A story of dragons, and men and the trust between
|This took place between August 26th-31st 55 AD The Roman conquest of Britain by Julius Ceasar. He failed. History says a storm prevented French reinforcements, but here is an alternative reason.
The Opal Stone
Mountain crags like ice coated fingers reached into the cold blue sky. A torturous path wound round them, up; always up. Three figures wrapped in heavy bear skins struggled along this frozen road. Braghm, the eldest, Burk the middle eldest and Bryan, the youngest. Braghm grabbed Bryan and pulled him along. He was to have stayed at home; he would have been at home save that there was no longer a home in which to stay.
The imperturbable Roman Legions had destroyed everything.
"Let him rest," Burk said, and he stopped near a deep overhang.
"We can sit here for a while and wait."
"Do you see that the sun sets within two hours?" Braghm was anxious to reach the summit, still so far above them.
"I know," Burk answered, "we will reach the top today or tomorrow. What difference to be made? Our village will still be burned and everyone dead."
Braghm looked deeply into his brother's eyes. He saw the resignation there and turned to head onward up the pass.
"Braghm! If but for the sake of the boy . . ."
Braghm looked at his youngest brother. His eyes were sunken beneath darkly circled skin, his lips cracked raw by cold. Yet, he stood; not all that sturdily, but, he stood.
Braghm exhaled and consented. The overhang formed a cleft inside the grey rock into which the three huddled. It was not an overly deep cleft, but big enough of a shelter that they could build a small fire and crack the hard, dry bread they had been eating to share out together.
"Come nightfall we must not have a fire. The Weirlings will be circling looking for food. The firelight will attract them. Take those lose stones and bring them close to the blaze we can heat them and use them for a few hours warmth when the darkness descends."
So they spent the time until dark. Huddled inside the sheltering rock. While Bryan slept wrapped in his skin next to the hot stones, Braghm and Burk watched the Weirlings swoop and dive against the starlit sky.
Morning brought swift blown snow. Wind howled across the valley below, then, was forced upward by the canyon, to pummel the travelers. The rest had done them good; they made fair progress before the noon hour.
"By four of the clock we will reach the summit," Braghm yelled above the wind.
"Then?" His brother Burk did not possess the faith that the elder held.
"Then . . . we shall speak with Gemarion Lord Splendor of Dragons."
"If he exists. No one has seen The White Dragon in all these years, Braghm. And, if he is there, what guarantee that he will aid us?"
"He is benevolent, Burk. He is Lord of all dragon-kind. He is legendary in his love of men."
Burk looked away, he joined Braghm on this quest because he thought it was all that there was left to do. But, beside the black and grey Weirlings he had seen no hint of Dragon-kind.
The wind threatened to send them hurtling to the depths below as they pushed along to the summit. A low whining sound ended in a gust that pushed them inward toward the rocks, then, whipped about and threatened them with a close call near the edge.
Braghm pulled Bryan onto his shoulders. The boy staggered; despite the rest he was weak. Within one hour they stood between two stone blocks covered in hieroglyphs. Braghm ran his hand along one of them,
"What do you think this means?"
"I do not know. Look ahead. There is a wide courtyard to make our way across. While we are crossing the Weirlings are circling. Our chances do not look favorable."
Braghm set his younger brother down.
"Now, Bryan, we must hurry across that court. We must not show the Weirlings we are fearful. We must hurry with all our might, do you understand?"
The boy nodded and Braghm took hold of his hand.
They stepped through the pillars and stood for a few moments as they surveyed the area.
On the far side of the courtyard stood a doorway as high as twenty men atop one another. It had been placed at the entrance to a cave and secured to the rock wall. Braghm could only imagine the size of the Grand Dragon Lord. He looked into the sky to see the Wierlings as they circled above. They resembled the crows that flew over their dead only three days hence. Braghm shook the feeling away, fear was something the Weirlings reacted to. He would not show any.
They trotted forward. Braghm circled his arm around Bryan and half dragged him forward. The boy stumbled and a Wierling dipped low, grabbing at the bear skin that Bryan wore. The Wierling snatched it up, discovered it to be empty and dropped it several yards ahead of them. Burk hurried forward to retrieve it, when he heard Bryan scream a protest. Spinning about, he saw his youngest brother hoisted upward in the strong, sharp claws of a Wierling.
The pair of brothers looked on in vein as Bryan was carried off, calling his brother's names.
"Come! They are distracted now!
"But, Bryan . . . " Burk protested.
"We cannot help him now," and his voice caught as he grabbed Burk's arm and steered him toward the massive doors.
They reached the door to the lair and looked about for a way to open the portal. There were no handles, and no other sign of an entrance. The Wierlings made a task of looking for an alternate entrance impossible.
"What do we do now?"
"There must be a way inside. There must be! Hallooo! Open your doors, most Honored Dragon Lord!"
Nothing occurred to make a difference. Burk pounded and kicked at the doors with no effect. They were turning to leave when a great wind forced them back against the doors and to their knees. While sheltering their heads from the gale, a great booming voice sounded, "who begs entrance to the Hall Of The Lord Of All Dragons?".
The wind stopped and Braghm raised his eyes to see a magnificent dragon. His scales shone as if he were made of solid gold. His eyes were the deepest red like giant rubies. The span of his wings filled the courtyard and with one talloned finger he pointed at the brothers, "you trespass, mortals!"
Braghm stood and approached the golden beast.
"Great Lord, we are in need. The Roman Legions have ravished our land. They kill and destroy, they take away captives as slaves. We only ask your aid in defeating them."
"There has been no dragon intervention in the affairs of humans for these past five-hundred years."
"But, surely this once, with the valley in turmoil below your stronghold you might relent and . . . "
"Silence! Those who trespass are forfeit to the Weirlings . . . " and the dragon turned his back to them as he swished his golden tail. The Weirlings began to dive downward, coming closer to the brothers with each swoop.
A Weirling hooked his talons into Burk's bear skin wrap. He struggled to loosen himself from its grip to no avail. Braghm waved his knife at the thing in defense and threatened it continuously trying to get the Weirling away from Burk. It was of little use, the Weirling began to lift Burk off his feet to join the fate of his brother.
"I call upon the Treaty of the Opal Stone!"
The golden dragon turned about so abruptly his tale crashed a large stone planter to bits. The crash startled the Weirling causing him to drop Burk and fly upward at a frightening pace.
Braghm stood before the dragon, his knife at the ready, his eyes steady on the golden worm.
"That Treaty has not been invoked for more than five-hundred years, Human. Now, I must allow your consideration before the council. You will wait here," and with those words he flapped his wide, powerful wings and ascended above them. He screeched a long, high warning at the Weirlings and they fled; away from the courtyard to hover over the pass. They could be seen whirling and diving in the distance beyond the courtyard gate.
Burk collapsed in a heap beside the door, his knees drawn up, his head on his folded arms. He sobbed freely and Braghm knew he cried for Bryan. Braghm said nothing; and let his brother rid himself of the sorrow he too felt. But for the fact that he needed to remain steadfast in his search for help, he would join Burk in sorrow. He placed a soothing hand on Burk's shoulder and the brother looked up.
"We will be killed as well, I fear, Braghm."
"Be sure of faith, younger brother. We may yet be saved."
Hours passed. Noon drew on into evening and soon the dark descended. Bitter cold wind whipped in circles around the courtyard, slamming into the golden double doors. The brothers huddled together, sharing the bear skins to keep as warm as possible. Braghm felt they must have portrayed a piteous picture as they waited for the Dragon's decision.
They had fallen to sleep. The wind had died until it was a sluggish breeze that whistled in and out of the crevices of the cliff above them. They sat with their backs against the huge doors and fell inward when the doors where pitched open.
They awoke to a booming voice, "Come in! Attend me!"
Braghm was first to his feet, lending a hauling hand to Burk. Ahead of them lay warmth, and the smell of food. Ahead of them lay the lair of the Lord Splendor Of Dragons.
The pair entered into a wide hall with many corridors leading to right and left. A voice, rumbling deep, with a hint of a hiss, spoke to them.
"To the first door on your left, humans."
The brothers walked tentatively, the walls alight with their passing. They glowed softly with a pale, luminescent, greenish tint. The crystal walls provided the light they needed to see their way. The passage wound to the right in a tight circle; inward and down into the depths of the cave. Both men shed their bearskin wraps and carried them over one shoulder, held onto their bodies by their belts. Ahead, they could hear a rumbling voice singing a tune. A lute's strings were struck and the singer began anew. The brothers exchanged glances and proceeded onward.
At last, they came to a wide amphitheater wherein no one sat, but was well lit. In the center of this stage was set a table with food and drink copious in amount and pleasant in scent.
"Sit . . . eat, mortals."
Braghm looked up. There was nothing between them and the open sky through a round hole in the vaulted ceiling. Stars twinkled between high white clouds set against the harvest moon. The brothers sat. They tasted the food, the wine rich and heavy, the deer roasted to a succulent turn. Corn and peas, crusty bread and pastries piled onto dishes before them added a feeling of familiar comfort.
Burk noticed the taloms descending first. He tried to speak around a mouthful of venison and almost choked. He pointed behind Braghm's head to something that made his eyes widen in terror. Braghm turned to see the same golden dragon that had stood guard over the entrance.
"You have interested Gemarion, Lord Splendor Of Dragons. He will meet with you after you sup. Beware, though mortals! A lie is punishable by death at the pleasure of the Weirlings. You had best have excellent reason for disturbing the Lord's slumber. Be aware as well, that unless you possess the Opal Stone, you may not invoke its treaty."
"I am aware of that," Braghm answered, looking at Burk. Their family had held the Opal Stone for these past five centuries, entrusted with its care after the Dwarven Conflicts.
Braghm drained his wine and sat back waiting. Soon, to their left a huge door swung inward and a dragon, blinding white in color slowly entered. Every move spoke of regal bearing. His head was longer than Braghm and Burk laid end to end. One huge, clawed foot reached forward and gently touched Braghm's brown hair. Braghm swallowed what fear he had and spoke.
"I wish to see Gemarion, Lord Splendor Of All Dragons . . ."
"You see him." the giant beast answered.
"I . . . that is, we, wish to ask for assistance. Aid in destroying those who would destroy us."
"The aura of the stone shines brightly in you, Braghm of Ketgern. Do you bear the stone with you?"
"No. We have hidden it away. None may find it where it lay. My family has been responsible for the stone all these many centuries."
"You must retrieve it. Bring it here. Without its power I cannot turn back the forces you speak of. We are aware of the destruction wreaked by this new power in the valleys and lanes of Briton. We are aware that they are a most powerful lot. We do not wish them to be successful in this invasion, they are dangerous to our kind."
"Then . . . you will help us?"
"Bring here the stone and we will discuss a plan."
The brothers looked one from the other and Braghm said, "we will return, though it may take more than four days."
"It will take you no such time."
The dragon whistled long and loudly and a large blue Weirling descended through the holed roof and settled on the floor before them.
"Amishta will fly you to your prize, merely instruct her in direction. There is one more thing . . ." the Dragon Lord said and his face came very close to Braghm.
"He does belong to you, does he not?"
At the topmost ring around the amphitheater sat young Bryan. A Weirling snuggled beside him, its head resting comfortably across Bryan's knees. Braghm climbed the rows two at a time with Burk quickly behind him.
"Bryan! We thought you dead, boy!"
He hugged his brothers and the Weirling growled softly at the men.
"No, no, Bastir, these are my kin."
"Hmppf," the Weirling commented and lay back down.
"He took me into the sky and brought me here to the His Lordship. I thought surely I would die, but he only carried me away to the towers."
"I suggest you leave the youth here." Gemarion said, "the journey is arduous and here he is safe."
Braghm agreed and he and Burk set about discussing with Gemarion the way in which they would return the Opal Stone.
In a chamber lit by volcanic flow, a small enclave of dragons met. Belaris The Golden presided, tapping his claw impatiently as the dragons settled into their places. Belaris looked up at those in attendance. He noted Molgus The Ancient, noted for his prowess in battle, Sopang, who's exploits in the Dwarven campaigns was legendary and Eamma, Commander of the Field, with her two young aids; the only female dragons in attendance.
"Dragon-kind!" Belaris stood to his full height, barely clearing the ceiling of the auditorium.
"It must be known to all of you by now that a human has come to the Stronghold seeking aid against an enemy. They say that these new men will destroy all the valley, take that which they wish and seek to destroy us as well. My fellows, Dragon-kind has inhabited these cliffs for seven-thousand years. We have raised out fledglings here, sought for peace and stayed apart from man. I do not wish to follow him into any battles. Their affairs are not of our concern."
"But, Belaris," Sopang said, "we have a treaty with men. Our mutual agreement states we must defend one another."
Belaris spun about and stared at Sopang.
"Have you forgotten what happened after the Dwarven Conflict? Have you forgotten what happened when the human's crops failed? Did they hunt down the Dwarves who caused the failure? No! They hunted us. They broke into our caves, destroyed our nests and smashed our eggs. My mate's despair was such that she willed her death. I will not forget and I will not aid man in any way."
Molgus left the stands of seats and slowly strode down the stairs to stand before Belaris.
"You would ignore the decision of the Lord High Dragon?"
"I would not aid man."
"I did not ask you if you would aid man. I asked you if you would ignore the decision of the Lord High Dragon?"
"If it means aiding humans . . . yes."
"Then you are set on treason."
A murmur of hisses spread through the assembly and one young dragon growled. He raised his head and said, "my forebears died at the hands of humans. They desecrated our mound, destroyed our community. I do not trust them as well."
"Ah!" Sopang spat. "What do you know of it? You say your nest was ravaged? Mine was too. In the years following the conflict, there was much confusion. But, may I point to this fact? That no human has dared enter our confines for more than three-hundred years. Otherwise you whom are so young would not be standing here. You know nothing of the past."
"Fare easy, Sopang. These who are here agree with me. If you do not, you had best retreat to your quarters."
"Do you threaten me, Belaris?" The old dragon narrowed his eyes and hissed menacingly.
Belaris puffed out his chest and rose above Sopang's head. He spread his wings to the full length of the room, a defensive gesture.
"Dragon-kind!" The lilting voice of Eamma broke the tension.
The pair of dragons stopped their threats and looked to the female. She was deep purple in color, the tips of her scales iridescent blue and green. She stood at the top of the amphitheater stairs her golden eyes pinned on the pair.
"Whatever your personal reasons, there must be a consideration of our future. If we go to battle against these new men we may not win. Then there would be two bands of humans against us."
"The human seeking aid is Guardian of the Opal Stone, Eamma," Molgus said. He limped over to stand beside the female. His left leg missed three toes, remnants of a wound inflicted in the Dwarven Conflict. His scales were lack-luster with age, showing a dull green.
"Have we forgotten our honor? Has Dragon-kind come to ignore the solemn words of treaty?" He looked around the room at his silent companions.
"What are we if our honor has been compromised by our quick tempers? Have I not lost too? And, yet, I would honor our treaty as must be done."
Belaris considered Molgus a fool.
"You hold to ways that are no longer of consequence, Molgus!"
"No longer of consequence? Our respect is no longer of consequence? I attended this meeting to see what you were planning, Belaris. Now I know."
"Hold, Molgus. There is more than half the council here. They will vote with me this night."
"Then, come. Let us attend the whole of the council and place our votes. Let us see what the Lord High Dragon thinks of your rebellion, Belaris."
Belaris hissed and turned about to look at those who were attending.
"Dragon-kind . . . we have a momentous decision to consider. Tonight we will vote. I will not vote on the side of humans. What you will do . . . is your own affair."
He flapped his huge wings one time then shot up into the sky. He wheeled once, then flew off.
Beneath the dome the other dragons watched. Molgus looked at each of the attendees deciding to hold his tongue. It would be far better to appear to agree with this rebellion and see where it would lead.
In a tower, far away a young woman sat looking out at the hills that bordered her kingdom. She was Ysabeaux, youngest daughter of King Adelbert and his Queen Grecha.
Warm air blew languidly across the young woman's face, her golden hair ruffling back in a gentle sway. She turned as her sister Illeana entered the room. Her sister was always humming a tune and always smiling. Illeana saw only the best things, even at these troubling times.
"Illeana, how can you seem so untroubled?"
"I am troubled, but why pronounce it to the whole kingdom?"
"I should think you would be more serious minded."
Illeana approached closer and took her sister's hand.
"Because I am heir to Father's throne, does not mean I must always be in the doldrums."
"But, Illeana, these are trying times. A great army is amassed at our doorstep and you sing, flitting about as a butterfly would in a spring meadow."
"If every one of us held to somber ways, where would our kingdom be?"
Ysabeaux returned her gaze to the window. No sign of the troubles that had been heralded earlier that day could be discerned from her tower. No wafting smoke from burning cottages and fields, no shouts of harsh battle cries, no sounds of the clash of sword or the pounding thud of catapult stone could be discerned.
"The battle may be far off, but it is in our land. Father has ordered five mounted regiments to attend to our defense. That goes for something."
Illeana placed her arms around her sister's shoulders.
"You must have faith in our forces, Sister. You must not sell them on the short side. They are sturdy men, one and all."
"Yes, but my dreams have shown me their number. They are like an ocean come ashore. They sweep over everything."
"Remember, my sister dear, you are a Caller."
Ysabeaux lay her hands on her sister's wrists. Illeana was the eternal optimist. This time, however, Ysabeaux felt that optimism would not solve the problem or carry them through. Action was necessary. Yes, she was a Caller, but she had not detected even the smallest hint of Dragon-kind. Where were they? Why had they not been awakened? Where was the Guardian and the Opal Stone?
Ysabeuax sighed. She stood from her stool and turned to look at Annilla.
"Sister, I will follow the horsemen that father sent. Perhaps outside of these walls I will be able to call them."
Illeana looked at her with shock and concern in her eyes.
"You are Princess Ysabeaux. You do not ride out with companies of armed men. No, I will not permit you to do something so reckless."
"I am not asking for your permission, Illeana. I do not need that. I need you to help me."
"Father will hang me by my toes," and Illeana laughed at the mental picture.
"Father will praise you with commendations when he realizes that you helped me to find Dragon-kind. Please, Illeana. The ancient treaties should be activated. We need help now. The number of the invaders is as a multitude of stars. One cannot put a pin between one soldier and the next. In my dream I see bright crimson robes that mingle with the red of blood. Our villages are succumbing in the north. If you could see as I do, you would not delay."
Illeana paused and looked at Ysabeaux. She placed her hands on either side of her face and studied her for a moment.
"Alright, if you truly believe that much danger exists, I will help you. But, you must be quick. If any member of the guard sees you, they will surely alert Father. I will get you livery and a horse. Be at the north gate at sundown."
Ysabeaux breathed a sigh of relief. Stuffed in this castle, she could do nothing. She had to search. She had to find the Guardian She had to return to the Altar of Faith if it still stood and contact Dragon-kind. She felt no tug of her conscious mind as she had when a child, when she would sit and sing on the hillside and dragons would come to her. They had slept in peace for many years, but now they were needed. Either they still slept, or the years had found them dead. She hoped fervently for the former and greatly feared the latter.
Word Count 4097