DRAGON QUEST – Part 1

Dragon Quest – The Traveling Draman is the fourth installment in my series of  fantasy novelettes. This FREE serialized story won’t be found anywhere else, and you get to see it first!

Croft and Rueloo journey to a far away land, seeking information about their special bond. Along the way, they meet new dragons, make friends, and arrive to find a nation on the brink of war. Caught up in Pinnacle’s problems, the two become pawns in a dangerous game of conquest. Follow Croft and Rueloo on an exciting DRAGON QUEST! (Part one of two).

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

Dragon Quest by Alexander Elliott

First Edition     Copyright © 2019
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written permission of the author. This includes any means whether electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system. UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION OR DISTRIBUTION OF THIS COPYRIGHTED WORK IS ILLEGAL AND SUBJECT TO PUNISHMENT BY LAW.
For permissions and other inquiries, contact Alexander Elliott at aelliottbooks@gmail.com

 

DRAGON QUEST – PART 1

 

Prologue

Three months ago, in the far away Kingdom of Whitehaven

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 1

The royal palace at Rose, present day (July)

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do thee come bearing good news, captain?”

Barda’s self-satisfied smile gave him away.

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

“Is there sufficient evidence to charge them?”

The captain’s expression soured.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 2

En route to Pinnacle, day two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

####

Meanwhile, at Dramanshire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

DRAGON VALLEY – Part 1

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

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

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

 

Dragon Valley by Alexander Elliott

First Edition Copyright © 2019
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written permission of the author. This includes any means whether electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system. UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION OR DISTRIBUTION OF THIS COPYRIGHTED WORK IS ILLEGAL AND SUBJECT TO PUNISHMENT BY LAW.
For permissions and other inquiries, contact Alexander Elliott at aelliottbooks@gmail.com

 

DRAGON VALLEY – PART 1

 

Prologue

Rueloo’s nest, mid-winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Croft thought for a moment before responding.

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 1

Early March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

Dane chuckled.

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

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

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

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

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

Croft shifted uneasily; a frown marring his reptilian face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 2

The next morning, high above the nest

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

Not to be outdone, Sabina urged her dragon on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Echo’s pride and pleasure were obvious.

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

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

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

Sabina stood tall and proud.

“Yess, NesstMasster.”

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

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

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

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

Wheet considered the news for a moment before responding.

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

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

####

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wheet took a moment to correct her.

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

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

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

End of part one. Continue reading HERE!