Dragon Quest – The Traveling Draman is the fourth installment in my series of fantasy novelettes. This FREE serialized story won’t be found anywhere else, and you get to see it first! (In case you missed it, here’s part 1, part 2, and part 3.
Croft and Rueloo journey to a far away land, seeking information about their special bond. Along the way, they meet new dragons, make friends, and arrive to find a nation on the brink of war. Caught up in Pinnacle’s problems, the two become pawns in a dangerous game of conquest. Follow Croft and Rueloo on an exciting DRAGON QUEST!
Dragon Quest by Alexander Elliott
First Edition Copyright © 2019
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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DRAGON QUEST – PART 4
The castle at Whitehaven
The role of Chamberlain was not the easiest or most pleasant at the royal court. While the position enjoyed almost unlimited access to the king, a deep level of trust, and a valued opinion, it also meant having to deliver bad news and suffer the displeasure of the monarch – not an easy task when one served Favian. The Chamberlain hurried through the castle corridors to answer his summons, and found His Majesty pacing in an otherwise empty throne room. He dropped to one knee, bowed his head, and waited for the king to address him.
“Speak! When will my orders be carried out?”
The Chamberlain lifted his head and replied cautiously.
“It is taking more time than we hoped, Thy Majesty. The new soldiers must be equipped and given at least minimal training before we send them out. As thee know, our borders are extensive and we can only cover the most obvious routes in and out of the kingdom. Our ships will be ready sooner, however, only needing to take on sufficient supplies.”
“Thee have not answered the question, Chamberlain! How long will it take?”
“Three days for the ships, and at least five for the troops. I apologize, Thy Majesty. The men are moving as fast as they can.”
Favian grunted in annoyance. The delay was not totally unexpected, but it galled him not to be able to put that blasted dragon in her place immediately. He may not be able to attack Pinnacle yet, but he could certainly make things difficult for Zelara in the meantime.
“Remind them I wish to act at the earliest possible moment. When all is in readiness, I will have one more message for the Ambassador to deliver and then we can watch them squirm.”
The royal palace at Rose
Trumpet blasts rent the warm air as eleven dragons, their riders, and three dragonlets were spotted approaching the palace. King Augustus, Queen Nelia, Prince Jahn, and Princess Lillain hurried outside to welcome their guests. This task was usually the monarch’s alone, but Augustus planned to involve his children in every aspect of the week’s training and events. They, too, needed to understand the changes taking place in Spiredale and how they would alter the way the kingdom was ruled. One day Jahn would ascend to the throne, and he must be prepared to work hand in hand with the dragons and Draman.
Lillain, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to be surrounded by the wondrous beasts. If her interest turned out to be more than casual, as Nelia believed, the royal family might have some interesting issues to face in the near future.
After circling once, the dragons landed one at a time, facing each other in a rough circle on the grassy lawn. Echo, Sabina, Dane, and the dragonlets placed themselves nearest the royal family. Augustus, pleased to see them all, secretly wished Croft and Rueloo could have also been in attendance. Dane and Sabina approached, bowed, and led the king and his family to the center of the large circle where they stopped to greet each dragon/Draman pair.
The midday meal appeared first on the day’s agenda. While the Draman were escorted into the palace, the dragons flew to the far side of the king’s private lake for their dinner. Some of the children were unhappy being separated from their dragon, even for a short time. Dane and Sabina reminded them this, too, was part of their training and that they still remained close enough to mind-speak.
After dinner, there were tours of the palace, a trip into town, and games on the great lawn. When it came time to bed down, small tents were provided for the Draman to stow their things or change clothes. Everyone knew they would be sleeping out in the open with their dragons, and as long as it did not rain, there would be no hardship. By the time the first orphans arrived for their formal studies next year, the new dragon stables would be complete and the pairs would enjoy the finest of accommodations. Until then, camping out in the warm summer air kept everyone content.
As the week progressed, the orphans were exposed to life at court and service as a soldier in the royal forces. If a child expressed a particular interest, they and their dragon were given additional instruction. As expected, not every Draman was well-suited for palace work or military service. Through careful questioning and suggestions, Augustus sought meaningful work for each bonded pair. By doing so, he hoped to convince them to settle in Rose when they left Dramanshire instead of scattering all over the kingdom.
As an apprentice, Elenore spent a great deal of time with the palace and military healers. She presented them with a copy of Juliana’s book containing everything she knew about dragons, the bonding process, and the use of gold. She and Scree allowed themselves to be poked and prodded, answered endless questions, and talked about their own experiences. In turn, they were taught about herbal remedies, tending and stitching wounds, setting bones, and dealing with the most common ailments. Elenore thrived under the attention, eager to return home and share what she’d learned with Juliana.
While Prince Jahn and Princess Lillain were unaccustomed to rubbing elbows with commoners, they ended up learning just as much about the kingdom as their new orphan friends. Jahn, always a quick study, began to understand what kind of kingdom Spiredale would become in the future and it excited him. The foundation his father laid now would serve him well when it came time for him to take the throne. He enjoyed exchanging new ideas with his father and the advisers, pleased to finally do something other than watch quietly in the background.
Princess Lillain, to no one’s surprise, spent every possible moment with the dragons. After several days of begging, the queen finally agreed to allow her to go for a brief flight, and the girl talked of nothing else. The dragonlets, missing their Dam and nest mate, decided to lavish their attention on the Princess instead. Small enough to go indoors, they followed her around the palace like a pack of dogs, investigating everyone and everything. It was anyone’s guess where her love of dragons might lead, and despite the opposition of some, Augustus quietly encouraged her.
Croft’s original idea of spending a day or two gathering information, and then returning home, proved to be unrealistic. The dragons of Pinnacle were spread out, requiring at least one visit to each of the seven islands. Delighted to have visitors from a far away kingdom, Croft and Rueloo were welcomed with celebration at every turn. Untold hours were spent listening to personal stories, old legends, and practical observations about the blood bonds between dragon and human. Croft’s own bonding experience, filled with danger and drama, left many speechless or in tears.
Like Catrain, Croft met many adult scale-brothers and sisters who looked much more like their dragons than he did. While some wore clothing, many did not, and Croft couldn’t help being curious about how certain things were done. When they enjoyed a few moments alone, he asked Rueloo to explain.
“They are all smooth down there! How do they excrete or make babies?”
Almost nothing shocked a dragon, and she answered his question as she would any other.
“Their bodies only look different on the outside. The scales move aside when they need to eliminate or if they wish to mate. Your body will undergo the same changes when you mature, and it will feel right to you.”
Most of the bonded humans on Pinnacle had children, and Croft took some comfort in their company. Apparently, they did not have to undergo the dangerous blood fever, but were born looking much as he did: pseudo-scales, flat nose, forked tongue, and clawed hands and feet. Even a mixed pair of bonded and human gave birth to children with the same dragon features as the others.
The presence of little ones, however, brought momentary heartache for both Croft and Rueloo. While it was necessary to leave the hatchlings behind, they were sorely missed. Spark, Huff, Billow, and Ember were being cared for by Echo and Sabina, but everyday life simply wasn’t the same without their antics and endless questions. For Croft, the absence of his nestmates threatened another wave of homesickness and Rueloo gently reminded him they would be reunited soon.
Interaction with such a large and well-established community brought Croft face to face with another striking truth – he and his Draman friends would live much longer lives than their fully human counterparts. Still, it did not compare to the normal age of a healthy dragon, and it led to interesting consequences. Some bonded to more than one human at the same time, while others enjoyed a long string of bondings over the years. Rueloo explained.
“Dragons live a very long time compared to humans. My brothers and sisters tell me that once we experience the bond, it is very difficult and lonely to live without it. Many years from now, when you die, I will be compelled to find another in your place.”
Croft’s initial feelings were a jumbled mix of sadness, jealousy, and resentment. Further thought led him to the conclusion that he wanted Rueloo to be happy no matter what might happen to him. Still, he wondered how the dragons could stand loving and losing so many in their long lives. Rueloo sensed his discomfort and made a point to remind him they had only started their life together and there was no reason to dwell on the distant future.
During a visit to Plume, at the southern end of the island chain, they were taken to a protected cove to meet with their kin from the sea. There in the clear waters were several sea dragons, including WaveWatcher, and a large group of merfolk. Croft, Rueloo, and their hosts waded into the shallow water to meet them for an unusual, and wet, afternoon of play and discussion. While all bonds shared certain similarities, Croft found the human transformation into merfolk fascinating. Their life in the sea was so different from his own, and he peppered them with questions.
When it came time to eat, the merfolk provided freshly caught fish – roasted for the scale-brothers and sisters or eaten raw by everyone else. Following their meal on the beach, WaveWatcher offered to take Croft for a ride through the waves. Rueloo agreed, insisting on flying overhead to make sure nothing happened to her beloved. Croft whooped with delight as WaveWatcher and two other dragons played racing games, zig-zagging across the surface at high speeds.
Once they returned to the cove, Croft retrieved gifts for the merfolk from the pack he carried. Most were necklaces and bracelets made of worked gold, shells, or small colorful stones. Croft blushed as they showered him with kisses or petted his curly hair. As the day came to a close, he and Rueloo said their goodbyes and watched as the water dragons and merfolk swam away and out of sight.
The days flew by as Rueloo and Croft made new friends and gathered the information they were sent to collect. In return, they told Zelara and Mirabelle about the nest in the Great Peak Mountains and the growing number of orphans and Draman among them. They also relayed warm greetings from King Augustus and described Spiredale and its people. When they revealed their intention to deliver the king’s diplomatic note to Whitehaven, Zelara strongly advised against it, citing Favian’s aggression.
The problem solved itself when Whitehaven’s Ambassador arrived on Dome several days later. It was an unusually brief visit, as he stayed only long enough to hand over a sealed document before leaving. At Mirabelle’s suggestion, Croft and Rueloo interrupted his return to the ship by introducing themselves and presenting him with the king’s message. While it wasn’t delivered exactly as Augustus intended, it enabled Croft to discharge his duty without putting himself or Rueloo at risk.
This temporary triumph was soon overshadowed by the upsetting news their friends received. Favian’s message turned out to be an official notice of hostilities between Whitehaven and Pinnacle. Zelara hastily called her advisers together and asked Croft and Rueloo to observe as her guests. The enormous cavern where they met erupted with anger and confusion when the note was read aloud. In response to opening a new gold mine on land “already claimed by the kingdom of Whitehaven” and Pinnacle’s “unlawful agreement with the kingdom of Exeter”, Favian chose to enact harsh penalties.
All borders with Whitehaven were now closed, trade by land or sea halted, and all diplomatic ties cut. Any attempt by Pinnacle to continue mining gold or trade with neighboring kingdoms would be met with deadly force. While not exactly a declaration of war, Pinnacle was effectively isolated from her neighbors and left to fend for herself. As the impact of the restrictions began to sink in, Zelara’s advisers grew quiet and pensive. Since worry never produced results, she quickly explained how they were going to respond.
“Favian believess he can frighten uss into giving him what he wantss or sslowly sstarve uss to death. The mine is ourss, even if we musst wait until it iss ssafe to operate. He hass forgotten we rule the air and our brotherss rule the ssea. If hiss sships attack, we will ssink them, and if he harmss our people we will retaliate.
“There will be no reply to hiss demandss, and we will continue trading at night when they cannot ssee uss. We have access to the ssea and other kingdomss too far away for Whitehaven to cut off all of our ssuppliess. It will require sstealth and hard work, but it can be done! Call in our defenderss and courierss – we must begin immediately.”
Meanwhile, in Favian’s private chambers
Several hours passed before Favian opened the message passed on by the Ambassador. Why, after all, should he care about some insignificant kingdom on the backside of nowhere? There were enough troubles on his mind without wasting energy on useless diplomatic overtures. In the quiet of his own rooms, he reconsidered his first response and opened the message from Spiredale. The unremarkable missive contained only a friendly greeting, condolences on the death of Favian’s father, and a vague offer of mutual cooperation.
While the king knew of Spiredale’s existence, he remained ignorant of the place and its people. It seemed significant that the messengers were a Scalie and a dragon – specifically mentioned as “honored representatives” of the kingdom. Favian needed more information and called for his Chamberlain. When the man arrived, he read the short note and told the king everything he knew about Spiredale.
“It is a small, peaceful, kingdom along the shores of the Talon Sea, and is reported to be rich in gold. The nearby mountains contain a large nest of dragons who defeated the armies of Thorn when they attacked some two years ago. Our spies tell us Thorn’s forces were destroyed in a matter of minutes. A close relationship with them could prove very beneficial. It is unfortunate they did not bring the message directly to us, for we could have obtained additional information.”
Favian’s mind began to turn with possibilities. If Whitehaven had access to abundant gold and a fierce nest of dragons as Spiredale did, he could finally wipe out Pinnacle, expand his kingdom, and enjoy the riches he should have inherited from his idiot father. Spiredale was too distant to conquer easily, but perhaps he could gain their cooperation another way.
“Do we know how long the Scalie and his dragon will remain at Pinnacle?”
“No, Thy Majesty. The Ambassador was on his way back to the ship when they handed him the message and he did not ask questions or extend an invitation to the palace. Apparently, both the boy and his dragon are blue, and should be easy to identify. We may have to move quickly if thee wish to… intercept them.”
Favian’s eye’s narrowed as an audacious plan blossomed in his mind. It might be risky and complicated, but the opportunity could not be wasted. The operation required precise timing and careful cooperation to be successful, and if it failed he was no worse off than before. If the plan bore fruit – Zelara and her people would forever cease to be a problem.
Caught up in Pinnacle’s troubles, Croft and Rueloo offered to stay a while longer and help their friends establish the new supply lines. With so much to do, Zelara expressed her gratitude and put them to work. The job became much easier after Croft suggested they use giant nets to carry supplies back and forth, as was done when building the orphanage. Soon, every available pair of hands on all seven islands set to making rope and weaving it together.
Clandestine meetings with the surrounding kingdoms arranged pick up and delivery times and locations. Mirabelle assigned a different person for each place and tasked them with keeping track of the schedule. As soon as the sun set each night, the dragons began carrying nets full of island goods such as fish, fruit, pottery, and gold jewelry the humans loved so much. In exchange, they brought back grain, firewood, metal, leather, or other things not readily found on Pinnacle.
Flights over Whitehaven were avoided for the most part, and even then, much higher than the dragons usually flew. The soldiers possessed many of the spear-throwing devices, called ballistas, stationed along portions of the shoreline and near the disputed gold mine. There may have been others, but without flying dangerously low they remained hidden. The only other obvious change in their enemy’s behavior was an increased naval presence.
Every day, one or more ships were chased away from the islands and back to Whitehaven’s shoreline. Twice, Zelara’s defenders raked a ship with fire in order to force them out of their waters. At least once so far, a sea dragon nearly swamped a ship before it got the message and backed away. Zelara believed these were clumsy attempts to spy on them, though they could not understand what Favian hoped to see. Most of their activity was hidden in darkness or on the opposite side of the islands where Whitehaven’s ships wouldn’t dare go.
Mirabelle, certain Favian was up to no good, urged everyone working near Whitehaven’s borders to be especially cautious. In her mind, a quiet enemy presented the most danger, and the king already proved he lacked honor. Whatever he planned did not bode well for her people and she remained on edge, expecting something to happen. As it turned out, she didn’t have to wait much longer.
Whitehaven’s border, shortly before sunset
Favian’s network of spies finally uncovered useful information when the village of Shorewood, which included Lord Wellington’s estate, was caught red-handed trading with Pinnacle. Outraged, the king made an example of the disobedient Lord by throwing him in the dungeon and seizing his home and lands. To pay for their disloyalty, he levied a new tax on the entire village and a stationed a permanent squadron of soldiers there to keep watch on them.
Punishing his citizens became secondary, however, when Favian learned the blue dragon took part in the secret food pickups. This was exactly the break he needed to bring his plans to fruition, and he moved quickly to intercept tonight’s exchange. The ballistas were carefully placed and well-hidden along the heavily wooded shoreline, while the archers were instructed to target Scalies only – with one exception.
Pinnacle, after dark
Croft shifted uneasily on Rueloo’s back, eager to get tonight’s pick up over with and weary with late nights and lack of sleep. Tomorrow would be their last day on the islands before heading home, and he yearned to see Dane and his friends. The trip back would take just as long, but at least they would be heading towards Spiredale instead of away from it. He leaned down to stroke Rueloo’s neck, reassuring her of his love. In turn, she sent a mental image of the day he awoke from the bonding fever, awash with wonder and the reassurance she would never leave him.
While tonight’s supply run was already familiar to most of the assigned group, it would be considerably larger than the previous ones. Ten dragon-and-rider pairs finally took to the air for the short flight, including Zelara and Mirabelle. Though urged by their advisers to stay behind, Pinnacle’s leaders insisted on doing their part and no one could dissuade them. A crisp breeze followed them across the water, masking whatever scents they would normally pick up from shore.
Zelara and Mirabelle took point, coming in cautiously when they did not see the usual signal torches. The darkened beach put Mirabelle instantly on guard and she broadcast her thoughts to the entire group.
“The torches are missing and the wind masks the scent. Wait here while we take a closer look.”
The others obeyed, circling offshore above the water. Though Croft understood Mirabelle’s caution, he simply wanted to complete the task and return to Dome. After another low pass, Mirabelle broadcast the all-clear. The dragons quickly lined up along the beach to enter the narrow opening in the trees and retrieve the filled nets. Rueloo, third to go in, wasted no time snatching one of the bundles in her powerful jaws. Once on the beach, she could grasp it in her talons before taking flight.
As the moonlight bounced off her scales, one of the soldiers recognized the blue dragon and fired. The “thwip”, “thwip”, “thwip” sound of arrows and ballistas filled the air as bellows of pain and confusion erupted all around them. Spears lodged in dragon flesh as the alarmed beasts struggled for room to take off. Some managed it, only to be struck while in the air. Their riders fared no better, with sharp arrows penetrating bodies amid screams and spilled blood.
Croft lay as flat as he could on Rueloo’s back as she ran into the shallow water near the beach where there was more room to fly. As they lifted into the air, Rueloo’s left wing was shredded by spears and she tumbled from the sky with a roar of pain and confusion. She landed with an enormous splash, spilling Croft from her back. The frightened boy struck a large rock hidden just below the surface, snapping his left arm like a dry stick. His scream was lost in the confusion, and he struggled to keep his head above water as the pain and nausea tried to pull him under the cold waves.
“Rueloo! Help me!”
She did not answer – the warm mental connection with her having gone dark and silent. She lay crumpled in the water, unmoving, as blood flowed from her injured wing. He opened his mind to find someone to help them, but was battered by a maelstrom of anger and agony as the others dealt with their own injuries and attempts to get away.
The sound of hurried splashing caused Croft to look up in alarm as two soldiers waded through the water towards him. He screamed again for help, but no one heard his pleas.
“NO! Wake up Rueloo! Don’t let them take me! Rueloo!”
The soldiers roughly grabbed his arms to drag him to shore, wrenching his broken arm. The pain was too much for Croft and his troubled mind plunged mercifully into darkness.
END OF BOOK 4
To be continued in book 5, DRAGON RESCUE!