Ariol and the Dragon. Part 1 of 3.
Once upon a time, it might have been a long time ago, or it might in some time yet to come. In a land far far away: so far away, it might even be in another dimension, or possibly a different planet. There was a boy. Not just any old boy, he was a proper prince. He wasn't heir to the throne mind, he had two older brothers, both much better king material than he was, but that didn't stop him being a prince.
It also didn't stop him being a boy, and a somewhat mischievous one too. He wasn't always in trouble, just often. When he'd been quite small it had just been over little things, like pinching cakes, or other sweet morsels from the kitchen, and he had become quite used to being taken at first by the queen, and later as exasperation set in, by a footman or a lady in waiting, to apologize to the round faced cook. These days he was usually in trouble over skipping lessons. And there were a lot of lessons to skip, so he seemed to be in a lot more trouble than he used to be.
The problem was that he didn't much like the lessons princes were supposed to learn. Sword and shield practice were really dull. Practicing the same blocks strikes and thrusts, over and over, and over again. It was also a bit scary, hard work, and he really wasn't very good at it. He was much better with a bow, and would happily practice archery without even being asked, but King Marek II, his father, insisted he needed to work on his weaknesses.
Ariol could not bear the lessons in courtly etiquette, he had even given it the nickname, ‘whose head is higher' because one of the rules was no one’s head could be higher than the kings, which was fine with his dad, who was as tall as any man in the kingdom, but which had caused problems for his great great grandfather Enric the short. Or rather problems for anyone over 4'11", the local chiropractor had done a roaring trade during his reign.
Another rule was as the third son he was supposed to stand at his eldest brother Tarac's left, because when he grew up he was supposed to become master of the king’s horse. His other older brother Karal, was supposed to stand the right and become master of the army, Ariol had no idea what would have happened if they had all been girls. Riding was actually one of the lessons Ariol liked, but he found all the stuff about 'best use of a cavalry division on the field of battle' somewhat dull.
There were at least a hundred rules for which knife and fork or spoon was to be used at which point in a banquet. And at least as many about how he was supposed to talk to girls. And of course there were the dancing lessons, which he had rather thought might be quite fun. That was until he actually started taking them, and had discovered how deadly boring they were, and remarkably similar to sword and shield practice in lots of ways.
There were dozens of other 'lessons' he was supposed to take, and there was always a long line of Tutors to see the king and queen to complain about his non-attendance. There were so many complaints that a lady in waiting had been given the title governess, and was supposed to make sure he had 'access' to a courtly education. In practice this had turned into, her spending long hours walking the corridors of the castle trying to work out where he was hiding. In this minor battle of wits, she was at a major disadvantage. Since she had only worked in the castle for 4 years: Ariol had lived there all his life, his two older brothers had shown him all their best hiding places, and he had found a few more besides.
There were some lessons he could not decide if he liked or not. There was an old man called Emrys Madoc he was supposed to see once a week, to learn about the history of the kingdom and the western lands, science, maths and so on. Sometimes he could not wait to go and see the old man and other times he just wanted to do something else. The odd thing was that Emrys was never annoyed when he didn't turn up for his lessons, and had never once complained to either the King or his mother queen Siran, or the recently appointed governess. Ariol had asked Emrys why? Emrys had just said, "Oh don't worry, sometimes it takes a bit longer than the gap between lessons, to learn any given lesson, I'm sure you will turn up when you’re ready for the next one. And Ariol mostly did.
There were also things that Ariol wanted to learn, that no-one wanted to teach him, or at the very least didn't seem to have the time. In particular he was intrigued by sewing. He was fascinated by the idea that torn pair of breeches were dispatched for repair, and either disappeared completely, like the pair he had ripped to shreds climbing through the brambles at the back of the castles great tower, or were returned neatly repaired.
He'd asked about being taught to sew and had been a little confused when his father the king had told him there was no call for sail making since the kingdom was landlocked.
Such obfuscation had piqued his interest and Ariol had sought out the seamstress, or rather seamstresses, since the castle employed three, full time, and two part time, apprentices. Of course he'd been shooed away, but had returned to spy and listen from the high balcony, overlooking the 'sewing room’. This latter was quite a large space, originally intended as a courtly area, and was still used as extra 'social space' during banquets.
Frankly he hadn't learned that much about sewing, but he had learned that women out of the earshot of men talked about quite extraordinary things.
He had procured various needles, pins, and thread from the big storage cupboard the ladies used, and a small instruction sheet intended for the apprentices. After spearing his fingers a few times, he had managed to make himself a not too shabby, but somewhat bloodstained bag, and later after some practice other items, trying out the different needles. These included a leather belt and a waistcoat. He had also taken to repairing his own ripped seams, and putting on patches, though his attempts at invisible mending hadn’t been very successful. The lack of repairs needed for the clothing of a boy known to get into numerous scrapes, was the subject of some gossip among the seamstresses.
Almost all the big rooms in the castle had 'high balconies' and unknown to Ariol, they had been included for exactly the reason he used them. Old King Manrac who had founded the kingdom Of Thimril and built castle Orathim, hundreds of years ago, had wanted to 'overhear' as much as possible. It had only worked for a little while, because people had worked out how he always knew every treasonous comment that had been made, especially after the executions.
But of course that had been hundreds of years ago, and King Marek was not so paranoid or capricious as King Manrac, and people forget. So it was that one day Ariol had slipped away from Sword and shield practice, and was eating some pilfered cakes on the high balcony overlooking the throne room. He liked it there, he could not be seen and either it was quiet and peaceful, or he could hear all manner of matters of state being discussed below. Truth be known, Ariol was almost as well informed about the kingdom as his father and better than either of his brothers. Though it would also be true to say he didn't always understand what it was he had learned.
On this particular occasion the Lord Chamberlain: a doddery balding old man who had served 4 kings so far, announced to the King, "There are traders here from the Kingdom of Deheubarth, your majesty, who are keen to present themselves to you."
"Deheubarth? Questioned the King, "I don't remember that kingdom?"
The Chamberlain might have been old, but his knowledge of the politics, history and diplomacy of the western lands was considerable. And he loved to be, 'informative'. "It's one of the small kingdoms on the shore of the western sea your majesty, we have had no embassy, from there since your great grandfather's time."
He was about to add more ‘useful facts,’ when the king interrupted waving his hand a little dismissively. "Oh, Ok. Well show them in." Said king Marek, his voice suggesting he was slightly bored Ariol thought.
There was a long pause as the old man hobbled to the door and opened it, something that the king himself could have done in less than half the time, if courtly etiquette had allowed.
The visitors from Deheubarth entered one of them saying loudly in a singsong accent, very similar to Emrys Madoc's, "Greet-ings, your majesty."
There was a pause, then the king said, "Isn't it customary in the western lands, to give good wishes from your monarch?"
"Ah well there's a thing," said the speaker "Deheubarth, doesn't have, king, nor queen; we have something of a collec-tive, as it were. The senior steward would send his regards, but we were in the middle of an elec-tion when we left, so we don't even have one of those, right now. Or at least if we do, we won't know who it is, till we get back."
This seemed to puzzle king Marek, but he passed it by, "I understand you have come as traders?"
"Oh yes your highness," said the speaker.
And was going to continue but the chamberlain nudged him with his staff of office, saying in whispered tones, “Monarchs are 'majesty' not highness, highness is for princes and princesses."
Ariol risked peering over the top of the balcony.
"Ah, look you. Sorry." The speaker paused, his companion handed him a quite large black stone, "Your majesty, we have a valuable commodity we think you might find useful," he held up the black stone as if it was a prized jewel, and spoke in tones that implied he held the 8th wonder of the world in his hands. "A stone that burns, and burns with a heat that any blacksmith can use to make steel, steel finer than any steel, you have ever seen."
"A stone that burns?" said King Marek, with a concerned look on his face as if he was trying to remember something important he'd forgotten.
"Oh yes your majesty, we dig it out of the ground, we call it coal." Said the Deheubarthian trader, oozing a kind of pride.
The mention of the word 'coal' seemed to pull the important thought; the King had been trying to remember, into the front of his mind, with the force of a minor explosion. "COAL! We do not want coal here!" he exclaimed.
"But your majesty...." said the Deheubarthian with a slightly pleading tone.
"No! We want no coal here! We know about coal.” The king said. This was despite not recognizing it when it was shown to him. "Coal attracts Dragons, and we want no dragons here."
"But your high.. Sorry majesty, drag..."
King Marek interrupted. "No buts, we want no dragons here!"
The chamberlain intervened before the speaker could add anything, "It is neither wise nor good etiquette to 'but' a king." he said putting a hand on the man's shoulders.
The Chamberlain looked meaningfully at the visitor.
The king stood, and put on his most 'authoritative' voice, “I would normally say you were welcome to stay in the kingdom, we welcome trade here. But I want you and any 'coal' you have with you out of my Kingdom as soon as possible. We are not unwelcoming, and you are free to return any time you wish, but bring no coal." He looked at the Chamberlain, "Organize an escort, to take them to the western border," Then they are Queen Singalia's problem.
The chamberlain ushered the men out, amid a number of ‘buts’’ and ‘Can’t we explain,’ and as the door closed behind them, Ariol heard the one who had not spoken during the audience with King Marek say, "But dragons aren't dang-er-ous."
Ariol crept quietly round to the tower windows, from where he could see the courtyard, and watched the guards politely but firmly help the visitors onto their cart. Ariol was impressed by the size of the cart horse which was as big as any he had ever seen. And he and watched the Deheubarthians leave through the main castle gate, with two armed horsemen riding alongside.
Ariol thought for a moment, 'Dragons aren't dangerous' he thought, 'what an odd thing to say?'
Of course Ariol now had a hundred and one questions. And he knew there was only one person that had the slightest hope of answering them. He set off towards Emrys Madoc's rooms in the old gatehouse. This had been replaced, when the new outer wall and twin gatehouse towers had been built by, great great granddad, Enric, who might just have been compensating.
The most straightforward rout would have been down the stairs into the ante rooms, down the reception stairs and across the courtyard. This would have taken Ariol 2 or 3 minutes. But: he was avoiding the governess and anyone else who might return him to Master of arms Athnic: for a scolding, and extra sword and buckler practice. Not to mention Athnic was often a little rough on students when annoyed with them. So the direct rout was not the best choice. Ariol had however found stairs and trapdoors, in various places, including attic spaces, more evidence of King Manrac’s paranoia if Ariol did but know it. There were dozens of places to get down onto walls, and into little used corridors, which meant he could travel over most of the castle unseen. It did however take a little longer to get from A to B.
Half an hour later Ariol dropped down into the courtyard a few steps from Emrys Madoc's door. He waited a moment for a guard to pass and walked over reaching for the door handle, which turned before he touched it, and the door opened.
"Come in Ariol." said Emrys's voice from somewhere inside. "Quick before the guard turns back this way on his patrol."
Ariol stepped inside, peering to see if he could see where Emrys was.
"Shut the door fach, there’s a draft." Ariol found himself irritated, if Emrys could do the trick to open the door, why couldn't he do the same trick to shut it. But Ariol quietly shut the door.
Ariol's eyes adjusted to the light, and he could make out Emrys lying on the couch he had on one side of the room. There was a bedroom in the old gatehouse, but no one had ever seen Emrys use it, the consensus opinion was that he slept, ate, drank and did everything else on the couch in his workroom. This wasn't in fact true, Emrys used the bed, changed and washed the sheets, and there were more important rooms in the old gatehouse than the workroom and the bedroom. Not least the kitchen, a bathroom, and his library. This latter was as close to an 'inner sanctum' as, any room was, to any person, in the history of time. But it suited Emrys to let people assume things, since whilst they were assuming he was doing one thing, he could be doing something completely different, and no one ever realized he'd been doing it.
Emrys sat up, "I suppose you want to talk about the visitors from Deheubarth." the old man said.
No one knew how old Emrys was either; Ariol had asked the Chamberlain as the only person in the Castle who looked older. The old Kingly advisor had looked puzzled for a moment before saying, "You know, I don't know, he's always looked old." before shuffling off to do some important chore or other for the king.
For some reason Ariol felt a little sulky about Emrys appearing to know why he was here and said, "What makes you think I want to talk about them?" folding his arms, and suddenly finding a small piece of grit on the floor so fascinating he had to move it about with his toe.
"Hmm, the lessons on logic, still haven't taken I see." Said Emrys, pausing and walking over to a nearby table, crowded with jars and bottles, "let’s see: when I was out for my morning walk, I saw some visitors arrive, and heard them talk-ing to the guards at the gate. ’There’s a famill-iar accent' I think to myself." he lit something in the small bowl, he called a grate, and the window at the front of the gatehouse blew open. He went on, "Later, I was pi-cking up some milk from the kit-chens, and I heard Master at arms Athnic, cursing your name, and demanding to know where you were. Ariol, isn't in lessons, and is probably eavesdropping somewhere I think to myself." He placed a flask over the blue flame that was now burning in the bowl, and said, "And then here you are at my door."
"How did you know I was coming to your door?" demanded Ariol, arms still folded.
The old man turned and smiled, "Oh that," he paused, then said in a theatrical tone, “That was magic."
Ariol stared at the old man, the old man stared back, and after a moment both bursting out laughing at almost the same time.
"I saw you through the window, when you jumped down from the wall," Said Emrys pointing at the view from the window. He walked back to his couch and sat down.
AS the minds of 14 year olds are wont to do, Ariol’s mind had moved on, "Are dragons dangerous?" he asked.
"Yes said Emrys, his brows narrowed, "Why do you ask?"
"One of the 'Dew Barthians said 'but dragons aren't dangerous' as he was leaving the audience with my father."
"It's Deheubarthian," said Emrys, almost without thinking, "My homeland has a rather unique relation-ship with Dragons. You might call it a treaty or alliance of sorts."
"You keep trying to teach me logic, but you just gave me a contradiction." said Ariol, drifting back towards sulkiness. “If Dragons aren’t dangerous how can Deheubarth have an alliance with them?”
"Not really,” said Emrys leaning back on the couch with his fingers linked together behind his head, “think about it this way: are humans Dangerous?"
“Of course not.” Said Ariol as if it was a really daft question.
“Really, what do you think a cow or a pig or a sheep might answer?” said Emrys with raised eyebrows.
Ariol’s expression continued with the ‘don’t be daft’ theme, “Yes but their just animals.”
Emrys thought briefly then said, “OK how about old king Manrac? Was he dangerous?”
Ariol’s expression swapped scepticism for surprise, “Well I suppose so, but he was completely bonkers.”
“OK,” persisted Emrys, “What about John Skithwell, hanged for murder and banditry last year. Was he dangerous?”
“Well yes,” Ariol said surprise was now replaced by a little thoughtfulness. “But he was a criminal.”
“How about Your brother Tarac?” Emrys scratched his nose and then re-linked his hands behind his head.
The ‘Don’t be daft,’ expression reappeared on Ariol’s face.”No of course not.”
“So,” said Emrys, “you don't think Tarac would cut an enemy to ribb-ons to defend the kingdom?”
“Well yes, I suppose so.” Ariol thought for a moment, “So you’re saying some humans are dangerous but others aren't?”
Emrys took a deep breath, “I am say-ing that all humans are dangerous in the right or wrong; de-pending on your point of view; situation. And some seem to be in those situations more of-ten than others. Dragons are no different.”
Ariol was thoughtful for a moment; Emrys stood up and walked over to the flask over the flame in his grate. He opened two jars and scooped some of the powders inside into a cup, picked up the flask and carefully poured the boiling liquid onto the powders. He gave the liquid a stir, walked back to his couch with the cup, and sat down.
Ariol grimaced at the old man, "How can you drink that?" Ariol asked.
“Nothing wrong with it,” Emrys said, “I just don't like milk in my tea.”
“Does coal really attract dragons?” Ariol asked.
Emrys sipped his tea, “Well, yes, they can smell it from quite a long way away, but usually they already have a roost near a convenient supply, so ‘attract’ is probably the wrong word.”
“So you think dad was being daft.” Said Ariol.
“No,” said Emrys, “Not really, he's trying to do the right thing as king, keep his kingdom safe. All he has to tell him about dragons is old legends: that dragons are dangerous, attracted to coal, extinct in these parts. There have been no dragons in this kingdom for at least 200 years, perhaps longer.”
Ariol’s brow was by now quite furrowed for a 14 year old, “But if the Deheubarthians have a treaty with dragons, why couldn't we have one?”
“No reason at all, except. Long held preconceptions, and they are for the most part, far more difficult to get round than the most disciplined armies, the highest walls and the best constructed defences.” Said Emrys letting a dramatic tone slip into his voice.
Ariol thought again, "How did Deheubarth make this treaty with dragons?"
"Well that’s complicated too; it happened so long ago, no one really knows except the dragons.” Emrys put his cup down on the floor."In Deheubarth, when I was a boy like you, dragons were just like any other person, if you saw one you said hi, or stopped for a chat.”
“Dragons can talk?” said Ariol a little wide eyed.
“Oh yes, they are very intelligent creatures dragons, most are smarter than most humans, and they always know enormous amounts of things, mostly because when you live a couple of thousand years its first hand experience.” Emrys smiled, if anything a little smugly.
For some reason Ariol felt the need to try and answer one of his many questions about Emrys, "How old are you Emrys?"
The old man tapped the side of his nose, “Ah now that would be telling.”
“You’re just saying that to be mysterious.” Said Ariol.
Of course I am,” Emrys knocked his cup with is toe, and picked the cup back up. “Now you really should think about going to Athnic, making your peace with him and just practicing with sword and shield. Your father is right that we should work on our weaknesses.”
Ariol gave a groan.
A horse and cart carrying about a ton of coal doesn't move that fast. No matter how robust the horse. So as the sun set, Derwyn and Alwyn were no more than 20 miles from Orathim and still as far from the border with Agathira. Their 'Guards' tied up their horses and camped down a little way away from, the Deheubarthians.
“Well ano-ther failed 'mission Derwyn.” said the one who had spoken to the king.
“Who would have thought that there was so much suspicion of dragons Alwyn”, said Derwyn, opening a bottle of Whiskey and pouring himself a cup.
“Well I suppose there is a long history; after all they say so many Knights thought they could prove their bravery by fighting a dragon, that Dragons in-ven-ted the tin opener.” Alwyn took out his own cup and hinted Derwyn should fill it.
“That’s a myth,” scoffed Derwyn, passing over the bottle. “And even if it were true it wasn't the dra-gons fault.”
“Well no, but the dragons did get quite upset about being attacked all the time, however in-effect-ually.” and an angry dragon means lots of burnt crops, villages, towns and cities raised to the ground.etc.”
Derwyn looked thoughtful for a moment. “Do you think they did the thing with the virgins?
“Probably,” said Alwyn, “though Old Ddraig Goch always said it only ever worked if a dragon had already been driven com-plete-ly insane to begin with.”
“Perhaps they will be more enlightened in Agathira?” Derwyn responded, excavating something unpleasant from his ear,
Alwyn laid back and looked up at the stars, resting his tot of whiskey on his chest, “I don't really expect they will be. I think this trip has been a wasted effort.”
“We haven't seen many Dragons either?” said Derwyn wiping his finger off on his trousers.
“Ddraig Goch told me that most of the Dra-gons from east of Deheubarth all the way to the eastern mountains either flew East or settled in Deheubarth. It was so much less trou-ble than fighting Knights all the time.”
“Why do you think we never fell out with dra-gons?” Said Derwyn taking a mouthful of whiskey.
“I don't know, I think it might have been because Deheubarth is quite a small place, dragons on our side means we don't really need an army.”
There was a long silence, with only the sounds of the night, and horses chewing grass, and then the pair fell asleep.
Ariol was in trouble, the king, who at this point didn't look particularly kingly, in a dressing gown and slippers after his bath, was pacing up and down in front of him.
“I really don't know what to do with you Ariol. You defy me at every turn; you defy your mother, your brothers, the governess and every tutor in the Castle.” As he paced he kept putting his hands to his head as if he was going to grab chunks of his receding hair and pull them out. “Athnic is furious with you;” he went on, “he came to me today and said to me, if it had been any other of his students he would have thrown them in the moat.”
“I don't want to be a swordsman dad, I'd much rather be a bowman.” Said Ariol, at times like this he really didn’t know why he had done whatever he was in trouble for. He loved and respected his father, and sometimes he felt like he was a different person to the one who had thought it was a good idea to bunk off.
“What you want! Isn’t the point!” snapped the king, “And it’s not Just Athnic, it's everyone.”
“Even Emrys?” Said Ariol: genuinely wondering for a moment if, the old man had complained about him at last.
The King stopped, and thought with a puzzled expression on his face, “well I can't say he's said anything recently.” Puzzlement was pushed out of the way and replaced with the initial irritation and annoyance again, “But I bet if I talked to him he'd have some horrendous tale about your disobedience.”
“I Bet he wouldn't.” Said Ariol without really thinking through the consequences of what he was saying or the tone of his voice.
“Don't cheek me boy!” The king roared. “Tomorrow you will go to Athnic, and you will apologize, and you will train like every other young steward in the Castle. You are the son of a King, it’s about time you started acting like one. Instead of like one of the ragamuffins from the city.”
City wasn't really the right word, Orathim was really not much more than a small town, but it was the largest town in Thimril, It had the castle in it, so it was technically the capital, and the capital of a country had to be a city.
The king looked at Ariol, and for a moment Ariol thought his father was going to burst into tears, "I love you Ariol," he said, "Just as I love your brothers, I would give you more freedom if I could, but I am a king, and a king must love his kingdom like it was one of his own children. And a kingdom needs competent leaders, not just its king, but its generals, its ministers. When you grow up you will be an important lord in this land, and will see that all this was what had to happen."
Father and son looked at each other for the longest moment.
At last the King said, “Now go to bed.”
Ariol was a little shocked, he'd never seen his father 'emotional' before. And for once he went to bed thinking he would turn up for lessons, if they were that important to his father.
Derwyn woke and opened his eyes looking up at a clear blue sky.
"Good Morning" said a cultured, resonant but distinctly female contralto voice.
Derwyn looked bleary eyed towards the speaker, and then sat up with a jolt. "No No No, this is a really bad time, please go away." he said.
"Well that’s a fine welcome from men of Deheubarth, I must say" said the quite large and mostly blue Dragon.
"You don't understand they are not fond of Dragons in these parts." Said Derwyn a little frantically.
Alwyn too was now awake, and sat up.
"I gathered I wasn't too welcome when your two friends saw me, got up, jumped on their horses and galloped off." Said the dragon.
Alwyn got up and looked to see where the 'guards' had camped the previous night. “Er how long ago did they leave?" He asked anxiety crawling all over his face.
"Hmm not long, an hour or so ago." Said the Dragon.
"An hour! And you have just been sitting here all that time" Said Derwyn.
“Well yes,” said the dragon clearly oblivious to any reason for a fuss, “I just wanted a nibble of the coal, not much, half a hundredweight perhaps, the fires burning a little low, not enough to get airborne. It didn't seem polite just to take some, and since I'm asking a favor, I didn't want to inconvenience you by waking you." The dragon sounded and looked puzzled
"An hour, an hour, they could be nearly back in Orathim." Said Alwyn.
In fact the two guards had not needed to go as far as Orathim, just to the previous village, where a troop of cavalry had arrived. These were led by none other than Prince Karal. Well, technically led by the 19 year old, but in practice led by the somewhat grizzled 43 year old sergeant Thanric. Since most of the compliment, thought Karal was something of a stuck up spoiled brat, and wouldn't have followed his orders for double pay and an extra weeks summer holidays, unless, and this was quite an important difference, those orders were backed up by the intimidating presence of Sergeant Thanric.
And when I say, 'troop of cavalry,’ I mean Thimril's standing army. In times of war, which were thankfully somewhat infrequent these days; due to the alliance of the 9 kingdoms; as many as 1000 men could be mustered. Though most would be quite old for soldiering, and quite a few a little on the young side, and more than a few would be women impersonating their brothers. Perhaps 300 would have been considered, decent recruits in one of the larger kingdoms to the south. In times of peace, the small economy of the country needed these men on the land, not marching up and down in lines, emptying the kingdoms meager coffers of its 'reserves' in army pay.
So there were only about 30 full time warriors on the army’s pay roll. At any given time 5 would be on night patrol, and usually 2 or 3 would be sick, or injured in some way, and 10 including Master at arms Athnic, would be on duty at the castle. This meant that a patrol usually consisted of Prince Karal, Sergeant Thanric and 10-12 Horsemen. On this day due to; Prince Tarac being on his way back from paying a courtly visit to a neighboring kingdom, with two soldiers: and a rather unpleasant stomach bug, the total of 'enlisted men' was 8.
And: it wasn't really that much of a coincidence that the guards fleeing the Dragon, had encountered the patrol, the kingdom of Thimril really wasn't that big, aside from the 'city' of Orathim, there were four other 'towns' and two dozen villages within its borders, linked by a grand total of 7 roads. Karal and the 'army' patrolled the country most days, so that most subjects of the kingdom saw the 'army' pass at least once a week. King Marek, thought this helped the population feel protected and ‘looked after’.
OK so it was a little bit of a coincidence, but really not beyond the bounds of possibility.
The two 'guards' broke their horses from a trot as soon as they saw the troop on the village green and galloped towards them, shouting, "Dragon! Theres a Dragon"
That had been nearly half an hour ago.
"What's your name?"Derwyn asked the dragon.
"Oh I'm, Y Glas Wraig Ddraig." Said the dragon.
"Very 'in-vent-ive' I must say,” said Alwyn, "You best have a nibble of the coal then, before local knights start turning up and you have to get your tin opener out"
But it was too late. The troop including Alwyn and Derwyn's 'guards' led by Karal appeared on the brow of the hill. As soon a Karal saw the dragon he gave the order, 'Charge' and the 12 horsemen began galloping towards the dragon swords drawn. Now: 12 horsemen might not be a particularly impressive army, but 12 armed riders galloping towards you are still a fairly awe inspiring, not to mention, overtly threatening sight.
What most people don't realize about dragons, is why they breath fire, most assume it’s just an offensive weapon, and of course it can be, but it has a much more important, and primary function: to get, an, on average, 6 and a half tons of dragon in the air. Not like a rocket, but as a convenient easy to use and portable thermal up-draft. Without a good supply of coal, a Dragon isn't flying anywhere. And so without a good fire, Y Glas Wraig Ddraig, was stuck on the ground.
She turned to face the oncoming men, and roared, and gave a huge swipe at the air with her wings. All the horses faltered as the down draft whipped up air and dust into their faces, but still came on. As they came closer she span, and her tail whipped round, all the riders tried to jump but only three cleared the tail as it knocked the others over, or unseated their riders. These were, Prince Karal, Sergeant Thanric, and private Beclan who was an exceptional rider. These were now the only ones left on their horses; Thanric turned his horse and retreated to a safe distance with Beclan not far behind. Prince Karal rode on.
“Bloody idiot,” said Thanric under his breath. He looked to the sky, "please don’t let him get himself killed, I'd rather tell the king about a live dragon in the kingdom, than a dead son."
Karal rode straight at the dragon, who raised her right forefoot, to strike at him and as she did so he swung his sword striking at the tendons on her raised foot. If he had known anything about dragons, he would have realized this was almost pointless, since a dragon's natural Armor is so thick even a ballista bolt would be Lucky to penetrate it. Karal did however do what a Cavalryman should, and rode through turned and galloped back. As he came forward again the dragon clambered atop an outcrop of rock turning to face him.
As he approached she leaped, and for a moment hung in the air wings outstretched, as the horse and rider passed underneath her. The watching Thanric thought to himself that actually, telling the king would be nothing, in comparison to telling the queen, and cursing under his breath urged his horse back towards the fray.
As he approached she leaped, and for a moment hung in the air wings outstretched, as the horse and rider passed underneath her. The watching Thanric thought to himself that actually, telling the king would be nothing, in comparison to telling the queen, and cursing under his breath urged his horse back towards the fray.
Karal turned his horse as sharply as he could and rode towards where the dragon was going to land. As her feet struck the ground the dragon’s wings thumped into the earth, somewhat akin to a jujitsu player striking the ground with their arms to break a fall. As she did so Karal leapt from his horse and drove the point of his sword through the dragons wing, which due to the requirement that they facilitate flight are not armored as the rest of a dragons body is armored. The point of his sword embedded itself in the earth.
The Dragon howled, and unwisely span away from the pain, tearing a rent in her wing from almost the leading edge, right through the trailing edge.
Karal's horse decided discretion was the better part of velour and galloped faster than ever a rider could have urged it, away from the fight. Karal took up a good defensive stance facing the dragon, sword in front of him, and was immediately whisked off his feet by Thanric and he found himself, seated behind the sergeant on his horse, galloping away from the Dragon.
The Dragon didn't pursue them instead, howling in pain, and inspecting the tear in her wing.
The other riders had retrieved all but 3 of the horses and were gathering around private Beclan. Prince Karal’s horse and one other had galloped away, and would probably be found eventually, if they didn't find their way back to their stables in Orathim, as horses often do.
As Thanric and Karal joined the group, Karal jumped down from the horse and tore off his helmet.
"Cowards!" he shouted, words tumbling over themselves to get out of his mouth, "get me a horse! Sergeant Thanric, why did you do that? I'll have you on a charge. Come on you men move!"
There was a scream from a horse that had been injured when toppled by the sweep of the Dragons tail, as it tried to stand on a broken leg.
Thanric took off his own helmet, and said "Captain, we are not going to defeat that thing with horses and swords, you saw how your blade glanced off. We need heavy weaponry."
"I've wounded it you fool; we must strike now while we can."
"No! SIR!" snapped the sergeant, "We were lucky, we have lost one horse by the looks of it, with no serious injuries to the men. A torn wing is not going to stop that thing ripping us to shreds; nothing we have here will pierce that armor. We retreat, regroup and come up with a better strategy."
"Oh yes and by the time we have done that, this dragon will have burned half the kingdom." Karal snapped as only an arrogant prince can snap.
"Not with a TORN wing SIR!" Thanric almost spat the words, "I can't see that thing moving even as fast as a man can walk, if it can't fly." he paused glanced at the dragon, moved closer to Karal, and spoke in a quieter tone, "And frankly, sir, I would rather face charges, than explain to your mother or the mothers of any of these men, why I am bringing her the body of her son." he glared at Karal as only an old soldier can, "We leave two observers here, and report back to Orathim,"
Karal still breathing heavily, looked back to where the Dragon, nursing its damaged wing, as it walked over to the injured horse which was still screaming. "This is insubordination."
"No sir, this is an experienced non commissioned officer, giving his commander good advice!" Thanric’s voice might have been steel forged in dragon fire itself.
The Dragon bit of the head of the Horse, and the pitiful screaming stopped.
The blood lust at last seemed to drain from Prince Karal, "OK," he paused, somewhat downcast and still breathing heavily, " perhaps your right." Thanric noticed there were the hint of tears in the young Princes eyes, and the suggestion of tremors in his hands. "Organize the men sergeant." and he walked away to stand looking away from where the battle had taken place, hands on hips, still breathing heavily.
An observer might imagine that Thanric did not like the prince; this wasn't true, he rather reminded the older man, of a younger version of himself. Brave but foolhardy, eager to prove himself, but without the wisdom to know, strategy and good tactics trumped bravado every time. Truth be known, the king trusted Thanric to reign in the Prince, and a charge however forcefully demanded by the young man would likely be forgotten, or acted out for the sake of good 'form'.
To be continued, Read part 2 Here.