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: 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!

Weekly Roundup: DRAGON CHILD – Part 2

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 2, so be sure to go back to last week’s post if you missed it.

Feedback is always appreciated, so feel free to email me at aelliottbooks@gmail.com . 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 3: Rescue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

####

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Sir. I’ll try to do better.”

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

Chapter 4: Trouble

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

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

####

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

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

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

####

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

 

 

 

Weekly Roundup: DRAGON CHILD – Part 1

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

Beginning today, 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!

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 by Alexander Elliott

First Edition Copyright © 2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written permission of the author. This includes any means whether electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system. UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION OR DISTRIBUTION OF THIS COPYRIGHTED WORK IS ILLEGAL AND SUBJECT TO PUNISHMENT BY LAW.

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

 

****DRAGON CHILD – PART 1****

Prologue

For generations, the small unassuming kingdom of Spiredale provided a comfortable life for its citizens. Fertile farmland surrounded the handful of towns and villages, all within a day’s travel from the centrally located royal palace at Rose. To the west lay the majestic Great Peak Mountains, while the Talon Sea, an enormous fresh water lake, formed the northern border. It was only in recent years, following the discovery of gold, that Spiredale attracted any unwanted attention.

Its beleaguered monarch spent the majority of his reign fending off attacks from neighboring kingdoms, intent on claiming Spiredale’s riches for themselves. The latest battle had almost been their undoing, and it was only the onset of an early spring snowstorm which turned the tide in their favor. Wounded in the fighting, the king succumbed to his injuries even as the tattered army regrouped to protect the royal family.

Their new king, Augustus, barely made it through his coronation when the dragons arrived. The frightened citizenry watched in awe as the enormous beasts made their appearance en masse and headed for the mountains. Apparently there to stay, they left the populace of Spiredale unmolested; however, the same couldn’t be said for their animals. Soon, the king was besieged with reports of picked-over herds and missing horses, along with demands he do something about it.

Communication with the great beasts was impossible and fighting them pointless. Even so, Augustus came up with a plan to pacify his new neighbors. Dragons were well known for their voracious appetites and a strange fondness for gold. Fortunately for Spiredale, the kingdom was surrounded by fertile fields and contained an abundance of gold ore. By royal proclamation, the king expanded the mines in the north and established large herds of red-back cattle, sheep, and goats.

The village of Orchid became the official transfer point for regular deliveries of processed gold and feed animals. Every seven days, near sunset, soldiers escorted the gifts to a secluded valley near the village and then waited outside the moveable gates until the dragons arrived. Swooping down on powerful wings, they enjoyed their meal and snatched up the heavy leather pouches of precious metal. In minutes, the valley was picked clean amid a cacophony of song-like whistles and calls, and the dragons returned to their nest high in the mountains.

The powerful creatures quickly understood what the humans were doing and settled into a regular routine. During daylight hours, the dragons generally kept to their mountain territory while the humans avoided any activity which might disturb them. The king’s foresight paid off, resulting in both riches and security. No one, it seemed, was foolish enough to invade or attack Spiredale with the mighty fire-breathers close at hand, finally leaving the kingdom in peace.

In the course of time, the people became complacent with the relationship and were, therefore, unprepared for the changes wrought by a single curious child.

####

 

Chapter 1: Croft

Ten years later, near the village of Orchid

The shipment was late. Dane, Captain of the Royal Guard, watched the road for the tell-tale dust cloud which always accompanied the regiment from the mines at Wort. The weekly allotment of gold was known for its punctual arrival, despite elaborate measures taken to ensure its safe delivery. Attempts to steal it by force were increasing, even with the kingdom’s formidable protectors living next door.

While the surrounding nations knew about the dragons, they were rarely seen and never attacked anyone, friend or foe. Their mere presence was no longer enough to frighten away Spiredale’s enemies, putting their mining operations at risk and resulting in ever-increasing border skirmishes. With deep regret, the king was forced to conscript soldiers for his growing army. The people grumbled about making even more sacrifices and wondered why the dragons did not help them.

Orchid, nestled in the foothills of the Great Peak Mountains, served as the transfer point for the gold and feed stock the kingdom provided for the dragons. The village itself was nothing out of the ordinary, except for being situated near a wide valley with a narrow opening at one end. The seclusion not only prevented the animals from escaping, it kept the villagers from panicking when the mighty beasts descended from their mountain nest to receive their gifts.

Wondering if the regiment had been attacked, Dane was prepared to send out a scout when the soldiers reached the last turn in the road in a billow of dust and the rattle of heavy wagon wheels. He and his men waited where they were, eager to secure the gold and entertain their guests with a hearty meal and the latest news from the palace.

Dane shifted part of his attention to their immediate surroundings, making sure no one and nothing was out of place. Kersen, the regiment’s commander, was an exacting man as well as Dane’s superior, and it was a point of pride to meet his rigorous standards. At their current pace, it would take them several minutes to arrive, leaving Dane to ruminate on the events of this morning.

Croft, the little boy he was looking after, pleaded with him to watch today’s shipment arrive. As he was told every week, the answer was “no”. Croft argued, of course, and while Dane found it difficult to deny him the experience, the event was no place for a child. Six months ago, the youngster was found sleeping in the garrison stables; dressed in rags, thin as a rail, and akin to a wild animal. Dane, an unmarried career soldier, knew little about raising children but didn’t have the heart to turn the boy away.

Since then, Croft accepted the captain as an authority figure and was taught to earn his keep in exchange for a soft bed and warm meals. Nothing was known of the boy’s parents, where he came from, or even his exact age. Nonetheless, the poor urchin needed someone to care for him and teach him how to interact properly with others. Unfortunately, the boy remained incredibly stubborn and insatiably curious about two things: soldiering and dragons. Hence his desire to witness the gold’s arrival, despite being told it was a soldiers-only event.

Dane’s affectionate frustration did not prevent him from securing a promise from Croft he would not be found on the road when the regiment arrived. Sullen and defiant, the child unsuccessfully tried to hide a small smile as he left to do his chores, and it was this which troubled Dane now that the moment was here. He’d been outfoxed by the boy before, so was relieved to see no sign of him as Commander Kersen made his final approach.

With only yards to go, the procession stopped with a cry of alarm from one of Kersen’s men. A dozen soldiers drew their weapons, surrounding a gnarled oak tree by the side of the road. Looking up into its branches, a shouted command broke the muffled expressions of surprise from both sides.

“You there! Get down here before I bring you down on the end of my sword!”

Dane’s men, angry to have missed someone in their security sweep, mumbled curses as they waited for the miscreant to reach the ground. Finally, in a flutter of falling leaves, Croft let go of the final branch and stood before the disbelieving soldiers with a smug smile on his face.

Dane groaned, urging his horse forward in the wake of his men’s quiet laughter. Croft hung his head in a feeble attempt to look repentant and waited to see what the captain would do. Angry and disappointed, Dane dismounted and approached the small group, stopping in front of the boy.

“Your disobedience could have ended very badly today. These men might have mistaken you for a common thief and spilled your blood. What are you doing here, Croft?”

A small, infuriating, smile returned as he looked Dane in the eye.

“You said I couldn’t be on the road, so I climbed the tree instead. I wasn’t going to rob anybody, Captain. I just wanted to watch.”

By this time, Commander Kersen joined them, overhearing the verbal exchange. The usual scowl on his face was softened by a strange warmth Dane had never seen before.

“Allow me to handle this, Captain, if you will.”

The commander lowered himself to one knee and gave Croft an appraising look which caused him to shuffle nervously from foot to foot. Finally, the man spoke.

“The first lesson a future soldier must learn is to obey his superior officer. If you want to be in the king’s service one day, young man, you must be obedient right here at home.”

Croft drew encouragement from Kersen’s demeanor.

“Yes, Sir, Commander. I’ll do better, I promise.”

Kersen nodded and continued speaking.

“Very well, master Croft. You owe Captain Dane an apology for your misconduct and for embarrassing him in front of his men. Lastly, we must address your punishment.”

Croft’s eyes widened, wondering exactly what the kindly stranger had in mind. He turned to Dane, and this time he truly did look repentant.

“I’m sorry, Captain. I… I didn’t mean to get you into trouble.”

Croft’s carefully worded apology, it was noted, did not include a promise of future obedience. Commander Kersen continued.

“If I understand correctly, you are quite fond of watching the dragons feed. Perhaps it will encourage future obedience if you are confined to your bed after dinner instead. You were very lucky not to have been hurt or killed today, son. You would do well to think on these things during your punishment.”

Croft sagged in disappointment. The highlight of his week was accompanying Dane and the soldiers to watch the dragons receive their allotment of food and gold. His dragon, the one with bluish scales and three big horns whom he’d named Rueloo, wouldn’t understand why he wasn’t there to watch and wave as he’d been doing for months now. It wasn’t fair!

Noting the child’s expression, Commander Kersen glanced over at Dane and winked conspiratorially before finishing their discussion.

“Good. Now that we have things settled, I require the company of master Croft as we finish our journey. I believe there are several dragon stories I could share with him during dinner as well. What do you say young man?”

Croft’s expression brightened considerably, a wide smile on his eager face.

“Oh, yes, Sir! May I, Captain?”

Dane bent over to rustle the mop of dark curls on the boy’s head.

“Commander Kersen has been very generous with you, Croft. I trust you will be on your very best behavior?”

Croft readily agreed and turned to follow Kersen back to his horse. Before Dane could get away, Kersen leaned over to whisper an explanation.

“I have five grandchildren back home. Often, a little honey with the vinegar goes a long way.”

Dane shook his head, chuckling as he mounted his horse and led the regiment to the barracks. He’d not only learned a valuable lesson about correcting a child, but tonight’s dinner should prove much more interesting than usual.

 

Chapter 2: Rueloo

Meanwhile, high in the Great Peak Mountains

It was near sunset on gifting day and the dragon Croft called Rueloo was busy looking after her eggs. Her precious ones, all four of them, were arranged together in the center of a circular pile of glow-ore and the pure nuggets the humans provided. A casual glance told her some of it was nearly exhausted of its power and needed to be replaced. Distracted by her human, she’d missed snatching one of the pouches of nuggets for several gifting days in a row. Not tonight. She was determined to take care of her nest first and if it caused her to miss a meal, she would do some hunting later or wait until morning to feed.

Her private nest was located in a natural cavern high up the craggy mountainside, with a nearby exit which faced the human valley. Unlike her elders and peers, she spent much of her time watching the two-legged creatures, pondering how they lived and worked. Their strange mouth sounds meant nothing, leaving her to learn by observation. The NestMaster thought her foolish for wasting effort on the puny beings living on the flatlands near their mountain home. In his opinion, nothing useful could come of it.

Rueloo considered how she might make contact with the small human who put a moving limb up in the air whenever she flew close. She did not want to harm or scare the hatchling, and it was always surrounded by the larger humans who carried sharp blades. It made sense, she supposed, for them to protect their young ones just as she would.

Picking through the various pieces of glow-ore, Rueloo carefully removed the spent ones and chivied others in to replace them. While the mountains in which they now lived held many veins of the precious substance, it was an arduous process to dig from the surrounding rock and carry to the nest. When the humans started providing powerful nuggets of pure glow-ore, it meant far less time and effort and allowed more of her kind to create nests of their own. The ore’s power was essential if their eggs were to develop properly, and the time it took for them to hatch was greatly reduced.

The blue-scaled beast sensed the great light in the sky was close to disappearing and turned to bathe the nest with a warm blast of fire and smoke. If all went according to plan, she would be returning soon with a supply of fresh ore, and if she moved quickly, might also get to see her human. She followed the fading light to the wide opening and leapt off the precipice, spreading her wings as she drifted down towards the valley below.

####

Except for moonlight spilling in through the open window, Croft’s comfortable room remained in deep shadow. Fully dressed, he lay quietly on his bed, considering everything he and Commander Kersen talked about today. Though he thought the old man would be grumpy and harsh, he was actually very kind – even if he insisted Croft must take his punishment. The dragon stories heard during dinner were exciting first-hand accounts of the commander’s own experiences with the great beasts.

Most of the people who said they knew about dragons were only telling stories they heard from someone else. Not Commander Kersen. He’d encountered dragons many times, far more than anyone else Croft knew about. Once, he’d been hunting and was about to take down a stag when a dragon swooped in from nowhere and grabbed the animal in its sharp talons. Though it frightened him, he was able to get a good look at the crimson beast and felt the downdraft from its wings as it flew off with the prize.

The next encounter was on the day of King Augustus’ coronation in the capital city of Rose – the same day the dragons first arrived to live in the mountains. As the king and queen waved to the cheering crowd, great shadows crisscrossed the grounds and everyone looked up to see the dragons flying by overhead. Queen Nelia fainted and the king’s crown tumbled off his head as he reached out to catch her.

Not long after, Commander Kersen was assigned to lead the regiment protecting the mines at Wort. There, it was not uncommon for a dragon to land nearby and watch the miners and smelters do their work. They never interfered or hurt anyone, though they did occasionally take some of the pack animals or make off with the larger boulders of ore. Eventually, their presence became commonplace and everyone learned to continue with their tasks. The commander told Croft he was certain they were very intelligent and wished for some way to communicate with them.

The stories both excited and discouraged the boy. He’d always wanted to see a dragon up close, touch their scales, or even ride one up into the sky. If he could get close enough, he was sure he could figure out how to talk to them, too. Just as Croft was about to slip into a dream-filled sleep, he heard the familiar musical song of his dragon. Rueloo!

Croft quickly rolled off the cot and went to the open window to listen. His beautiful dragon made a very distinct, high-pitched, undulating cry when she came near which sounded like someone shouting “Rue!” “Loo!” over and over. She must be looking for him and he wasn’t there! With his heart pounding, Croft made a decision. He was going to the valley and see if Rueloo would visit him after the others left. With Dane and the soldiers away from the barracks, he could sneak out and be back long before they would even realize he was gone.

With no fear of the dark and experience moving around at night, Croft slipped out of the window and scampered into the thick woods. With any luck, he would get there just as the soldiers were leaving. No one ever went out into the valley after dark, especially on a feed night like this one. All he needed to do was catch Rueloo’s attention, something he’d worry about when he reached the valley.

To be continued…

Weekly Roundup – The Long Road to a Short Story

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

Next week I intend to introduce the first installment of the short story I have been working on, entitled DRAGON CHILD. It’s a fantasy tale set in the quasi-middle ages about a young orphan boy, a kingdom at risk, and nest full of dragons. I’m going to release it here FREE, in serial fashion, with a couple chapters each week. Depending on reader response, the story may serve as a prequel to a full length novel later on, so be sure to share your thoughts with me!

There were a few things I wanted to accomplish with this project. The first, as I mentioned last week, was to prove to myself that I was capable of writing a short story in the first place. I have numerous future projects riding on successfully reaching that goal, so it was critical for me to learn how. In addition, I wanted to have something to use as a give-away for promotional purposes or as a thank-you to my beta readers.

The idea for Dragon Child presented itself all at once and I was hooked! There are several first’s with this one:

  • First foray into the fantasy genre
  • First dragon story
  • First child as the main character
  • First time using the middle ages as a setting

With a plethora of dragon books out there, there probably aren’t too many new ideas to introduce. I wasn’t about to let that stop me! One recurring theme is a dragon’s love for treasure – especially gold, but few authors want to explain the reason for this strange obsession/hoarding behavior. I decided to use the premise but add a twist of my own by introducing a perfectly logical explanation for their love of gold. All dragon stories include a little bit of magic to make them work and mine is no exception. I think you’ll like it.

I don’t want to give away all the goodies, so you’ll have to read it for yourself. Join me next week for DRAGON CHILD!

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Today is not only the first day of spring, but my sister’s birthday! With ten siblings, it’s almost always somebody’s birthday and I enjoy sending cards and chatting on the phone. In person would be better, but she’s 600 miles away and I don’t get back home very often. Anyway, HAPPY BIRTHDAY SIS – your little brother loves you!

PS – be nice to me, or you’ll end up as a character in my next book…

Weekly Roundup – Novel vs. Short Story: What’s the Difference?

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

For a reader, the most obvious difference between a novel and short story is the number of words. For a writer, it’s so much more!

Since I started writing seriously in 2015, the desire and opportunity to craft a short story have been curiously absent. My novels have kept me inordinately busy and it took me a while to recognize the need for short story material. Mix in my fear of failure and you have a wonderful recipe for procrastination.

What’s so scary about writing a short story?

  • I’d never intentionally tried before and couldn’t face the music of failure.
  • Which idea out of a hundred would I start with?
  • Where would I find the time?
  • What if it morphed into a novel?
  • What would I DO with it if successful?

Perhaps my fears seem silly, but they were/are quite real and prevented me from trying – until now. Yes, you heard me correctly. I am smack dab in the middle of writing a terrific short story and am cautiously confident of success! Why the change?

During the interim between my recent release and starting the next book in the series, a great story idea presented itself. As usual, I wrote it all down, intending to pursue it some day when I had the time. Trouble is, I couldn’t let it go and decided to take a short detour to test drive a short story project. If it turned out to be a miserable failure, no one would ever know and I would continue on with my novels as before.

After three false starts I almost gave up! Book three in my series was clamoring to be written, leaving me little time to waste for this experiment. Finally, things fell into place and I began to figure out the other things (besides word count) which made a short story different from a novel. The process is something like writing a three hundred word jacket blurb for a hundred thousand word book. It ain’t easy folks! Gone is the leisurely description of back story, character history, and general background material.

With a short story every word and sentence counts. The extraneous must be whittled down to the essential, leaving little descriptive elbow room – not quite bare bones but awfully close! It’s all about finding the balance between what the reader MUST know and what I really want to tell them (which is so much more). At the forefront of my thinking is the goal of telling the entire story in 7500 words or less without the reader feeling they’ve been cheated.

As of today, I’m about half done with a fantasy tale involving a kingdom at risk, very cool dragons, and a curious child. Once it’s finished and edited, I will be sending the story to some select beta readers for feedback. The plan is to release it as a mini-serial here on my blog, so you will be the first to see it! Depending on reader response, it may become the prequel for a future novel. More important, success with this project assures me I really can write short stories and move ahead with some exciting plans later this year.

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Last week I ran a FREE promotion for Traitor’s Moon and had over 3300 downloads. On Sunday, the book reached the #1 spot in three categories and #49 in the top one hundred free eBooks! Now, if I could just make a little money and get a good number of those folks to write a review…

Weekly Roundup 7-11-18 “The Visit” A blast from the past.

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

I ran across a bunch of stories and poems I wrote during my school days and chose “The Visit” to share with you today. This one was a 10th-grade English class assignment which I have never forgotten. Enjoy!

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The Visit

I never dreamed I would ever see my home again, but here I was twenty years later on my old street, my thoughts enveloped in times past. I rounded the curve and the full view of the old homestead shot out and drew my breath away.

Strolling up the walk to the door, I could almost feel the earth trembling with joy to see a familiar face. I turned and scanned the yard. Up ahead, the brick patio lay still and warped, obviously long in need of repair. Off to the left was my mother’s redbud tree. I recalled when the beautiful pink blossoms would burst into view each spring, bringing needed color to the just-waking earth. The large oaks, still rich in grandeur, which had graced our grounds throughout my childhood, were dropping their first leaves of the season. Many a year I remember raking their leaves into one huge glorious pile, and in a running leap, fall in childish ecstasy into the crinkly softness of the Autumn gifts.

Pausing before the door, I turned the knob and entered the familiar hallway, worn now from a million steps of past tenants. Slowly I closed the door and let my wandering memories once again renew themselves afresh. Stepping lightly into the living room, I could almost see us on Christmas morning, all sitting on the floor, sleepy-eyed and waiting for the signal form Grandma for us to start opening our gifts. “Ready, set, go!” she would say. Paper flew, and the room buzzed with oh’s, ah’s and thank-you’s. Along the bookcase would hang our stockings, stuffed with assorted goodies and fruit. We never had a fireplace to hang them on, but it didn’t matter much to us where we put them, just so long as they were filled.

I moved on through the dining room, kitchen and family room. The long-gone laughter of our young voices seemed to spring from the woodwork and draw from me a yearning to be young once again. Many times I had eaten, played, laughed, and of course cried in these rooms. Left now were only the cloudy remains of our times together, forever embedded in these walls which could not speak.

Slowly, reverently, I climbed the creaky stairs to the bedrooms above. Starting at the far end of the hallway, I opened a door and looked inside. Here was the first room I occupied as a child with my two older brothers. In the corner once stood our old wobbly bunk beds. I always had the top bunk, but in six years I only fell out of it once.

Opening each door seemed to break the seal on the closed reservoir of my memories. Every thought was relished, pondered, and loved, adding to the mounting joy in my heart. At last, I reached my room. As I peered inside from the doorway, every detail once there came to life. Tears mounted and rolled down my quivering cheeks as I began to fade quickly. For the last time, I looked upon the room I had lived, loved, and died in. You see, they only let you come back for forty-eight hours. I had to wait twenty years for my turn. I guess my time is up now…

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My teacher, one of the few nuns I liked, was primarily responsible for encouraging me to write. She really liked this story (I got an A+), saying: “Oh, tis a truly lovely composition. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a heart-string tugger.” I’m sure she was just being kind, as it’s hardly an award-winner, but it has a special place in my heart.

My mother was an avid reader, and I must have presented her with everything I wrote, asking for her opinion. Clear as day, I recall her silence as she read the story, only to start crying at the end. What she never knew was how much time I spent as a child feeling unloved and alone. Secretly, I wished I could either run away or die so that my family would realize they loved me after all and would actually tell me so. That never happened, but the reaction I got from my mom was satisfying on some level. Returning home as a ghost in a story was the closest I ever got to sharing my true feelings.

Other things:

Traitor’s Moon – 25,000+ words and ready to start chapter four, which is mostly about Jack and William as they make an important visit to Arizona to retrieve some of Jack’s past.

Had a great idea to use in a future story which came to me out of the blue while I was at work. Of course, I wrote it down right away, and then spent the rest of the day thinking of ways to use it. Good for my books and distracts me from my job!

Finished a great book titled “Raver: The Horsecaller Book 1” by Candace Carrabus. This romantic adventure fantasy is hard to put down. I love an a author with a good imagination! Check it out HERE.