Dragons’ Roost — Part 6

Durnair heard a long, deep sigh escape Konna and turned to watch him. Though she knew she did not have the talent, she heard his thoughts, Fool. You have woken Asyra. She will not be happy with you.

Siir? Asyra? Could it be? Durnair shuddered as the hill behind the magician and his flames began to open, and the ground trembled as though it was come the end of the world.

An almost reptilian head, three, four, more meters in length, emerged from the crevice. The color of phosphorescent jade shedding brown soil as it rose; its emerald eyes ran with veins of gold. Needle-sharp teeth in what might have been the hint of a smile were of shiny pearl the length of a large man’s arm.

The head was followed by a sinuous neck, another ten or twenty meters in length. The dragon stretched, yawned and growled, roared and sent a brilliant green flame another hundred meters into the sky.

“Siir, you have come in answer to my summons. These are blasphemers. Kill them all. Obey my words and kill them all. Burn them to ashes and send them to hell,” commanded the magician.

“Blasphemers all, kill them, kill them,” screeched the priest.

The dragon continued to emerge from the hillside and her true size quickly became apparent. The body was easily more than twenty meters in length and the tail another thirty. Her wings unfurled, thirty meters to a side.

“Obey? Summons?” she questioned and laughed, deep and long. It was a laugh from the depths of the earth, a laugh both feminine and terrifying. “You disturbed my well-earned sleep magician. You disrupted my rest to do murder and satisfy your greed.

“I see your crimes and sentence you to death. I shall feed my hunger and cleanse your stain from the world.” Before the magician could run, she impaled him in her teeth. A short scream and squirt of blood, and he was gone.

The priest ran and Durnair shouted, “He’ll leave a bad taste in your mouth.”

The dragon laughed at the woman, roared and sent a searing lance of verdant flame that enveloped the would-be fugitive. The blaze quickly consumed him, but not rapidly enough to consume the stench of his passing.

She turned back to face the leading wagon and settled her green eyes upon Durnair. “Greetings, granddaughter of Aphasa. You bear the mark of the steppes and your family well. Good fortune to you, to your husband and your children.”

“Thank you, Mistress of Sky and Mountain,” returned Durnair. “Thank you for your help in our hour of need. We shall work to prove ourselves worthy of that aid and your good wishes.”

The dragon dipped her head and seemed to smile as she turned to gaze on Konna who smiled at her.

“It has been a long time husband. How fare you and our children?” asked the dragon softly as Fysal, Durnair and the others stared open-mouthed.

“I am well, Asyra. Our daughter has happily re-married after the accidental death of her first husband. She now has a son in addition to the daughter who has been adopted by her husband. Our son has a trade wagon of his own, a loving wife and strong son. He is happy.”

“Is it time, Konna?” she asked.

“Yes, my love. I believe it is,” he answered.

“Come then. I have rested enough, and I think there may still be some adventure to be found in this old world. Let us find it before it disappears.”

“At your word, my love,” Konna said. He dismounted from the horse and turned to his friends. “Fysal, Durnair, my horses, wagons and their contents are our gift to your children. Thank you and be well.”

“Be well, Konna,” they replied as he walked to Asyra.

Konna used her lowered right wing as a step up to her neck. Seeing that he was well seated, Asyra extended both of her wings and launched herself into the sky. Circling the caravan as she slowly gained altitude, Asyra gave them a tale to tell their grandchildren.

A minute later Konna rolled off, drawing gasps from those watching below. But as he spread his legs and arms, his body lengthened and his wings unfurled. They continued to circle as he grew in size. Those on the ground could not distinguish which was larger, nor tell green from black.

Eventually, Asyra and Konna reached a comfortable altitude and flew north, into the clouds and over the mountains. Into history, into legend and into myth–until the next time.

to be continued?

Dragons’ Roost — Part 5

Barking dogs, yells and the ringing of clashing swords shouted that the ambush had been sprung early. Two men on horseback, one with an arrow protruding from his right shoulder, and a dog hurtled around the bend in the road ahead closely followed by a dozen other riders.

Durnair had three arrows in the air before she realized what she was doing. The guards fronting the lead wagons loosed their crossbow bolts almost as fast. Scarcely had the ambushers seen the caravan and seven of them were already down.

As the others turned their horses to flee, they too had their lives sundered from them.

“jer’Mon, see to our flanks and rear, Konna and I will command the van,” shouted Fysal.

Throwing a fist in the air to acknowledge the command, jer’Mon turned his horse and began issuing instructions to keep watching the brush and trees to the sides and to bring the wagons closer and to overlap where the road was wide enough. When the attacks came, those in the caravan were ready.

Up front there was a flash, green fire and smoke appeared in the roadway, and the sound of thunder echoed across the sky. The priest stepped from the smoke and shouted, “Lay down your arms and you will live. Fight and the sky-lord will consume you in his flames.” Blue fire then enveloped the priest, and he disappeared.

Fysal shouted, “Trickery, to hell with these bandits.”

Another flash and red fire began to fill the hillside to the left of the road, yet nothing burned. A wave of heat swept the caravan, and a voice from the depths of hell began to chant,

“Siir is coming,

Comes the dragon,

Siir is coming,

Comes the flame,

Siir is coming,

Comes the dragon,

Siir is coming,

Comes death on green wings.”

“Fool,” shouted Konna. “You cannot control her. When she wakes, you and yours will die. Run, run now and you may live to see tomorrow.”

jer’Mon and most of the guards were making short work of those attacking the flanks and rear of the caravan. Two who made it through the guards found that women who daily gutted fish and fowl kept sharp knives. The guards’ casualties were light, only wounds and none of those serious. The captain was returning to the front when the ground began to quake.

The magician finished his chanting from the flames and began to laugh. It was the sound of the insane and the damned coming from the pit.

to be continued

Dragons’ Roost — Part 4

The morning was warm and dry as the wagons approached the foothills. The air was still, and even the birds were quiet at the caravan’s approach. It was too quiet in these hills where there was more life than in the plains below.

jer’Mon, the captain of Fysal’s guards was a careful man who had learned early in life to play his hunches. At his word two more scouts rode out ahead of the caravan, and those asleep from the last night’s watch were wakened. Crossbows were loaded, and the safety straps on scabbards were loosened. Two of the eight dogs were unleashed and encouraged to run in front.

Fysal approved as he too was nervous and picking up on unvoiced cues. Word was passed down the line, “‘ware the ambush.” Drivers put their blades and clubs on the benches beside them. Women and children pulled out their knives, and wrapped their babes in extra quilts.

Fysal’s wife strung her re-curved horn bow and checked her quiver of arrows. She was a child of the steppes, and although he had married her, Fysal had not even been tempted to tame her.

Konna had left his wagons to their drivers, saddled and ridden his roan to the head of the caravan and pulled up by Fysal.

“Something is wrong, my friend,” said Fysal. “There is always life in the groves here. It has always seemed a quiet and benevolent place. It feels . . . it feels as though someone is trying to pervert that benevolence.”

“Yes,” said Durnair, Fysal’s wife, as she honed her knife’s curved blade. “There is perversion here. Someone is trying to waken an ancient force he can neither understand nor control. They all will perish in the fire, and we may be caught and turned to ashes as well.”

“‘A quiet and benevolent place.’ I like that turn of phrase Fysal. It was here that Asyra left this life. It is to these groves, these trees in the foothills that I have returned once each year when the new snow first whitens the ground. It is peaceful here, and she has rested well.

“Durnair is right. If she is disturbed, fire will consume the transgressors, but you and your families will be safe and need not fear the flames.”

Durnair heard surety in Konna’s words and looked at him in a different light. His black eyes were tinged with gold. “An ancient power”–those were the words her mother’s mother used to describe eyes such as these.

A powerful shaman in her own right, Aphasa was said to have been the last to have converse with Siir and her black dragon before they flew off the edge of the world. Flew off the edge of the world and left to men their delusions of greed and power.

Durnair shook herself. She’d always thought the stories were just that, stories. Stories made up as lessons for those too young to listen to reason. Like the banded wolf that roamed the grassy steppes looking for the wandering and disobedient child, she thought.

Feeling what she felt and looking at Konna, she was no longer so sure. Replacing her knife in its sheath, she pulled an arrow from its quiver and readied her bow while looking to the road ahead.

to be continued

Dragons’ Roost — Part 3

Abben fa’Don was a bitter man. He was not particularly smart, but he did have one talent: he could motivate other envious and bitter men. He had already done so, and the trap was ready to be sprung a day or three hence.

Leaving town by a different road than the caravan, fa’Don whipped his buggy’s horse into an angry gallop. It took him till noon the following day to reach the ambusher’s camp. His use of the horse wasted it, and the horse died as he slowed to allow the sentry to approach him.

There were more than a hundred of them, ex-soldiers, deserters, outlaws, destitute farmers, prostitutes and unemployable town riff-raff. All of them were after the quick score of what they thought was an under-guarded caravan, the looting of which was sanctioned by a priest because those in the caravan worshipped other gods.

Speaking with his captains, fa’Don told them of the idolatrous innkeeper and his strongbox. The box would go to the man who brought the innkeeper’s head to the priest. They would eat now and break camp that evening.

Tomorrow morning they would be in position to spring their ambush. The magician was already there. He and his assistants were laying the groundwork for a spell that, if it worked, would decree doom for all in the caravan. And if it didn’t work, its preparations and accompanying confusion should guarantee the slaughter of the caravan’s distracted guards.

to be continued

Dragons’ Roost — Part 2

by Joe AuBuchon

During the remaining hours of the afternoon, caravaneers, their sons and guards emptied a third of Konna’s cellars and distributed the goods among the wagons. His wagons were also loaded and readied for the morning’s journey.

Late in the afternoon, the caravan’s guards and teamsters were treated to their own feast and wine. As the sun set, they returned to their posts, and the traders and their families filled the Dragons’ Roost.

Konna provided chicken and lamb, beef and pork, fresh breads, fruits and vegetables, mead, beer, ale and wine. Musicians traveling with the caravan provided music and song. Between the guards, teamsters and the traders’ sons, some of the serving girls earned twice a month’s wages in exchange for their virtue.

Konna said goodnight and went upstairs to bed before the last of the festivities were over. He wanted one last good night’s sleep in the four-poster he had carved for himself and Asyra; the bed in which they had conceived the girl and the boy, and in which she had birthed them.

An hour before dawn, Konna rose–one of the few without a headache and hangover–bathed and gathered the two small strongboxes and the inn’s books. Taking them down the stairs, he found Manzl and Corrin, the other three town aldermen, the mayor and the priest of the new god and Fysal.

Sitting down to a breakfast of tea, oatmeal, eggs, bacon and bread, they made polite conversation until Konna finished and brought out the bill of sale from the inn’s financial books. He quietly explained the sale and its terms. Manzl handed Konna a gold taler, and they signed the document. The rest of those present also signed as witnesses.

Konna then gave Manzl the ledgers for inventory and expenses and income. Next came the tax documents showing that they had always been paid early or on time and were paid through the end of the current year. Finally, came the strongbox with the inn’s operating money and the keys to the Dragons’ Roost.

Manzl and Konna shook hands and hugged. Each knew it was the last they would see of each other. Corrin hugged him and cried. Konna pressed the gold taler into her hand and whispered, “For Jenn on her wedding day, hers and hers alone.” He said good-bye and shook hands with the rest, except for the priest who turned his back on the old innkeeper when Konna offered his hand.

Konna picked up the small strongbox, and he and Fysal walked out of the Roost. Two of the caravan guards were waiting with horses, as the caravan had pulled out shortly after the breaking of dawn. At a signal from Fysal, one of the guards took the strongbox from Konna, and the men mounted.

Turning the horses to follow the caravan, the four quietly rode out of the town. The smell of fresh-baked bread signaling its awakening.

to be continued