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.”

RETURN NEXT WEEK FOR THE FINAL INSTALLMENT OF DRAGON VALLEY!

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Update – Book three in the series, Dragon Bonds, is now complete. While my beta readers work their magic and I do final edits, I will be starting on book four!

 

 

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.

####

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.

RETURN NEXT WEEK FOR PART 3!

#####

So, what else is going on?

I’m almost finished with the third book in the Rise of the Draman series. Hopefully, it will be ready to release by the end of the month (barring any delays or last minute changes). I am planning on five stories total for this part of the series, while Croft is still a boy, then possibly another five with him as a teen/young adult. The end result would be two published volumes if all goes well.

My tentative plan to write something seasonal has been derailed – maybe next year!

Book three of the Gladstone Shifters series is still waiting to be written, but I don’t have a start date for it yet. It will be another long project, so I don’t want to start until I’ve cleared the decks and can focus on it properly.

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, 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, 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.

RETURN NEXT WEEK FOR PART 2!

 

Weekly Roundup – Saying Goodbye to an Underperforming Book

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

This week, I made the difficult decision to pull the plug on one of my books – Second Chance Earth. For months I wavered back and forth, wondering if I should keep it, change it, or take it off the market. As my very first novel, it holds a special place in my heart and yet deep down I knew there were serious issues which could no longer be ignored.

So what really happened? Since the book was written, I have experienced a steep learning curve as an author and came to realize Second Chance Earth was fundamentally flawed. I still love the basic story line and characters, but the POV is skewed, there’s more tell than show, and it needs significant editing. To put it simply – it’s not my best work and has become a liability. To protect my brand, it had to go.

Honestly, I do not know if the story will ever re-appear. If it does, it will most likely be unrecognizable! It needs a complete make-over, including a new cover and title, and I don’t have the time or money to invest in it right now. There are so many other books I want to write, and with limited time and resources, I have to be really picky about which projects get the green light.

I want to express my thanks to those who loved the book despite its many faults. You were able to understand and appreciate the story, and I am grateful for your kind words and support. Perhaps someday, Second Chance Earth will get a second chance!

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Dragon Valley, the second novelette in the Rise of the Draman series, is undergoing final edits and will be available soon!

I made some great progress this week on the next installment, Dragon Bonds. This story focuses on the inevitable growing pains of a new human/dragon relationship where mistakes are made, lessons learned, and a foundation is laid for the future. Croft is still at the heart of it all, helping other orphans transition from human to Draman, and his world will never be the same!

Putting The Science In Fiction – A Book Review

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

 

Putting the Science In Fiction

This compilation of articles from various authors/experts has the lofty goal of helping authors create more realistic stories. It includes advice and information on medicine, the human body, wildlife, computers, planet earth, rocket science, and space travel.

This volume would serve most authors well as a reference tool and even as an idea generator. Writing a whodunit? Check out chapter seven on toxins and poisoning (my favorite). How about an apocalyptic story? There’re a couple chapters on pathogens and plagues on how to wipe out the population. Need an alien with tentacles, a hologram, or faster than light travel? This book covers it!

While “Putting The Science In Fiction” fulfills its purpose and is worth purchasing, I have two main criticisms:

  1. Since the chapters are coming from various experts, their writing styles range from boring to delightful, creating an unpleasant mental whiplash. I’m not sure how much editing Koboldt actually did with the book contents, but it would have been helpful to have more consistency
  2. Despite the title of the book, some of the contributing authors were too vocal in their disdain for fiction. “You can probably get away with a lot of stuff, but you want your novel to be authentic, don’t you?” Along with the hardliners were some who simply chided authors to be more accurate, while a few encouraged creativity and suggested story possibilities.

The reason this book initially got my attention was its possible ties to the SciFi genre. I wanted to see where it stood in the hard science fiction vs. soft science fiction debate. The answer? It was a mixed bag of playful “do what you want” and “get it right or don’t bother”. As far as I’m concerned, if I’m writing fictional stories about space, space travel, or aliens, I can do whatever I want. Our current scientific knowledge and ability are far too limited to make interesting fiction, and most readers would throw back their heads and howl if authors restricted themselves to it.

####

My second fantasy story, Dragon Valley, is now in the hands of my beta readers. What’s up next? I am trying to decide of I should move ahead in the current timeline or do a prequel to Dragon Child, providing back story for the dragons. On the other hand, perhaps I am wasting my time entirely! I don’t have the funds to publish the work in any format right now, and the target audience is “iffy”. Should I re-work the entire idea to include more action and drama? It’s also possible to allow the main character to grow up, which would then shift the appeal to older readers. Decisions, decisions…

I think I’m going to put the angst on hold for little longer and simply enjoy writing. That’s not such a bad idea, is it?

WEEKLY ROUNDUP – Mom Stories for Mother’s Day

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

My mom passed away in 2000, so Mother’s Day is always bittersweet. The best gift she gave me was sense of humor and I miss her knee-slapping, foot stomping laughter more than anything else. A few years after her death, my siblings and I exchanged a series of emails with memories of our mother. Eventually, I collected them all and they became The Mom Stories. The incident below is one of them and happened when I was 15.

 

AVIANCE AND A BRICK

I was in the laundry room filling the washing machine, and Mom was in the kitchen or family room. The TV was on, and I could hear the commercial for Aviance perfume in the background. If you don’t remember that one, it went like this:

I’ve been sweet and I’ve been good, I’ve had a whole full day of motherhood, but I’m gonna have an Aviance night.

Evidently, Mom was in one of her playful moods, because all of a sudden she opened the laundry room door singing “I’m gonna have an Aviance night!”, and then tried to snap me with a rolled up towel. The first couple of tries missed, and she was giggling like a little girl while I tried to jump out of the way. Finally, she landed a vicious snap on my rear end. I hollered, and at first she got a shocked look on her face, covering her mouth with her hand (still smiling of course). I think it surprised her that she actually nailed me, along with some concern that I might be hurt.

Thinking fast, I grabbed a towel from the floor and snapped it in her direction. She took off toward the family room squealing and shouting my name and laughing to beat the band. I was right on her heels snapping away – around the corner, past the little bathroom and down the long hall toward the front door; the same door that was being held open by a needlepoint-covered brick.

Unfortunately for Mom, she either wasn’t watching or simply got too close and rammed her foot, full tilt, into that stupid brick. She yelped in pain and started crying, hobbling far enough to sit down on the bottom step near the door. Well of course I thought she was just messing around, trying to keep me from exacting my revenge. I was laughing at her, and she was yelling at me that it wasn’t funny…until I finally figured out she wasn’t kidding and really did hurt herself. It wasn’t until later on we discovered she had broken her big toe. I think it’s safe to say that when Dad got home, they were not going to have an Aviance night!

Postscript – The offending brick now resides by my front door.

WIN_20190508_10_40_29_Pro (2)

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Current project – I am just about finished with the sequel to Dragon Child, entitled Dragon Valley. After a beta reading and final edit, it may appear on my website. I’m still having fun with it, so plan to continue the series for now. I received some great feedback from one of my beta readers who read Dragon Child to her grandkids – they loved it and wanted more!

What about my Gladstone Shifters series? I haven’t forgotten about Forbidden Moon, but it’s on the back burner. Still hoping to get started on it this fall.

Publishing? Well, I need money for that and don’t have it, so I have to focus on writing only instead. Maybe next year’s tax refund will enable me to publish the Dragon stories in one volume. Of course, it’s always possible I will win the lottery or marry a millionaire, so you could see something much sooner!

WEEKLY ROUNDUP – Medieval Maundering

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

 

My current project is a series of fantasy novelettes which began with Dragon Child. While not true period pieces, the stories are heavily influenced by the life, language and customs of medieval England. When I set out to write a dragon story, it seemed fitting to place it in the days of kings, castles, and mythical beasts. As a piece of fiction, I am free to alter the particulars to fit the needs of my story, yet I wanted to keep it anchored in history.

Let me tell you, researching the medieval period has been an interesting experience! I needed information on nearly everything: language, clothing, food, occupations, religion, government, common names, housing, transportation, weapons, education, marriage, childbirth, farming, entertainment, and monastic life. Mind you, this partial list only covers the first two stories in the series!

This era is often romanticized in book and movies, but life was short and hard, holding few comforts – particularly for peasants. Did you know:

  • 30% of children died before age 5
  • peasants shared their one-room windowless homes with their animals
  • bathing was rare and streets were filled with excrement
  • medical care was virtually non-existent
  • average lifespan was around 45
  • marriageable age was 12 for girls, 14 for boys

I purposely ignored or altered some of the disturbing/depressing facts when building the world for my stories, but the medieval period provided a wonderful foundation. It’s easier, I think, to imagine dragons living in a mostly forgotten age of long ago, and it’s certainly more fun to read and write. In addition, this strange “new” world of pseudo Middle Ages provides me with a much needed break from contemporary settings.

If you haven’t yet read Dragon Child, click HERE to get started!

 

Next week: A review of Putting the Science in Fiction by Dan Koboldt.

Weekly Roundup – I LOVE TO SNEEZE!

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

I’ve been sending short letters, silly poems, and balloons to my granddaughters. Ages 3 and 5, they live too far way for me to visit, so I rely on phone calls and U.S. Mail to stay in touch. I LOVE TO SNEEZE is one of my recently delivered literary masterpieces. Enjoy!

I LOVE TO SNEEZE!

Achoo! Achoo!

I love to sneeze,

Just close my eyes,

And feel the breeze.

Standing tall,

Or on my knees,

There’s nothing like,

A lovely sneeze!

*

Achoo! Achoo!

I love to sneeze,

better than candy,

Or eating cheese!

Hand me a tissue,

If you please,

I love, I love,

I LOVE, to Sneeze!

####

Currently, I am working on the next installment of my dragon novelettes. Not only am I enjoying something different, but the quasi-medieval setting has been fascinating to research. I’m not going for historical accuracy, simply enough to create the look and feel of the times. More about that next week!

 

I read constantly, but between work and my writing, it’s never enough. The book I just finished was disappointing due to a number of completely preventable errors. In this case, I suspect he has succumbed to the “crank them out” philosophy and has become complacent. The author has 60+ published titles, all in the same genre, and all with terrific covers, but apparently can’t be bothered to edit them carefully. Shame on you! Your readers deserve better and I won’t waste my time and money on an author who doesn’t care.

Weekly Roundup: DRAGON CHILD – Part 4

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

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 will only be available for a limited time. Today is the conclusion, so if you have missed the previous posts, get caught up here:Part 1 , part 2 , part 3.

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.

####

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.

####

Dragon Child – Part 4

 

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

 

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.”

####

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.

####

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

Author’s note: Thank you for reading! More Draman stories are planned and will probably be seen here in the near future. If you enjoyed Dragon Child, please take a moment to share your thoughts with me at aelliottbooks@gmail.com

Weekly Roundup: DRAGON CHILD – Part 3

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

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.

####

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.

####

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!”

####

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.

####

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.

To be continued…

Look for the conclusion of DRAGON CHILD next week!