Ariol and the Dragon Part 3 of 3.
The army had in fact, reached the village of Fustal, Headed by King Marek with his Son Tarac by his side. Prince Karal had been left in Orathim to organize the rest of the troops who were answering the Proclamation beacons. The plan, agreed in the small council, was for the army now in Fustal, to 'contain' the Dragon until the rest of the army had been assembled and provisioned. This second force would then join the rest of the army. Then it was planned to attack the dragon with overwhelming force.
With the king and his eldest son were about 400 men, mostly armed either with weapons from the kingdoms armoury, or with their own swords shields and armour. Athnic had 50 men to organise and assemble his Trebuchet and the three working Ballistae. About 100 men were mounted, all the 'standing army' and the 'Knights': lords of manors in the kingdom, and some 40 or so men of the kingdom who were wealthy enough to afford both horse and saddle. There were a couple of men, with ambitions to nobility and wealth, who rode on horses which were clearly more suited to pulling plough shares. These stood out like sore thumbs since their horses were considerably larger than even the war horses of the Knights.
The rider Ariol had seen leave his companion to watch Y Glas Wraig Ddraig, had met the army well before they had reached Fustal and had reported the whereabouts of the Dragon, and another had been sent to find news of the Dragons progress, he returned as the Army rested and allowed their horses to drink the village trough dry.
"What news steward?" Asked the king.
"They seem to have stopped my lord; some hours ago they were met by two riders travelling from Agathira an old man and a boy.” The man was standing to attention, in a way that suggested it was not a habit of his. “After they arrived, the Dragon seemed to sleep for a while."
"Did its captives not flee?" Asked the king, a little incredulously.
"No sir," the man was clearly nervous, unused to talking to the king, “they seemed to be tending to the beasts wound your majesty."
The king held his forehead, as if he had a headache, "What hold do you think this Dragon can have over these people?"
"I don't know my lord, as I watched the Dragon seemed to be waking." The man said.
“Thank you private, dismissed.” said the king.
The man did a reasonable impression of a smart salute, and an about turn, before marching a little clumsily away.
The King turned to his son, "Tarac, take 5 men and take a look. See if you can lure these captives of the Dragon away, perhaps they can help us find a weakness that might aid us to defeat it.
And so Tarac gathered 5 trusted men, and they rode off to recover the 'hostages.'
"NNnhhhhuh," groaned the Dragon, "What an earth was that stuff?"
"A magician never reveals his tricks." said Emrys, "You will be groggy for a while."
"Ah a magician is it." said Alwyn. “That explains everything.
"Not really said Emrys, "It’s just a saying in these parts." he paused, looking at the doubtful faces in turn " From the travelling showmen," the faces were still doubtful, " there’s always a conjurer," he raised his eyebrows, " actually it’s not hard to work out how most of them do it"
"Hmm,” said Alwyn, "I'm not so sure. White beard white hair, long grey robes, slightly pointy hat.”
"You draw a conclusion based on my age and my dress sense?" Said Emrys, his voice heavy with Irony.
"Neither am I," said Ariol to Alwyn. "He always seems to know stuff; he shouldn't, and even couldn't know."
"Dear boy, " said Emrys, "This is why the lessons on reasoning never seems to stick with you." he scratched his beard, "Listen to everything you can, watch carefully everything you see, learn all you can learn, and use a bit of logic, and very little is all that surprising. Sometimes I think you would rather it was magic, because that would be easier than actually doing some work."
"What about Cuthnil?" asked Ariol, a little indignant at the accusation of idleness, "How did you stop him recognizing you?"
"I thought we had settled that,” said Emrys, “I didn't have the beard when he was my student, the accent probably helped, he had other preoccupations, and I scrunched up my eyes a bit, made my shoulders a little lopsided."
"Do you expect me to believe that?" said Ariol, sceptically.
"Why not it’s the truth? I am all for scepticism, it’s good to question things. But 'magic', the whole idea of magic seems to me, to be to find an easy way to do what is difficult."
Ariol was about to ask another question when the Dragon raised her head off her front paws looked up the road towards Fustal, "It looks like we have company." she said.
Ariol squinted at the riders as they approached from where the road disappeared over the brow of the hill. "Oh oh, that’s Tarac." he said.
"How can you tell at this distance?" asked Emrys, in a voice which had anyone been paying enough attention, was a tad too innocent.
"There are not that many white horses in the kingdom,” said Ariol, squinting to see the riders better,” He always wears that silly plume on his helmet, and the white tunic over his armour."
"Ah, So: not magic then." said Emrys giving Ariol a meaningful look.
Ariol's expression responded to the old man’s look, with exasperation.
As the riders approached Tarac shouted out "Hey you there, come with us, we will give you sanctuary from the dragon."
Alwyn shouted back. "Why would we need sanctuary from her, she has not harmed us, and does not mean to."
Ariol stood behind Emrys, Hoping not to be seen.
Tarac stopped his horse some 20 yards from the Dragon and the rest of the group. "Tell us what spell this foul worm has cast over you?"
"No spell." said Derwyn, "Why would she need one? There’s a Dragon lives on the hill above my house in Deheubarth, never heard him utter a cross word in all my life. Very handy to light my Da's forge, and Da always said, 'steel made with Dragon fire is harder and more flexible than any you will find made by ordinary fire.' best steel in the world."
"Who is that with you?" demanded Tarac, “and after a moment walked his horse forward a few steps?"
Ariol turned his face away.
"Emrys? Emrys Madoc? Is that you?" asked Tarac.
"I thought you could scrunch up your face, change your accent and not be recognized?" hissed Ariol from behind the old man."
"Well it doesn't always work," replied the old man, "Not to mention Tarac only saw me last night. He wan-ted to know what I was doing leaving the castle with 2 horses." Emrys hissed back.
"Well I think he just found out." hissed Ariol.
"My lord." spoke Emrys, and gave a dutiful bow to Tarac.
"Emrys what are you doing here?" Tarac asked, his tone laced with princely irritation
"Someone needed my help, and I thought it best if I gave it to them."
"Oh yes your from Deheubarth aren't you,” said Tarac arriving at completely the wrong conclusion, “you came to help your countrymen," he paused, "Well bring them with you, and we will dispatch this Dragon."
"No my lord,” In a calm and measured tone. ” I am sorry, but I cannot do that." said Emrys.
"What bewitchment has this dragon cast on you all?" Spat Tarac pausing and squinting at the group, "Who is that behind you Emrys?" he paused again, “Come out boy where I can see you."
Emrys whispered to Ariol, "Don’t worry, Let him see you, tell him it’s you, let it all play itself out. Right now he's too scared of the Dragon to cause any problems."
But Tarac was for once one step ahead, "Ariol is that you?" he said suspiciously.
Ariol stepped out from behind Emrys?
"It is you! Mother is worried sick about you and we find you here in this Dragons Thrall." he paused looking about, as if answers to the questions in his head would leap out of the landscape at him. "Emrys I'll have your head on a pike for this. What witchcraft possessed you to put my brother at such risk?" Rage was beginning to creep into his voice.
"He is at no risk from me, nor from the dragon. “Said Emrys, with the hint of, dragon fire forged steel in his voice,”The only risk to him is, if Athnic starts hurling lumps of rock over here with that Trebuchet of his, or bolts from those Ballistae, or if someone pointlessly fires a wave of arrows over here that would never pierce a dragon’s armour in any case."
Ariol took a step forward. "It’s not Emry’s fault, I was coming anyway," he said, "I think Emrys just came along to make sure I didn't hurt myself, or get into the wrong type of trouble in the process."
Tarac had a talent for only hearing the parts of a sentence that fitted with his expectations, "Well whatever it is come with us now, we are going to destroy this dragon." He said, largely missing the point.
Something was rising up in Ariol, a feeling unlike any he had ever felt before. "No." he said, with calmness he found a little odd, given the gravity of the current situation.
"Ariol, don't be a fool. Father will not stay his hand, because you are here,” raged Tarac, “his duty is to the kingdom and this dragon is a threat to the whole kingdom."
"No I'm not" said the dragon still a little blearily.
The feminine voice somehow struck a note of incongruity in the so far all male exchange.
"Foul serpent," said Tarac, "Whatever spell you have cast, will not save you."
"No spells, “Murmured Y Glas Wraig Ddraig.”And Ariol has already saved Me." said the dragon.
Ariol took another step forward. "There will be no battle here with this dragon." He said. "And if there were to be, this is the side I would stand on. She has done nothing except defend herself"
"Done nothing?" exclaimed the now furious Tarac, “She almost killed your brother Karal."
There was a hard determined edge to Ariol’s voice now, "And even if I had not heard the tale from Karal in the great hall, I would still guess he had attacked her without thinking, he would always attack you first when you were younger. It's what Tarac does.” He paused briefly, noticing the wide eyed look on his brother’s face, which somehow acted as an encouragement. “And you! You always talk about ‘the kingdom first’ and spin whatever it is you want to do round, so it sounds like it’s for the kingdom, when it’s just what you want."
"Ariol have you gone mad," spat Tarac, "Come with me now, this Dragon will destroy you, Emrys and the entire kingdom. It must be stopped."
“No it won't,” said Ariol, emphatically, “go tell father I want to talk to him.”
This astounded Tarac, “I should go tell father you demand his presence?” he said incredulously.
The hard edge of determination in Ariol seemed to be growing, moment by moment. "No not demand, say his son wants to talk to him.” He paused briefly, “Tell him that I can make it so no one has to die or be injured, not even a horse, not even a dragon.” He paused again for emphasis, “Tell him I am doing what I think is best for the kingdom, and if that means I have to die at the hands of my own father so be it."
Tarac looked at Emrys with tangible hate, "Necromancy" he growled, pulled the reigns of his horse round and galloped back to his men, and the whole group turned and galloped back up the hill.
Ariol turned to the dragon, "Do you think you could fly?" he asked.
The dragon inspected her wing. "I might manage it, at least for a little way, perhaps a few miles."
"Not really enough" said Ariol. That would just put the whole confrontation off for a day or so and Karal would probably be here with the rest of the army by then and things would be worse. I just have to find a way to convince Father that this is all pointless."
King Marek had pitched a tent and had laid out maps of the local area. He Thanric and Athnic were arguing over where the best spots were to get the most out of the Trebuchet, and the Ballistae. Since these were the only weapons they thought had a realistic chance of piercing the Dragons Armour. Inevitably the final decision was up to the King, and he was having trouble working out what he thought was the best strategy. When Tarac burst into the tent.
Marek turned to greet his son who had clearly come in a hurry, and was breathing heavily. “What news? He asked with concern.
"Ariol?” This was clearly so unexpected that the King at first did not understand what was meant. This was partly because the idea was competing with a dozen different strategies already buzzing in the king’s head.
"Ariol is with the dragon." Said Tarac, still breathing heavily.
"With the Dragon?" Said Marek, still struggling to comprehend what his son was telling him.
"Yes and the old tutor Emrys too." Added Tarac.
"Emrys,” said the king, “what on earth?"
For all his earlier rage Tarac now seemed a little sheepish as he tried to explain things to his father, “Ariol says he wants to speak to you.”
“Could you not lure him away from the Dragon?” Marek’s puzzlement, persisted as he tried to understand this turn of events.
“No father,” said Tarac, feeling oddly emotional, almost tearful, “it’s as if there is a spell over him, over all of them, they will not leave the dragon.”
“What Madness is this?” said the king, incomprehension now competing with anger for a place on his face.
Tarac, went on, “Ariol said he would rather stay with the dragon than come back with me.”
The king’s brow furrowed, as his thoughts caught up a little with what Tarac had told him. "You say Ariol wants to speak with me?"
"Yes father. He says he is doing what he thinks is best for the kingdom, and if he has to die at your hands because of it he doesn't care."
The king turned to Athnic, "When do you think Karal will arrive with the rest of the army?"
“Realistically?” said Athnic, pursing his lips,” not before tomorrow morning, and more likely midday All who will answer the beacons will not arrive at Orathim, till this evening, and they will need rest before beginning the journey here."
“So there is time before a decision must be made?” asked the king.
“Aye my lord.” Answered Athnic.
“Fetch my horse.” The king ordered.
There was a bustle of activity during which, the king’s horse was brought. Athnic and Thanric had called for theirs, and each brought a 'free rider' to carry messages if need be. Authority was delegated to subordinates, during the absence of the senior officers of the army. Tarac Joined them, and his 5 rider escort. All in all a dozen riders set out with the king to talk to Ariol.
Glas Wraig Ddraig was sitting up, and craning her neck to see up the road to Fustal, "They are on their way, she said, "Not at a gallop, but certainly a canter, I would think they should be here in a few minutes or so."
"Everyone knows what to do?" asked Ariol.
"Absolutely.” said the Dragon.
Emrys nodded, whilst Alwyn and Derwyn said almost in unison, "Yes,” Alwyn added, “Not that we have that much to co-ntri-bute to the plan.”
Sure enough a minute or so later the King and his accompaniment cantered down the road towards them. The sun was by now on its downward arc in the spring sky. The group stopped, again about 20 yards from the Dragon.
The king shouted, "Ariol!"
Ariol was standing directly between his father and Glas Wraig Ddraig; he answered calmly and simply, "Yes Father,"
The king seemed confused for a moment looking at Ariol as if he hadn't recognized him. "Ariol, this defiance has gone too far."
“No Father it hasn't.” Said Ariol, “If you want me to say I have been defiant in the past I will say yes, absolutely. Should I have been more diligent, well yes perhaps I should, should I have treated my tutors with more respect, then yes I should," he glanced at Athnic. "But this isn't about me, this is about the kingdom. And I know you put the kingdom first, which is what I am doing.” He paused for emphasis, “This Dragon is no threat to the kingdom.”
"Of course it is,” roared the king." If it were not for Karal wounding it, it would be burning and destroying our towns and crops at this very moment."
Despite the unfamiliar venom in his father’s voice Ariol continued undeterred, "Why would she do that father? She has promised me she would not."
“You can't trust a dragon Ariol." Said the king, whose fury was unsettling his horse a little, and he was forced to turn it back to face Ariol.
"Why not?” snapped Ariol, with as much authority, as his father, if not more?
"What?” snapped the king, puzzled.
"Why can we not trust a dragon?” Asked Ariol, “Derwyn and Alwyn here do."
The king looked at the two Deheubarthians as if seeing them for the first time, "You!” his horse wanted to turn away again, and he hauled it back to face forward. “I might have known! This is all your fault bringing your coal into my kingdom." He raged at the pair.
“Alwyn, tell him about Ddraig Goch." Said Ariol.
Alwyn was clearly a little reluctant to enter this argument bet2ween father and son, but he had agreed to play his part, and said "Well he lives up the vall-ey behind my father’s forge. A ve-ry civil dragon, never heard a harsh word escape his lips in all the time I have known him, and that’s been all my life."
"What madness is this, why concoct these fairy stories?" demanded the king.
There was just the hint of desperation in Ariol’s voice as he said, “They are not stories father.” Ariol’s new found determination was mixed with a sense of pleading, “And you have not answered my question, why not trust a dragon?"
The king was clearly a little disconcerted by his son demanding answers from him, but perhaps because he loved his son., or perhaps because something in him knew his son was right, he answered, "Everyone knows dragons are deceitful; and evil creatures." said the king.
"Do they?” said Ariol, “How does ‘everyone’ know father?"
"Because they have always known boy." roared the king in fury, “Now end this, we will destroy the beast with you here or not, I cannot sacrifice the kingdom for one defiant child.”
"That’s not an answer father." Said Ariol matching the intensity in the king’s voice.
"How dare you speak to me in that way,” Marek raged, “I am not just your father I am your king.
"I dare speak in defence of the kingdom,” Said Ariol, still matching his father’s passion, “this is not about you, it’s not about me, it’s about the kingdom.
"If that Dragon could fly,” the king seethed, “It would be burning our crops and destroying our towns.”
"Your wrong father" said Ariol, in a somewhat quieter and assured tone.
“I am not boy!” snapped the king, “Your disrespect will be your undoing.”
Ariol turned and clambered up the Dragons leg onto its back. "Oh you are father."
The king and his escort, watched with growing surprise as Y Glas Wraig Ddraig turned, leaped and a blast of fire emerged from her mouth and the updraft of the rising hot air helped lift her on beating wings into the sky.
She circled blasting fire into a column of air which lifted her ever higher. And then she banked and flew down right over where the army that sought to destroy her was camped, gliding back to land where she had started, facing the king.
She circled blasting fire into a column of air which lifted her ever higher. And then she banked and flew down right over where the army that sought to destroy her was camped, gliding back to land where she had started, facing the king.
Ariol slipped from her back and walked towards the king, "She would not father, because she could and she hasn't.” Ariol locked gases with the king.
King Marek and his escort were open mouthed, astonished.” Karal wounded her?” said the king, he turned to Thanric, “you said she was wounded.”
Thanric was like the rest awed by what he had witnessed. “Karal did my liege, ripped the wing from bone to wing edge.”
“And I repaired it.” Said Ariol emphatically.
The dragon stepped forward, lowering her head, "None of you has ever seen a dragon before me. How is it you think you can say what I am or am not? What gives you the right to call me worm and liar?”
“The king seemed beyond the power of speech.
Y Glas Wraig Ddraig Said, “I did nothing to your other son; he attacked me, I defended myself. If I could have saved the horse I would have. But its leg was broken there was no hope for it. No human with any compassion would have done differently. There have been no Dragons beyond the bounds of Deheubarth, except those who reside in the 200 years or more, how can you claim to say how dragons do or do not behave?”
The king just seemed to stare into empty space for the longest time, and then he looked at Ariol as if with different eyes.
Ariol, sensed there was a change, and spoke with a conciliatory tone, "Father the kingdom is safe, even safer with Glas Wraig Ddraig as an ally. She poses no danger to us, but attack her and she will defend herself as she did against Karal. Just as any of us would do."
There was a long, long moment, perhaps shorter in real time than it seemed to those there. At last King Marek turned to Athnic, "Send the army home."
"Are you sure my lord?" Said Athnic, questioning the king’s decision, as only an old friend, and comrade in arms, might expect to do.
“You saw,” said the king to Athnic, “She could have cremated our entire army in a single pass, but she didn't.” He paused, and then added, “I don't properly understand but Ariol seems to have control of this situation, whilst the rest of us are out of control.”
Athnic dispatched a rider and was going to remain with the king but Marek said, “No old friend, see to it yourself. I need to speak with my son alone.”
Emrys whispered to Y Glas Wraig Ddraig. “How’s the wing?”
“Sore, but I think all the stitches held” the dragon whispered back, “Landing hurt the most. It was a risk but it looked like it worked. Smart boy that”
“Smarter than he realises.” Murmured Emrys.
Ariol looked at the king, “I’m sorry father, I tried to talk to mother, you were busy with the small council, and you were already too angry with me to listen. When I set out I didn’t even know what I was going to do, I just knew that the dragon wasn’t the problem you all seemed to think it was.”
Marek looked at his son, and at last said, “There are many things which make a good King Ariol. Discipline, authority, things I don’t think I had when I was growing up. At your age I was just as wilful, and defiant. I thought these were bad things, things I had to put aside when your grandfather died and a crown was put on my head.” He paused, his face serious, but regaining composure, “But today I think, that perhaps defiance is wilfulness, and that if is the will for what is right or better, that perhaps this is what a king or any ruler needs.”
Ariol walked towards the king, “Thank you father.” he said.
The king stepped forward and embraced his son. Then he stepped back holding Ariol’s shoulders at arm’s length, saying: “Explaining this to your mother however is a different matter.”
The army packed itself away with a profound sense of anticlimax, and a rider was dispatched to cancel the proclamation, and turn the remaining men answering it home. Night had long since fallen by the time the army returned. Equipment was left in piles inside the courtyard of castle Orathim. In the ‘city’ there was something of a party, with the publicans making a tidy profit, but also fretting where they would replenish their supplies.
Ariol met with his mother, whose first action was to slap him soundly on the cheek, her next was to hug him as though she would never let him go. When she finally released him, Ariol told her the story from beginning to end, though he left out the bit about nearly falling to his death from the balcony of her room.
Some days later Emrys sat at the top of the wall, looking out through one of the Crenulations’ over the city. He heard the beating of huge wings and turned to see Glas Wraig Ddraig land on the top of the wall, well to his right: far enough away so that the beat of her wings would not risk his safety.
A piece of masonry dislodged under the weight of one of her feet, and fell, there was a thump as it fell onto the grass below, “Woops.” Said the Dragon.
“Careful” said Emrys, “We don’t want it to all kick off again.”
“Certainly not.” Said Y Glas Wraig Ddraig.
“Haws the wing?” asked Emrys.
“Not too bad,” said the Dragon, “But I thought it best to walk most of the way here. It seems I am quite popular now.”
“I think the general feeling is that you are a great asset to the military prowess of the nation.” Said Emrys.
“They are assuming quite a lot.” Said the dragon, “I might not want to stay, or help.”
“Really?” said Emrys sceptically. “In my experience dragons usually repay favours.”
“Well yes,” said Y Glas Wraig Ddraig, “It's just the ‘assumption’ that’s a tad irritating.”
“Ah well that’s humans for you.” Said Emrys smiling.
There was a longish pause where the two of them looked out over the, ‘city’, which was showing all the signs of suffering an extended hangover.
The dragon moved closer to the old man and broke the silence. “All that stuff you said about magic, that was complete rubbish wasn’t it?”
“What on earth makes you say that?”Said Emrys.
“Emrys, I am 1500 years old, I have seen enough Wizards in my time to spot one a mile away.”
Emrys gave the dragon a steady appraising look, before saying, “Well let’s just say for a moment you were right, everything I said is still true, people think magic is a quick fix, a short cut an easy path. Now again just for arguments sake if magic were real, it would need years of training, vast knowledge and even then would be best used sparingly.”
“I heard of another ‘Emrys’ once.” The dragon whispered. “They said he was a great wizard, lived about 300 years ago. Emrys Myrddyn was his full name.”
“Hmm, “ said Emrys, “I have heard of him too, he became so famous that he could hardly move for kings wanting his help, became quite arrogant, by all accounts. ‘Kingmaker’ he was called.” He paused and drew on his pipe.”It all went wrong of course, it always does when you think you can control it all, use magic to be the star of the show. All those kings started thinking he was too powerful, that he was a threat and should be destroyed. And of course he was.”
“But isn’t that what you did here?” said the dragon, “Controlled things, made King Marek see that Ariol would be a better king than his brothers.”
“I suppose so from a certain point of view, but looked at another way, Ariol would be the best king I just hinted at which obstacles he should move out of his way.”
There was another long pause.
“They never found a body when they destroyed Emrys Myrddyn’s keep.” Said Y Glas Wraig Ddraig.
“No they didn’t.” Said Emrys, “But then the fire was so intense no mortal could have survived it.”
Again there was a long thoughtful silence. Which was again broken by the dragon. “Do you think Ariol will become king?”
“Probably,” said Emrys taking out a pipe, “who knows how history will play itself out? Perhaps Tarac will be so envious he gets his act together, or even Karal. But at least Marek realizes there is a choice.”
“What would you have done if Alwyn and Derwyn hadn’t turned up with their coal, and I hadn’t got mixed up in it all?” The dragon asked.
“Oh,” said Emrys filling the pipe, “opportunities always present themselves. That’s why it’s best to have a good strategy, and a good knowledge of tactics that way one can fit the plan to the circumstances, rather than try and fit the circumstances to the plan. Which of course was old Emrys Myrddyn’s mistake?”