DRAGON QUEST – Part 4

Dragon Quest – The Traveling Draman is the fourth installment in my series of fantasy novelettes. This FREE serialized story won’t be found anywhere else, and you get to see it first! (In case you missed it, here’s part 1, part 2, and part 3.

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

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 4

 

Chapter 8

The castle at Whitehaven

The role of Chamberlain was not the easiest or most pleasant at the royal court. While the position enjoyed almost unlimited access to the king, a deep level of trust, and a valued opinion, it also meant having to deliver bad news and suffer the displeasure of the monarch – not an easy task when one served Favian. The Chamberlain hurried through the castle corridors to answer his summons, and found His Majesty pacing in an otherwise empty throne room. He dropped to one knee, bowed his head, and waited for the king to address him.

“Speak! When will my orders be carried out?”

The Chamberlain lifted his head and replied cautiously.

“It is taking more time than we hoped, Thy Majesty. The new soldiers must be equipped and given at least minimal training before we send them out. As thee know, our borders are extensive and we can only cover the most obvious routes in and out of the kingdom. Our ships will be ready sooner, however, only needing to take on sufficient supplies.”

“Thee have not answered the question, Chamberlain! How long will it take?”

“Three days for the ships, and at least five for the troops. I apologize, Thy Majesty. The men are moving as fast as they can.”

Favian grunted in annoyance. The delay was not totally unexpected, but it galled him not to be able to put that blasted dragon in her place immediately. He may not be able to attack Pinnacle yet, but he could certainly make things difficult for Zelara in the meantime.

“Remind them I wish to act at the earliest possible moment. When all is in readiness, I will have one more message for the Ambassador to deliver and then we can watch them squirm.”

####

The royal palace at Rose

Trumpet blasts rent the warm air as eleven dragons, their riders, and three dragonlets were spotted approaching the palace. King Augustus, Queen Nelia, Prince Jahn, and Princess Lillain hurried outside to welcome their guests. This task was usually the monarch’s alone, but Augustus planned to involve his children in every aspect of the week’s training and events. They, too, needed to understand the changes taking place in Spiredale and how they would alter the way the kingdom was ruled. One day Jahn would ascend to the throne, and he must be prepared to work hand in hand with the dragons and Draman.

Lillain, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to be surrounded by the wondrous beasts. If her interest turned out to be more than casual, as Nelia believed, the royal family might have some interesting issues to face in the near future.

After circling once, the dragons landed one at a time, facing each other in a rough circle on the grassy lawn. Echo, Sabina, Dane, and the dragonlets placed themselves nearest the royal family. Augustus, pleased to see them all, secretly wished Croft and Rueloo could have also been in attendance. Dane and Sabina approached, bowed, and led the king and his family to the center of the large circle where they stopped to greet each dragon/Draman pair.

The midday meal appeared first on the day’s agenda. While the Draman were escorted into the palace, the dragons flew to the far side of the king’s private lake for their dinner. Some of the children were unhappy being separated from their dragon, even for a short time. Dane and Sabina reminded them this, too, was part of their training and that they still remained close enough to mind-speak.

After dinner, there were tours of the palace, a trip into town, and games on the great lawn. When it came time to bed down, small tents were provided for the Draman to stow their things or change clothes. Everyone knew they would be sleeping out in the open with their dragons, and as long as it did not rain, there would be no hardship. By the time the first orphans arrived for their formal studies next year, the new dragon stables would be complete and the pairs would enjoy the finest of accommodations. Until then, camping out in the warm summer air kept everyone content.

As the week progressed, the orphans were exposed to life at court and service as a soldier in the royal forces. If a child expressed a particular interest, they and their dragon were given additional instruction. As expected, not every Draman was well-suited for palace work or military service. Through careful questioning and suggestions, Augustus sought meaningful work for each bonded pair. By doing so, he hoped to convince them to settle in Rose when they left Dramanshire instead of scattering all over the kingdom.

As an apprentice, Elenore spent a great deal of time with the palace and military healers. She presented them with a copy of Juliana’s book containing everything she knew about dragons, the bonding process, and the use of gold. She and Scree allowed themselves to be poked and prodded, answered endless questions, and talked about their own experiences. In turn, they were taught about herbal remedies, tending and stitching wounds, setting bones, and dealing with the most common ailments. Elenore thrived under the attention, eager to return home and share what she’d learned with Juliana.

While Prince Jahn and Princess Lillain were unaccustomed to rubbing elbows with commoners, they ended up learning just as much about the kingdom as their new orphan friends. Jahn, always a quick study, began to understand what kind of kingdom Spiredale would become in the future and it excited him. The foundation his father laid now would serve him well when it came time for him to take the throne. He enjoyed exchanging new ideas with his father and the advisers, pleased to finally do something other than watch quietly in the background.

Princess Lillain, to no one’s surprise, spent every possible moment with the dragons. After several days of begging, the queen finally agreed to allow her to go for a brief flight, and the girl talked of nothing else. The dragonlets, missing their Dam and nest mate, decided to lavish their attention on the Princess instead. Small enough to go indoors, they followed her around the palace like a pack of dogs, investigating everyone and everything. It was anyone’s guess where her love of dragons might lead, and despite the opposition of some, Augustus quietly encouraged her.

 

Chapter 9

Pinnacle

Croft’s original idea of spending a day or two gathering information, and then returning home, proved to be unrealistic. The dragons of Pinnacle were spread out, requiring at least one visit to each of the seven islands. Delighted to have visitors from a far away kingdom, Croft and Rueloo were welcomed with celebration at every turn. Untold hours were spent listening to personal stories, old legends, and practical observations about the blood bonds between dragon and human. Croft’s own bonding experience, filled with danger and drama, left many speechless or in tears.

Like Catrain, Croft met many adult scale-brothers and sisters who looked much more like their dragons than he did. While some wore clothing, many did not, and Croft couldn’t help being curious about how certain things were done. When they enjoyed a few moments alone, he asked Rueloo to explain.

“They are all smooth down there! How do they excrete or make babies?”

Almost nothing shocked a dragon, and she answered his question as she would any other.

“Their bodies only look different on the outside. The scales move aside when they need to eliminate or if they wish to mate. Your body will undergo the same changes when you mature, and it will feel right to you.”

Most of the bonded humans on Pinnacle had children, and Croft took some comfort in their company. Apparently, they did not have to undergo the dangerous blood fever, but were born looking much as he did: pseudo-scales, flat nose, forked tongue, and clawed hands and feet. Even a mixed pair of bonded and human gave birth to children with the same dragon features as the others.

The presence of little ones, however, brought momentary heartache for both Croft and Rueloo. While it was necessary to leave the hatchlings behind, they were sorely missed. Spark, Huff, Billow, and Ember were being cared for by Echo and Sabina, but everyday life simply wasn’t the same without their antics and endless questions. For Croft, the absence of his nestmates threatened another wave of homesickness and Rueloo gently reminded him they would be reunited soon.

Interaction with such a large and well-established community brought Croft face to face with another striking truth – he and his Draman friends would live much longer lives than their fully human counterparts. Still, it did not compare to the normal age of a healthy dragon, and it led to interesting consequences. Some bonded to more than one human at the same time, while others enjoyed a long string of bondings over the years. Rueloo explained.

“Dragons live a very long time compared to humans. My brothers and sisters tell me that once we experience the bond, it is very difficult and lonely to live without it. Many years from now, when you die, I will be compelled to find another in your place.”

Croft’s initial feelings were a jumbled mix of sadness, jealousy, and resentment. Further thought led him to the conclusion that he wanted Rueloo to be happy no matter what might happen to him. Still, he wondered how the dragons could stand loving and losing so many in their long lives. Rueloo sensed his discomfort and made a point to remind him they had only started their life together and there was no reason to dwell on the distant future.

####

During a visit to Plume, at the southern end of the island chain, they were taken to a protected cove to meet with their kin from the sea. There in the clear waters were several sea dragons, including WaveWatcher, and a large group of merfolk. Croft, Rueloo, and their hosts waded into the shallow water to meet them for an unusual, and wet, afternoon of play and discussion. While all bonds shared certain similarities, Croft found the human transformation into merfolk fascinating. Their life in the sea was so different from his own, and he peppered them with questions.

When it came time to eat, the merfolk provided freshly caught fish – roasted for the scale-brothers and sisters or eaten raw by everyone else. Following their meal on the beach, WaveWatcher offered to take Croft for a ride through the waves. Rueloo agreed, insisting on flying overhead to make sure nothing happened to her beloved. Croft whooped with delight as WaveWatcher and two other dragons played racing games, zig-zagging across the surface at high speeds.

Once they returned to the cove, Croft retrieved gifts for the merfolk from the pack he carried. Most were necklaces and bracelets made of worked gold, shells, or small colorful stones. Croft blushed as they showered him with kisses or petted his curly hair. As the day came to a close, he and Rueloo said their goodbyes and watched as the water dragons and merfolk swam away and out of sight.

####

The days flew by as Rueloo and Croft made new friends and gathered the information they were sent to collect. In return, they told Zelara and Mirabelle about the nest in the Great Peak Mountains and the growing number of orphans and Draman among them. They also relayed warm greetings from King Augustus and described Spiredale and its people. When they revealed their intention to deliver the king’s diplomatic note to Whitehaven, Zelara strongly advised against it, citing Favian’s aggression.

The problem solved itself when Whitehaven’s Ambassador arrived on Dome several days later. It was an unusually brief visit, as he stayed only long enough to hand over a sealed document before leaving. At Mirabelle’s suggestion, Croft and Rueloo interrupted his return to the ship by introducing themselves and presenting him with the king’s message. While it wasn’t delivered exactly as Augustus intended, it enabled Croft to discharge his duty without putting himself or Rueloo at risk.

This temporary triumph was soon overshadowed by the upsetting news their friends received. Favian’s message turned out to be an official notice of hostilities between Whitehaven and Pinnacle. Zelara hastily called her advisers together and asked Croft and Rueloo to observe as her guests. The enormous cavern where they met erupted with anger and confusion when the note was read aloud. In response to opening a new gold mine on land “already claimed by the kingdom of Whitehaven” and Pinnacle’s “unlawful agreement with the kingdom of Exeter”, Favian chose to enact harsh penalties.

All borders with Whitehaven were now closed, trade by land or sea halted, and all diplomatic ties cut. Any attempt by Pinnacle to continue mining gold or trade with neighboring kingdoms would be met with deadly force. While not exactly a declaration of war, Pinnacle was effectively isolated from her neighbors and left to fend for herself. As the impact of the restrictions began to sink in, Zelara’s advisers grew quiet and pensive. Since worry never produced results, she quickly explained how they were going to respond.

“Favian believess he can frighten uss into giving him what he wantss or sslowly sstarve uss to death. The mine is ourss, even if we musst wait until it iss ssafe to operate. He hass forgotten we rule the air and our brotherss rule the ssea. If hiss sships attack, we will ssink them, and if he harmss our people we will retaliate.

“There will be no reply to hiss demandss, and we will continue trading at night when they cannot ssee uss. We have access to the ssea and other kingdomss too far away for Whitehaven to cut off all of our ssuppliess. It will require sstealth and hard work, but it can be done! Call in our defenderss and courierss – we must begin immediately.”

####

Meanwhile, in Favian’s private chambers

Several hours passed before Favian opened the message passed on by the Ambassador. Why, after all, should he care about some insignificant kingdom on the backside of nowhere? There were enough troubles on his mind without wasting energy on useless diplomatic overtures. In the quiet of his own rooms, he reconsidered his first response and opened the message from Spiredale. The unremarkable missive contained only a friendly greeting, condolences on the death of Favian’s father, and a vague offer of mutual cooperation.

While the king knew of Spiredale’s existence, he remained ignorant of the place and its people. It seemed significant that the messengers were a Scalie and a dragon – specifically mentioned as “honored representatives” of the kingdom. Favian needed more information and called for his Chamberlain. When the man arrived, he read the short note and told the king everything he knew about Spiredale.

“It is a small, peaceful, kingdom along the shores of the Talon Sea, and is reported to be rich in gold. The nearby mountains contain a large nest of dragons who defeated the armies of Thorn when they attacked some two years ago. Our spies tell us Thorn’s forces were destroyed in a matter of minutes. A close relationship with them could prove very beneficial. It is unfortunate they did not bring the message directly to us, for we could have obtained additional information.”

Favian’s mind began to turn with possibilities. If Whitehaven had access to abundant gold and a fierce nest of dragons as Spiredale did, he could finally wipe out Pinnacle, expand his kingdom, and enjoy the riches he should have inherited from his idiot father. Spiredale was too distant to conquer easily, but perhaps he could gain their cooperation another way.

“Do we know how long the Scalie and his dragon will remain at Pinnacle?”

“No, Thy Majesty. The Ambassador was on his way back to the ship when they handed him the message and he did not ask questions or extend an invitation to the palace. Apparently, both the boy and his dragon are blue, and should be easy to identify. We may have to move quickly if thee wish to… intercept them.”

Favian’s eye’s narrowed as an audacious plan blossomed in his mind. It might be risky and complicated, but the opportunity could not be wasted. The operation required precise timing and careful cooperation to be successful, and if it failed he was no worse off than before. If the plan bore fruit – Zelara and her people would forever cease to be a problem.

####

Caught up in Pinnacle’s troubles, Croft and Rueloo offered to stay a while longer and help their friends establish the new supply lines. With so much to do, Zelara expressed her gratitude and put them to work. The job became much easier after Croft suggested they use giant nets to carry supplies back and forth, as was done when building the orphanage. Soon, every available pair of hands on all seven islands set to making rope and weaving it together.

Clandestine meetings with the surrounding kingdoms arranged pick up and delivery times and locations. Mirabelle assigned a different person for each place and tasked them with keeping track of the schedule. As soon as the sun set each night, the dragons began carrying nets full of island goods such as fish, fruit, pottery, and gold jewelry the humans loved so much. In exchange, they brought back grain, firewood, metal, leather, or other things not readily found on Pinnacle.

Flights over Whitehaven were avoided for the most part, and even then, much higher than the dragons usually flew. The soldiers possessed many of the spear-throwing devices, called ballistas, stationed along portions of the shoreline and near the disputed gold mine. There may have been others, but without flying dangerously low they remained hidden. The only other obvious change in their enemy’s behavior was an increased naval presence.

Every day, one or more ships were chased away from the islands and back to Whitehaven’s shoreline. Twice, Zelara’s defenders raked a ship with fire in order to force them out of their waters. At least once so far, a sea dragon nearly swamped a ship before it got the message and backed away. Zelara believed these were clumsy attempts to spy on them, though they could not understand what Favian hoped to see. Most of their activity was hidden in darkness or on the opposite side of the islands where Whitehaven’s ships wouldn’t dare go.

Mirabelle, certain Favian was up to no good, urged everyone working near Whitehaven’s borders to be especially cautious. In her mind, a quiet enemy presented the most danger, and the king already proved he lacked honor. Whatever he planned did not bode well for her people and she remained on edge, expecting something to happen. As it turned out, she didn’t have to wait much longer.

####

Whitehaven’s border, shortly before sunset

Favian’s network of spies finally uncovered useful information when the village of Shorewood, which included Lord Wellington’s estate, was caught red-handed trading with Pinnacle. Outraged, the king made an example of the disobedient Lord by throwing him in the dungeon and seizing his home and lands. To pay for their disloyalty, he levied a new tax on the entire village and a stationed a permanent squadron of soldiers there to keep watch on them.

Punishing his citizens became secondary, however, when Favian learned the blue dragon took part in the secret food pickups. This was exactly the break he needed to bring his plans to fruition, and he moved quickly to intercept tonight’s exchange. The ballistas were carefully placed and well-hidden along the heavily wooded shoreline, while the archers were instructed to target Scalies only – with one exception.

####

Pinnacle, after dark

Croft shifted uneasily on Rueloo’s back, eager to get tonight’s pick up over with and weary with late nights and lack of sleep. Tomorrow would be their last day on the islands before heading home, and he yearned to see Dane and his friends. The trip back would take just as long, but at least they would be heading towards Spiredale instead of away from it. He leaned down to stroke Rueloo’s neck, reassuring her of his love. In turn, she sent a mental image of the day he awoke from the bonding fever, awash with wonder and the reassurance she would never leave him.

While tonight’s supply run was already familiar to most of the assigned group, it would be considerably larger than the previous ones. Ten dragon-and-rider pairs finally took to the air for the short flight, including Zelara and Mirabelle. Though urged by their advisers to stay behind, Pinnacle’s leaders insisted on doing their part and no one could dissuade them. A crisp breeze followed them across the water, masking whatever scents they would normally pick up from shore.

Zelara and Mirabelle took point, coming in cautiously when they did not see the usual signal torches. The darkened beach put Mirabelle instantly on guard and she broadcast her thoughts to the entire group.

“The torches are missing and the wind masks the scent. Wait here while we take a closer look.”

The others obeyed, circling offshore above the water. Though Croft understood Mirabelle’s caution, he simply wanted to complete the task and return to Dome. After another low pass, Mirabelle broadcast the all-clear. The dragons quickly lined up along the beach to enter the narrow opening in the trees and retrieve the filled nets. Rueloo, third to go in, wasted no time snatching one of the bundles in her powerful jaws. Once on the beach, she could grasp it in her talons before taking flight.

As the moonlight bounced off her scales, one of the soldiers recognized the blue dragon and fired. The “thwip”, “thwip”, “thwip” sound of arrows and ballistas filled the air as bellows of pain and confusion erupted all around them. Spears lodged in dragon flesh as the alarmed beasts struggled for room to take off. Some managed it, only to be struck while in the air. Their riders fared no better, with sharp arrows penetrating bodies amid screams and spilled blood.

Croft lay as flat as he could on Rueloo’s back as she ran into the shallow water near the beach where there was more room to fly. As they lifted into the air, Rueloo’s left wing was shredded by spears and she tumbled from the sky with a roar of pain and confusion. She landed with an enormous splash, spilling Croft from her back. The frightened boy struck a large rock hidden just below the surface, snapping his left arm like a dry stick. His scream was lost in the confusion, and he struggled to keep his head above water as the pain and nausea tried to pull him under the cold waves.

“Rueloo! Help me!”

She did not answer – the warm mental connection with her having gone dark and silent. She lay crumpled in the water, unmoving, as blood flowed from her injured wing. He opened his mind to find someone to help them, but was battered by a maelstrom of anger and agony as the others dealt with their own injuries and attempts to get away.

The sound of hurried splashing caused Croft to look up in alarm as two soldiers waded through the water towards him. He screamed again for help, but no one heard his pleas.

“NO! Wake up Rueloo! Don’t let them take me! Rueloo!”

The soldiers roughly grabbed his arms to drag him to shore, wrenching his broken arm. The pain was too much for Croft and his troubled mind plunged mercifully into darkness.

END OF BOOK 4

   To be continued in book 5, DRAGON RESCUE!

DRAGON QUEST – Part 3

Dragon Quest – The Traveling Draman is the fourth installment in my series of fantasy novelettes. This FREE serialized story won’t be found anywhere else, and you get to see it first! (In case you missed it, here’s part 1 and part 2)

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

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

 

Dragon Quest by Alexander Elliott

First Edition     Copyright © 2019

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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

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

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

 

DRAGON QUEST – PART 3

 

Chapter 5

Dramanshire, early morning

Juliana knew exactly where her husband would be, walking carefully down two flights of darkened stone stairs and across the great hall to the library door. She knocked softly once, paused, then knocked twice. Without waiting, she opened the heavy door, slipped inside the candlelit room, and joined Hugh on the kneeling bench in the corner. Without interrupting his prayers, Juliana silently joined him, interceding for the orphans under their care.

He finished in due time, lifting his head to find Juliana watching him. He kissed her once, twice, three times, before wrapping his arms around her. Hugh considered her a treasured gift from God and did everything in his power to remind her of it. She pulled back to find a look of concern on his handsome face and reached up to smooth the creases between his eyes.

“Thee are worried about Croft and Rueloo, are thee not? God holds them in the palm of His hand, husband. We must trust Him.”

Shamed, Hugh wished for greater faith.

“Thee have the right of it, wife. Dane worries so, and I promised him my prayers. He was reluctant to see them go alone, and I agree with him. I will feel much better when they have returned safely to us.”

Noises from the kitchen interrupted their discussion as Margery busied herself making breakfast. They left the quiet library, making their way upstairs to awaken the children for another busy day. Life at Dramanshire continued without pause, despite the absence of Croft and Rueloo.

Thomas planned another trip to Orchid today for supplies, with an aside visit to see Beatrix at the Inn. The Boar’s Head was a respectable place, serving an ever-increasing number of travelers through Orchid. Smitten from their first meeting, the pair were expected to make a marriage announcement soon.

All recently-bonded orphans were busy planning for their trip to Rose. The king’s invitation caused quite a stir at Dramanshire and Wheet agreed they needed to learn first-hand about life at the palace. It was important for he and Augustus to understand each other’s intentions as they moved ever closer to an integrated kingdom. The dragonlets, who missed their Dam and nestmate, would travel to Rose with Echo and Sabina. They were still too young to be left unattended, and the trip would be a good learning experience.

The construction of Snapdragon, the king’s new summer home, was well underway. The main tower sat atop the hills near the crossroads of the King’s Highway and Dragon Road. Nearby sat the new dragon stables, barn, and barracks for the soldiers. Thanks to the overflow of gold into the treasury, there were many other projects being financed around Spiredale: road improvements, more dragon stables at Rose, and new sailing ships down by the harbor. At the same time, Orchid blossomed from a sleepy village into a busy town, adding new homes and businesses wherever space could be found.

Dane continued his weapons training instruction for the Draman, bringing pairs of soldiers with him to demonstrate the use of the baton, crossbow, longbow, and spear. Plans were being made for special saddle bags to hold various weapons and supplies while the dragons were in flight. Eventually, the Draman would learn to use them whether on the ground or in the air, making the dragon and its rider a lethal pair.

Planning ahead, Juliana consulted with the military healers at Rose to identify and treat common wounds of war. The gold worked wonders for healing, but setting bones, stitching up gashes, and removing arrows was knowledge all Draman and their dragons might need to know. Juliana spent long hours preparing Elenore and Scree for more intensive training when they reached Rose with the others.

####

Whitehaven, the king’s council chambers

Favian pounded the tabletop with both fists, startling his advisers.

“Explain thyself! What do thee mean, Merek is missing?”

The king’s unofficial spymaster remained unnaturally calm as he gave Favian the bad news.

“Thy brother has not been seen since the evening before the storm. His horse remains in the stable and his bedchamber undisturbed. It is possible he heard of our plans and fled the kingdom, but not a trace has been found. If he did escape, it was on foot and with only the clothes on his back.”

The king’s steely glare could stop a beating heart, and his advisers flinched as it was trained on them.

“Redouble thy efforts. Find him, or his rotting carcass, and bring it to me! Remember this – he will not stop at removing my head only. Thou art also in peril as long as he lives, and all our plans are for naught.”

While the king’s foul mood was understandable, it threatened to get worse when his Chamberlain shared another bit of troubling information.

“There is a matter of some concern, Thy Majesty. We have received news from the northern reaches that Pinnacle is mining for gold near Exeter.”

Favian’s eyes narrowed and he leaned forward over the table.

“Who lays claim to the land?”

“There has been no claim, as yet. Thy father considered annexing the area some time ago, but decided against it. I expect Pinnacle to send us an official declaration at any time.”

The king’s expression twisted with fury.

“Damn those infernal dragons! They would take over the world if we let them! How is the place guarded?”

“We are told they have a very generous agreement with Exeter to help mine the ore and protect the site. Short of diplomacy, we would have to take the land by force if we want the mine for ourselves.”

Favian turned to his Minister of War.

“Do it then! How soon can we take what is rightfully ours?”

“We cannot, Thy Majesty. Our forces are undermanned and in disarray. Between Exeter’s army and the dragons, we would suffer tremendous losses and gain nothing in return.”

Favian’s curses prevented the ministers from saying anything else, and he finally fell silent in thought. At every turn he faced problems inherited from his father’s incompetent handling of the kingdom. The coffers were nearly empty, his army gutted and ineffective, and the long-established agreements with neighboring kingdoms left Whitehaven weakened. He would have to address the issues one at a time, starting with Pinnacle’s claim to the gold.

“Since this cannot be settled as I wish, I will send formal notices to both Pinnacle and Exeter that my father did indeed officially lay claim to the land in question. While the ambassadors are busy talking, we will start rebuilding the army with conscripts and prepare to take the land by force.

“Send for my scribe. I want those dispatches delivered before the sun sets.”

 

Chapter 6

Pinnacle, later that day

Zelara and Mirabelle finished up a long day of visiting each of the islands; something they did regularly to deal with problems, listen to complaints, and interact with their people. So it was, as they approached Dome, a Whitehaven ship sat in the harbor, flying the Ambassador’s flag. Zelara’s displeasure could be clearly felt by her scale-sister.

“Unless the ambassador is here about something else, Favian wasted no time lodging a complaint about the new mines.”

“It was expected, and no doubt Exeter received the same message. Had it been his father, we would have received a note of congratulations and nothing more. Oh, how I miss the old king!”

 “As do I, but there is hope for changing the situation.”

 “Hmph…hope moves too slowly for my taste.”

Merek was still getting settled in among them, rarely seen in public, and then only in disguise. So far, only Zelara, Mirabelle, and their trusted inner council were aware of his true identity and purpose. He would be invited to witness today’s meeting, as his insight and advice could prove invaluable.

Zelara swooped down from the sky to land on the terrace of meeting. The Ambassador’s retinue began making their way towards them from the ship, but she and Mirabelle needed a few moments to refresh themselves after a rigorous day. If King Favian’s representatives were kept waiting in the wind, so be it.

####

Mirabelle finished reading the king’s missive aloud, mostly for the sake of the advisers standing behind her, but also because it made the Ambassador and his party more uncomfortable. She lowered the parchment scroll and cocked her head as Zelara provided her initial response, turning her gaze on Whitehaven’s official representatives.

“King Favian’ss claimss have no merit. We were informed by hiss father that Whitehaven wass not interessted in the land ssome time ago, and we have no intention of giving up the miness or altering our arrangement with Exeter.”

The Ambassador’s sour expression made it clear he was neither surprised nor pleased to hear Zelara’s words. He opened his mouth to express a more sternly worded warning, but the dragon wasn’t finished speaking. Mirabelle continued to translate.

“You may alsso inform the king that any attempt to interfere with our planss or alliess will result in… sserious conssequencess.”

The Ambassador stiffened, allowing anger and sarcasm to color his response.

“I see. I find thy unjustified threats amusing, though His Majesty will not. Surely we can come to a more beneficial agreement, unless this is thy final word?”

Mirabelle spoke for herself this time.

“Our nationss were once closse alliess, but the king’ss greed hass now caussed a rift between uss. Let there be no missunderstanding – the miness and the land belong to Pinnacle and we will defend them as we would the ssoil upon which thee sstand. There iss nothing more to negotiate regarding this matter. Thee may leave uss.”

The Ambassador did not take kindly to being summarily dismissed, keeping his anger in abeyance long enough to bow stiffly and hastily return to his ship. Mirabelle looked up at Zelara to see smoke pouring from her snout, even as her claws made deep gouges in the soft soil of the terrace. Without another word, they all turned and retreated to Zelara’s caverns.

####

Merek listened carefully to the heated discussion, keeping his opinions to himself as they tried to understand Favian’s latest move. Some considered it mere posturing and bluster, while others, including Zelara, were convinced the situation could get much worse. Once everyone had their say, Mirabelle asked him what he thought of the whole affair.

“There is no question Whitehaven needs the gold, but Favian wants it for other reasons as well. He needs to prove he is a strong and decisive leader for all to see, and is desperate to demonstrate his rule will be nothing like our father’s. He also fears Pinnacle’s power and influence in the region and wants to put ye in thy place. His pride will not allow anyone, especially Pinnacle, to be bigger, better, richer, or smarter than he.”

Zelara, sharp as always, sensed something more. Mirabelle spoke for her.

“What iss it you are not telling uss, Merek? We musst know if we are to avoid the wrong decisson.”

Embarrassed and worried, Merek found it difficult to meet their eyes.

“Favian would like nothing better than to destroy the nest on Pinnacle and take the islands for himself. When he is able he will attack, and ye may soon find thyself at war. Forgive me, friends, if my words seem harsh, but they are the truth.”

####

Though Zelara appreciated his honesty, Merek thought it best to remove himself from the discussion. He felt terrible for having to tell them what they did not want to hear, and it hurt knowing his own brother caused their fear and resentment. He bade them good evening and headed home with a heavy heart. He’d been given a small stone cottage, close to the meeting terrace, but isolated from the other inhabitants of the island. This, too, was more difficult to bear than he imagined, unaccustomed to spending so much time alone.

Distracted by dreary thoughts, Merek stopped abruptly when he spied a lone figure through the open window. A merry fire burned on the hearth and the comforting smell of food made his stomach grumble. Who had made themselves at home while he was away? Zelara had spoken of someone on the island he might wish to see – could this be the one?

Caution won out over curiosity and he pulled the dagger from his boot to quietly approach the house. He yanked the door opened and stepped inside, brandishing the knife.

“Who are thee? Why are thee here?”

The stranger turned, gracing him with a small, sad smile.

“Have thy manners left thee so soon, my son?”

Merek gaped at what must be an apparition. There before him stood the queen mother, dressed in common clothes and seemingly alive.

“Mother? How can it be you? Thee are dead and buried!”

The familiar voice held firm, even as her face reflected shadows of grief and loss.

“Put away thy knife and trust thy eyes and ears. I fled the kingdom when thy brother’s plans became known to me. The fire was set to make him think me dead, and I escaped to Pinnacle. Forgive me for not telling thee, Son, but I could not risk thy life as well as mine.”

Merek put away the dagger and approached the woman. He reached out slowly to touch her hair, convincing himself of the reality before him. They burst into tears at the same moment, clinging to one another in joyous relief – impossible to express with words. After the tears came laughter and a hundred questions which they asked and answered over their meal.

The body found after the fire belonged to a poor beggar woman who died at the palace gate. The queen’s devoted ministers came up with the plan and helped her escape across the border. From there, a message to Zelara brought the dragon to the rendezvous herself, and she flew the queen back to Pinnacle for safekeeping.

When Merek set out to describe his own arrival on the islands, including the miraculous rescue at sea, his mother nearly fainted.

“To have lost thee so would have broken my heart. Perhaps it was best this way, as Favian cannot be certain if thee are alive or dead. We are safe here from his spies, but I want to hear of thy plans for the kingdom, my son. Thy brother’s black heart will surely bring destruction to Whitehaven unless he can be stopped.”

Far into the night they relived happy memories, grieved the departed king, and tested ideas for regaining Whitehaven’s throne. More importantly, they rejoiced in simply being together once again, pushing back the shadows which had hounded them into exile.

 

Chapter 7

The next morning

Having arisen early, Croft and Rueloo ate a hasty breakfast and broke camp – eager to reach Pinnacle, complete their mission, and start for home. If things went according to plan, they would only be away from Dramanshire for a fortnight. Early in their flight, Rueloo banked sharply to the left, altering course away from the coastal Kingdom of Whitehaven and over the Talon Sea.

Croft filled his lungs with the distinctive scent of open water, even as the lush green of field and forest disappeared from view. A flock of noisy gulls parted, wisely avoiding Rueloo’s powerful wings and went about their business. In the distance, the islands of Pinnacle broke up the vast expanse of the sea, illuminated by warm sunshine. While his home in the mountains was beautiful, he relished the change of scenery, and the panorama below drove every other thought from his mind.

Gliding lower for a better look, Rueloo skimmed over the calm surface of the water, filling the air with her distinctive call. Up ahead, the sea suddenly came alive with a burst of foam and bubbles, startling Croft.

“Rueloo! Look!”

The large head and upper body of a gray-green water dragon rose out of the water, answering Rueloo’s call with one of its own. Croft knew they were speaking, but only caught part of the exchange.

“What did he say?”

“He wants us to land on the island up ahead.”

At last, Croft would meet one of the great creatures of the sea Wheet described months ago. Oh, the stories he would tell when they returned home! The water dragon began swimming near the surface, churning the sea as he went, twisting this way and that like a serpent on land. He traveled much faster than Croft imagined he could, headed for a tiny spit of rocky land rising above the water. Not really an island, but he and Rueloo needed something solid on which to stand and this was the only spot available.

When the great sea serpent reached it, he pulled himself up on dry ground, leaving his back half in the water. Plenty of room remained to alight and Rueloo brought them down on a relatively flat patch of sandy soil, speckled with moss and scrubby plants. The dragons leaned forward to scent one another, both rumbling with pleasure. Rueloo made the introductions.

“This is WaveWatcher, Croft. His pod lives here in the waters near Pinnacle. Do not fear him, little one. You are unlike the merfolk, and he is curious.”

Rueloo crouched down so Croft could dismount, and a few short steps brought him face to face with the intriguing water dragon. They scented each other first and then WaveWatcher licked his face and outstretched hand with a long, black, tongue which smelled of fish. Croft reached out to stroke the fine smooth scales of his face, avoiding the rows of sharp spines which ringed a wedge-shaped head. His enormous, heavy flippers began halfway down the long body, scaled like the rest of him, and the same gray-green color. Croft finally thought of something to say.

“Thee are a fine dragon, and very fast in the water! Do thee ever wish to fly the way Rueloo does?”

A rumble of laughter shook the rocks beneath Croft’s feet.

“No. Rueloo and her kind command the sky, while my kind rules the sea. This is the way of the world and I am content.”

“Are thee bonded to a human? I have been told they are called merfolk here, but I have never met one of them. Where I am from, we are called Draman.”

“I am not bonded. If you were unclaimed, I would take you into the sea with me, little Draman.”

 The idea startled Croft and Rueloo assured him he could not be bonded to two dragons at the same time. She remained unworried, slightly amused, and a little bit jealous. Croft relaxed.

 “I thank thee. Would thee like me to look for someone for thee while we are here?”

 WaveWatcher laughed, both pleased and amused.

“If you wish. I will tell the merfolk you want to see them. Be sure to bring gifts or they will be offended.”

Croft smiled at the strange idea.

“Oh! All right. Will I see thee again?”

“I hope so, yes. Take care on your journey.”

With that, the sea dragon bid them farewell, slithering backwards into the sea and beneath the surface. Croft hated to part with him, but they still had a ways to travel before reaching the islands. Rueloo licked his outstretched hand in a dragon kiss and he climbed aboard to continue on their way.

####

Approaching from the south, they crossed over the islands of Lava, Plume, and Fissure before reaching Dome. Rueloo made no attempt to land, calling out instead to alert the nest of their presence. Four dragons flew up to meet them; three males and a female, all brightly scaled in shades of orange, yellow, and brown. Aside from their coloring and fewer horns, they looked much the same as the dragons back home. The most obvious difference was the shape of their tails, which did not taper to a point. Instead, they ended with a flat, diamond-shaped piece of heavy bone, and Croft wondered if it served some special purpose.

Rueloo explained why they were here and that they wished to see Zelara and Mirabelle. Forming a protective circle, the dragons escorted Rueloo and Croft to Dome’s surface, landing on a broad grassy terrace. Fortunately, the NestMistress and her scale-sister were not busy with other matters and came out to greet their visitors. When they reached the elevated platform, both Rueloo and Croft bowed in respect and waited to be addressed. Mirabelle spoke first.

“Welcome travelers. From where do thee come?”

Croft answered for them.

“We are from Dramanshire, in the kingdom of Spiredale.”

Mirabelle’s eyes widened in surprise.

“We know of Spiredale and the great nest residing there. What is the purpose of your long journey?”

Our NestMaster, Wheet, sent us to learn more about dragon bonds.”

Intrigued, Zelara lowered her head to scent Croft first, and then Rueloo. Satisfied, she responded.

“We were not aware of any bonded among you. Why have you come to us for help?”

 Rueloo spoke this time, as she would be able to explain it better.

“Our NestMaster’s Sire and Dam were hatched in Pinnacle. He has ancient memories handed down to him of this place. He hoped we would be welcome here and provided with the information we seek.”

 “How may we help you?”

 “Our understanding is limited and there are things we must know to protect both human and dragon. There are no nests close to us who bond with humans and we have traveled many days to reach this place. If you so desire, we will leave…”

 Embarrassed, Mirabelle interrupted and stepped forward.

“No! Forgive us, please. Thee are our guests and most welcome here, only… thee have come at a difficult time. Whitehaven has disrupted the nest, and we are suspicious of strangers and their motives. Thee are not to blame, of course, but thee must be made aware of our situation. Please, come inside where we may talk further.”

Croft expected a somewhat warmer welcome, but Rueloo assured him privately that these were honorable people. He wondered if Wheet or Augustus would have sent them here alone had they known there was trouble. Still, they should be able to accomplish their primary mission of learning more about bonds. The remaining question of what to do with the diplomatic note for Whitehaven would have to be answered later.

Next time – the conclusion of DRAGON QUEST!

 

 

DRAGON QUEST – Part 2

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

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

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

 

Dragon Quest by Alexander Elliott

First Edition     Copyright © 2019

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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

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

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

 

DRAGON QUEST – PART 2

 

Chapter 3

The Talon Sea, between Whitehaven and Pinnacle

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

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

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

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

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

####

Dome, the next morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “Do thee know him? Is he a danger?

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

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

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

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

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

“Who wishess you harm?”

The man answered honestly.

“Alas, my own brother wants me dead.”

“With good reasson?”

“None that I am aware of.”

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

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

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

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

Zelara snorted smoke with a friendly rumble of laughter.

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

A small smile of hope brightened Merek’s face.

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

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

“What would thee have me do?”

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

 

Chapter 4

En route to Pinnacle, day four

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

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

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

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

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

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

####

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Come. Share the fire with us.”

####

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

“Rueloo, someone is out there!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moss nodded her head as a human would.

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

DRAGON 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

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!