded with an ominous sounding rumble which Dane knew to be laughter.

“They have grown much during the winter and they care for Croft. We are content.”

As was her practice, Rueloo flew off in search of prey while father and son spent time together. There was little conversation as they walked the short distance to Dane’s quarters within the barracks, and when they arrived, Croft withdrew a small scroll from his cloak. Curious, Dane broke the official wax seal and read his new orders.

****

“Augustus, King of Spiredale, to Captain Dane of His Majesty’s forces at Orchid:

Forthwith, feed animals for the dragons shall be provided thrice per week, along with an increased allotment of gold. In exchange, spent gold shall be placed into thy care for shipment to the royal treasury. Expect additional forces within a fortnight.”

****

Dane smiled at Croft; certain he was well aware of the contents of the king’s message.

“These new orders will certainly keep us busy, but I am glad thee convinced the king to provide more for the dragons. The nest is growing and the wild game has become dangerously thin. Was it thy idea to return the spent gold?”

Croft nodded. He knew once the gold lost its power it was worthless to the dragons.

“Yess. The dragonss have great heapss of it in the nesst. I thought the king might want it back to help pay for more food. When Rueloo exssplained it to him, he wass very pleassed.”

Dane chuckled.

“I have no doubt! Thy idea will help the dragons and make the kingdom rich. I am proud of thee.”

Croft gave him a weak smile, but it was clear something was wrong.

“Did something else happen on thy trip to Rose? What troubles thee, son?”

While they ate a simple meal, Croft shared the reason for their visit to the palace and what the king proposed to do. Dane listened carefully, hearing nothing which would explain the boy’s distress.

“Building a proper home and school for the children is a good thing, Croft, and I do not understand why it bothers thee so.”

Croft shifted uneasily; a frown marring his reptilian face.

“I only wanted a housse for uss in the mountainss sso we could live near the dragonss. Why musst we have teacherss and ruless and choress?”

Dane sensed Croft was withholding the true reason for his disquiet, and with a little bit of wheedling, the youngster finally shared his thoughts. Apparently, after the new house was completed, the king planned to send some monks to determine what else the children might need and return with recommendations. While Dane found no fault in the plan, Croft saw it as unneeded interference by people he feared. When Dane asked why, Croft blurted out his reply in a teary-eyed rush.

“The monkss are unkind! I wass beaten, hungry and cold. I do not want them here – they will ruin everything!”

Dane pulled the child into his lap, stroking Croft’s curly black hair until he stopped trembling. The boy never before spoke of his past and Dane now understood why he feared the arrival of the monks. It was normally the church’s task to care for orphans, but surely they were not treating all the children this way! While he could not change the past, Dane intended to protect his son now.

“No one will hurt thee or the other children, Croft. Neither Rueloo nor I will allow it. Now, can thee tell me why thee was sent to the monastery? What happened to thy mother and father?”

Croft stiffened, watery eyes staring at the floor. Dane almost wished he had not asked.

“I do not remember them. They died of a fever when I wass very ssmall and I wass brought to the monasstery in Crocuss. When I got bigger, I ran away and came here to ssee the dragonss.”

Dane was astonished. Crocus was on the far eastern border of the kingdom; at least two day’s travel by the fastest horse. How did a lone child ever find his way safely to Orchid? He knew there was more to the story, yet this was not the time to ask. He gave Croft a reassuring hug.

“Well, I am glad thee found me, and now thee have a whole nest of dragons to look after thee! The king only wants what is best for the children, and it will be many weeks before the monks arrive. Have no fear. If there be problems, I will go to the palace myself and speak to the king.”

By the time Rueloo returned to take him home, Croft was in better spirits. Dane encouraged him to tell her his story, knowing she could, and would, protect the boy better than anyone. They spoke briefly of Sunday’s visit which was something fun they could all look forward to. The hatchlings would enjoy seeing the children again, and they, in turn, would be excited to hear about the plans for their new home in the mountains.

Despite Dane’s reassuring words, the winds of change were about to sweep into Croft’s world, and a curious mix of excitement and dread left him uneasy.

 

Chapter 2

The next morning, high above the nest

The day dawned clear and cold, and anyone looking toward the mountains would have seen the pair of dragons and their riders dancing in the sky. Rueloo and Croft pulled away to gain altitude and then cut speed, circling in a tight downward spiral. At the last moment, she opened her wings and shot past Echo and Sabina, almost grazing the other dragon with her wingtip.

Not to be outdone, Sabina urged her dragon on.

“Fasster, Echo! Sshow them what we have been practicing!”

The beautiful brown-scaled beast accepted the challenge and increased speed. With a mental warning to Sabina, he arched his powerful neck to complete three backwards circles in the sky. When they leveled off, the dragon’s unique echo-like call, mingled with Sabina’s delighted cries, could be heard all over the nest. Rueloo and Croft were both surprised and intrigued, having never seen a stunt like it before.

The dragons realigned themselves to fly side-by-side for their short trip to the NestMaster’s valley near the center of the Great Peak mountain range. Croft waved at Sabina, flashing her a wide smile. The exuberant girl lifted both arms in the air with a high-pitched whoop of joy and victory. The dragons laughed and Croft simply shook his head. While the aerial acrobatics were impressive, Croft was not interested in competing with his friends. His life before arriving in Orchid left him with a desire for the simplest of things. He neither needed nor desired more than food, shelter, and the company of those he loved.

As a courtesy to Wheet, both Echo and Rueloo used their distinctive calls to warn him of their arrival as they drifted silently into the NestMaster’s valley. Croft was here to report on his visit with the king, and asked Sabina to join him so she could become acquainted with the NestMaster herself. An early riser, the enormous black dragon was stretched out near the stream, soaking up the warm sunshine. The pair landed and approached silently, waiting for their wise, ancient leader to greet them. His deep rumbling laughter shook the ground.

“It has not been so for many seasons, but my wings were once as agile as yours. Of late, it is the ground which has become my companion.”

Croft and Sabina dismounted and approached the NestMaster. He towered above them, examining the two Draman with dark green eyes before lowering his head to scent them. As instructed, Sabina waited patiently for him to speak. He chose to address Echo first.

“Your blood bond stirs the nest. Tell me.”

Echo’s pride and pleasure were obvious.

“This is Sabina, a fe-male, though not yet mature. Our bond is strong, and she has a warrior spirit. We will defend the nest together.”

Wheet focused his attention on the girl. Like Croft, she was young and looked as much like Echo as he resembled Rueloo. Her pseudo-scales were the color of earth, with yellow eyes and a smooth, hairless head with a centered ridge of short rounded horns.

“Welcome, Sabina. A warrior must know many things. The Draman will receive instruction from both dragon and human in order to serve the nest. Are you willing?”

Sabina stood tall and proud.

“Yess, NesstMasster.”

Wheet then turned to address Croft, affection evident in his voice.

“I am pleased to see you, Croft. What news do you bring from the human king?”

Croft bowed to the NestMaster, just as he did for His Majesty, hoping to get his practiced speech right without too many mistakes.

“King Augustus sends his greetings on behalf of the kingdom and wishes thee good health. In exchange for the spent gold, he agrees to increase the gifting days to thrice a week and build a settlement for the orphans in the mountains. He intends to send teachers and others to help care for the children. If they wish, any who become Draman may be sent to the palace at Rose for further training when they are ready.”

Wheet considered the news for a moment before responding.

“Agreed. Tell the king: we will protect the little ones and their keepers, but any human who disrupts the nest will be banished, and no Draman will ever be forced to leave us or serve the king.”

Croft promised to take Wheet’s message back to the palace as soon as a location was found for the new settlement. The NestMaster already had several areas in mind which might serve the purpose, and Croft asked if his father could come along to look at them. Sabina and Echo were sent to round up an escort while Croft and Rueloo made a quick trip to Orchid to collect Dane. When everyone was present, the dragons took to the air to survey the mountains.

####

Most of the places they looked at were too remote, too far from Orchid, or provided no access to water or pasture for the animals. What they needed was a relatively flat open valley which could be accessed by road as well as by air, yet was not terribly far from the central nest. On a sweep north and west of Orchid, Dane spotted what could be an ideal location. Croft and Rueloo alerted the others, and soon they were circling a beautiful, isolated valley. A narrow opening in the surrounding peaks would allow for a road, which could be connected to the kings’ highway between Orchid and Wort.

A mountain-fed stream ran down the center of the valley, leading to a small lake at the northern end. Plenty of room remained on either side for gardens and pastures. At the southern tip, and near where the road might go, was a series of natural caves; some which looked large enough to accommodate dragons. As they descended to land for a closer look, Rueloo suddenly barked out an alarm and flapped hard to gain altitude. Below, a large angry cluster of razorcats poured out of the caves roaring a challenge, startling Dane, Croft, and Sabina.

The well-armored, vicious predators spread out to defend their territory while the dragons circled overhead, deciding what to do. Wheet’s orders were quick and unsparing.

“There are more in the caves. Let none escape or they may return.”

Dismayed, Sabina’s protests were ignored as she and the others were reminded to hold on tight. Rueloo took point and led the dragons in a coordinated dive to rake the cats with fire. Some tried to run or retreat back into the caves, but with little success. One by one, the cats were roasted where they stood until all was quiet.

Since they carried no riders, Scree, Cymbal, and Bell landed near the cave entrance to sniff out the stragglers. Nothing remained except for two groups of young kittens who were quickly dispatched. Sabina, angry that even the kittens were killed, dared to question Wheet’s decision.

“Why did they have to die? Is it honorable to kill even the defenseless?”

Wheet took a moment to correct her.

“The razorcats were starting a new nest. We could not leave them or frighten them away. Their young would not have survived on their own, and if found by other cats, would have been killed. These creatures have no honor and would not have spared humans living here. You must learn that the ways of a warrior include killing when necessary.”

Sabina remained silent, realizing Wheet was right. When Rueloo reminded her that Croft had almost been killed by a razorcat on the night she met him, the girl apologized to the NestMaster for her outburst. Wheet then ordered a thorough investigation of the valley which revealed no other razorcats, and the dragons marked the most likely entry points with their urine to ward off any newcomers.

Now that it was safe, the dragons landed to rest and drink from the lake. Once Dane and Croft got their bearings, they identified ideal locations for the main house, barn, pasture and gardens. Transforming the valley into a proper home was going to take a lot of work, but with the dragons’ help, they should be able to get it done before winter set in. Not only would the king be pleased; the children would finally have a new home to call their own.

End of part one. Continue reading HERE!