A story of battle and magic in Ancient Britain
The Opal Stone
The road wound round them, up; always up. Three figures wrapped in heavy bear skins struggled along this frozen road. Braghm, the eldest, Bryan the middle eldest and Burk, the youngest. Braghm grabbed Burk 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," Bryan 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," Bryan answered, "we will reach the top today or tomorrow."
Mountain crags like ice coated fingers reached into the cold blue sky, Above them, a torturous path waited for their passage.
"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 Burk slept wrapped in his skin next to the hot stones, Braghm and Bryan 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 Burk onto his shoulders. The boy still 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, Burk, 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 Burk and half dragged him forward. The boy stumbled and a Wierling dipped low, grabbing at the bear skin that Burk wore. The Wierling snatched it up, discovered it to be empty and dropped it several yards ahead of them. Bryan hurried forward to retrieve it, when he heard Burk 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 Burk was carried off, calling his brother's names.
"Come! They are distracted now!
"But, Burk . . . " Bryan protested.
"We cannot help him," and his voice caught as he grabbed Bryan'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. Bryan 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 Bryan'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 his brother. It was of little use, the Weirling began to lift Bryan 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 Bryan 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.
Bryan 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 Burk. 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 Bryan in sorrow. He placed a soothing hand on Bryan'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 Bryan. 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, 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 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.
Bryan noticed the talons 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 Bryan. 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 Bryan laid end to end. One giant, 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 Burk. A Weirling snuggled beside him, its head resting comfortably across Burk's knees. Braghm climbed the rows two at a time with Bryan quickly behind him.
"Burk! 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 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 Bryan set about discussing with Gemarion the way in which they would return the Opal Stone.