by Chris Murray
A young boy is told the story of his people, and the greatest dragon to have ever lived
|“There are three rules to remember when battling a Dragon, young one. Firstly, remember that the beast is as smart as you are – never take stupidity for granted. Secondly, be vigilant concerning the nostrils; when they widen, a fiery hail is headed your way. Finally, remember that these beasts roamed the lands before man was born, and will continue to do so until the last of your king’s line is long past. We are but a mere distraction in their long lives, no more important than a wayward wolf is to a mounted knight. They are the lords of this earth.” The bent figure of the elder gentleman outlined itself against the moonlight from outside the tower window. Nick listened to the alchemist’s teachings as he did every night though lately he had distracted himself with worries for the old man’s health. Wilbur Corben was older than anyone else the young boy knew and his aged body seemed loaded with the long years of his life. Many in the King’s court jested that his mind had cracked with his spine though all paid him respect and it was known the King held him in high regard, personally inviting him to all the Royal banquets and shows. The invitations were rarely acted upon however. Wilbur had a room and laboratory in the Eastern Tower – the largest part of the castle. From there he concocted numerous potions and recipes from ancient books that few had the skill to read and less, to understand. The young Nicholas Penshaw often speculated, as indeed many in the castle did, that the long lost blood of the magicians ran through Wilbur’s veins. The tales were often stopped by Wilbur himself when he made one of his few public outings.
‘Me? A magician? Do not let old age and undiminished wit fool you! I am no more a magician than you are a dragon my boy! Magician indeed!’
Nick smiled as the image of the old man addressing a knight as if he were a fanciful child came into his mind.
“A smile! I have not seen you produce such a thing in the past month. Are we feeling alright young sir?” The battered teeth shone through his grey beard and his eyes twinkled.
“I was only thinking.”
“Ah! Thought. It is indeed a thing to be treasured. Though I guess that your thoughts turn readily to your father as of late.”
Nick smiled again. Wilbur had a way of guessing feelings. “It has been a long time since he was supposed to report back. And the scouts say that Dragon activity has picked up lately.” He frowned, annoyed that his worry had shone through – a thing his father had instructed him to hide when in the presence of others.
“Your fears are natural young one,” Wilbur groaned as he sat down in the immense armchair by the fire. “However it is unlikely your father has come to harm. I have told you many times of his great skills, apparent to me even when he was younger than you are now – I will not worry for your father until far more time has passed.”
"But if he is safe then why has he not returned? Surely…”
“I did not say he was safe Nicholas, I said not to worry. Your father is often in great danger though that is not to say we should fear.”
The two sat in silence for the next minute, gazing into the softly burning embers of the fire.
“Tell me about the old war Wilbur, the one we fought with the Dragons in the lost lands.”
Wibur’s eyes crackled with the fire. “Eager for tales of heroism are we?” he asked without moving his head. “Or perhaps we only wish to distract our elders from the lateness of the hour and the call of bed, hm?”
Nick smiled – he had noticed the time but enjoyed listening to the old man’s tales and the lost lands had always fascinated him.
“I will risk a short tale, and then we shall both retire to our slumber. Tonight, I will tell a part of the tale of Tyrgon – the great black dragon who has no equal. A part I say, for his long tale would take many months to tell and it is still continuing today.” The old man stopped his speech and bent to the table to pick up his short stubby pipe and spent a long time filling and lighting it. When he had finished, he puffed out the first rings of smoke and they rose above his head making him seem mysterious and magical.
“In the lost lands, there are, or were, a grouping of four mountains. Three of them, giants in their own right, surrounded the larger fourth – Diarmund it was named of old though the knights of this castle remember it as Ancalagmon. It was long seen as a perfect place for a great fortress – the mountain was large enough to house an entire city and the three surrounding caps could serve as outlying turrets of defence. It was discovered shortly after your people first encountered the Dragons and it had the added bonus that the fire-beasts seemed never to go there.
The King of the time, an unfortunate yet valiant man named Godfrey, sent a large group to take and defend the mountain while work began on the new fortress. The King's current castle was old and had been weakened by constant attacks from the Dragons of the area – the new fortress seemed like the only option left before the entire castle and all its people were razed to the ground.”
Wilbur sighed before continuing. “For a time, the news came back that work progressed steadily and they would soon be ready for the first townspeople to enter and live there. Then the news stopped. No more scouts returned from the mountain. The King was wary of sending more people without a large army but his forces were spread thin across his lands and the Dragons had redoubled their attacks on the castle. There was no option but for everyone to leave. Sending word to all his commanders to meet at the mountain, Godfrey gathered all the people left in the castle and led them away secretly at night during a rest of the assault. The next morning, they had moved far away though the mounted scouts reported that the castle was being demolished by a horde of Dragons. There was now no chance of turning back and so for the next two weeks, the group marched onwards towards the mountain.” The man puffed heavily on his pipe.
“On the morning of the fifteenth day, they reached the outer circle of mountains and saw the first sign of danger ahead. A small guard post, nothing more than a hut for two or three lookouts, had been burned to a crisp. Nothing remained except a blackened outline – we could find no people or horses anywhere. It was at this time that I voiced my fears to the King. A darkness covered my young heart that I had never experienced before.”
Nick looked up with shock. He knew Wilbur was old but the lost lands had not been seen in hundreds of years.
“Surprised eh? Yes, even old Wilbur was young once. Young enough to march the many leagues from the old castle to the mountain wearing the full armour of a High Knight bonded in loyal service to his King. I was old enough then however, to see the perils that lay before us.
‘Sire,’ I said, ‘this is but a small tiding of the evil that has befallen our people. There is no doubt in my mind that should we continue on this cursed path, only more death will we see.”
“But what can have done this?’ he asked me. ‘The dragons do not come here and have not followed us.’
‘An evil greater than any our people know Sire, one I cannot identify and I do not wish to encounter. We must turn back.”
“Good Knight, I fear you speak the truth. Yet whither to if we do not go on? Our home is now a nest of bastard flame-beasts and our armed forces have abandoned their outposts and are making their way here now. We have nowhere else.”
“Then we must go on my liege, though I beg of you to allow me first passage through these treacherous mountain passes. ‘Tis better my life be lost than yours.”
“Nay Knight. I have brought our people here and upon my head are their lives. If indeed we have walked to the home of our doom, then I shall meet it first.”
‘He would not heed my pleading and so led us up the narrow passes and along the high cliffs, and all the time we passed more signs of destruction yet saw nothing of our people. Not a charred beltstrap or discarded helmet was found, and we spent many dangerous hours searching.
On the fifth evening after entering the mountain range, we reached a large opening in the inner enclaves. Here it was that the greatest devastation had been caused; the ground was burned black and ash covered everything. As we looked towards the far end of the close, the sun set and then he came forth from his den.”
“Who came?” asked Nick as his eyes went slightly wider than he would have wanted.
“Tyrgon, of course. He was the reason no scouts had returned. He was the reason all trace of our people had been burnt to a crisp and he was the reason no other Dragons approached the mountains. Immense beyond measurement with scales blacker than the night sky itself, he was the greatest dragon to have ever stalked the land.
I was one of a number of Knights skilled in combating the flame-beasts but there was nothing we could do against this black creature – our arrows glanced off his hide and the Knights that struck at him once with their swords did not strike again. Like a raging wind he tore down upon us and fear was his main weapon. In a panic the townsfolk fled as did many of the soldiers though a small group of us held back with hopes of giving them some time to flee to a safe distance. Even with our valiant King at our head, no one believed we would survive the encounter.
We spread out around him, hoping to extend our length of survival though he merely picked us off one by one. His breath produced a fire that would melt even the hardened armour of old upon contact, his vicious forearms swung like tree trunks ripped from the earth and his huge tail swung with the force of a hundred soldiers. After a short while, only three of us remained. The King, myself and a High Knight named Sollberg. As we dived out of the flames’ way and dodged under the sweeping blows, the King climbed up a small cliff before diving valiantly onto the Dragon’s back. With his life he held on and though Tyrgon shaked, he could not dislodge the small figure from his neck. Climbing up, the King drew his great sword and swung with all his might against the creature’s left eye.
‘The strike cut deep and blinded the Dragon on the one side. Astonished at the pain the man had caused him, he reared up on his hind legs and threw the King to the floor before unleashing a furious fire on him as he lay on the ground. The he turned to Sollberg and I, dismayed at the fall of our King whom we loved.”
“How on earth did you escape?”
Wilbur looked up from the fire with raised eyebrows. “We did not. If Tyrgon wishes to pursue you then no one escapes.”
“He took a final lunge at both of us that sent us flying into the ground, our entire bodies burning with pain though it was far from his hardest blow. Then he stood over us, towering like a black fortress against the dirty moonlight poking through the clouds. Then suddenly, he turned and retreated into his den and did not return. Neither Sollberg nor I dared follow him and so, shamed and tearfully, we made our way back down the mountain where we met up with the gathered groups from across the kingdom. We told what had happened and declared that the mountain would never be a safe haven for our people. Unable to return to our previous dwellings, we began the long searching marches of which you have heard much elsewhere. When finally we settled here, both Sollberg and I were old men – I began to record and put down in print our history since arriving in this land and he was elected King of our people. Your current King is a descendant of him.”
Nick sat back in the chair and stared into the fire which had now ceased to flame leaving only red embers in its place. “I have never heard that tale before. Why not?”
“It is not known by most people, even the High Knights of today do not all know the full story. And those who do will not speak of it willingly. Tyrgon’s name is feared by those who know it and mention of the lost lands rarely brings comfort to people. It is by the King’s order that I tell you now though you should not speak of it with a loose tongue. Some tales are better left untold.”
“But why does the King wish me to be told if no one else knows?”
Breaking the eery atmosphere that had settled in the room, Wilbur laughed. “So many questions for an old man. That, you will learn when you grow older. Now run to your bed and hope you get there before the cock announces tomorrow’s dawn. I have kept you overlong young master.”
Nick rose from his chair by the fire and made for the large wooden door that opened to the lavishly furnished corridors of the castle. His own room was not far but he was sure he would not get any sleep, so vivid were the images in his mind. Nevertheless, when he set his head down on the pillow, a dreamless slumber came to him immediately.