just a brief test for a few characters I'm working on. Let me know what you think!
| “Vodka, for the traveler.” The serving girl could not have been older than 10 or 11 to Armen's eye. She had the same eyes and nose as the chamberlain, so Armen assumed she must be his progeny. Maybe a bastard brought to court. Maybe a natural born with no other prospects beyond serving the local lord. Maybe she was no relation at all and was merely an orphan from the war. There were many of those these days. Nilfheim's invasion was swift and brutal, and though quickly quelled, left many children like her without parents or homes.
Armen was seated in the reception room off the main hall. It was a dark place, tall enough to never be properly lit by candle but with ample room to hold all the trophies that the Lord hunted. Bear, wolf, and even a sabrecat from Alfheim. Lord Byron had a proclivity for hunting, it was no doubt. The rumors circulating about him, though were as far fetched as Armen was. Most said Lord Byron was called “The Lord Aflame”, a moniker given to him for his witch burnings, but it seemed that title was taking on a whole new meaning as of late. Hamlets had burned in the dead of night. Villages were chased out by fire from the sky. All the signs pointed to a drake, by any account that crossed Armen's ears, but there were some inconsistencies that needed clarification.
Lord Byron himself entered the room with a stern look on his face. He was an older man, the grey in his hair suggested at least 50, and he had a weight to match the gravitas with which he carried himself. His son followed shyly behind, his eyes down. Steffon, a pale boy with sullen eyes barely even resembled the hulking mass that was the Lord of the keep. The rumors about his son were just as or even more tantalizing.
“Master Mayim, our Lord Aflame, Lord Byron Stillwater” announced the chamberlain.
Lord Byron's voice was booming, filling the room, “Girl, vodka for me and my son.” The serving girl obeyed with a bow and poured two more glasses for her lords. Byron sat himself in the high backed oak chair across the table from Armen and downed his drink in one swill, “Never thought I'd ever meet one of you in the flesh, if you'll have me for being honest.”
Armen shrugged, “Part and parcel of our trade. We were so good once upon a time that no one needed us after awhile.”
“Aye, a shame that.” he replied, “If some of the old tales are even half true, your order does not get enough credit.”
“We've received enough.” Armen said curtly, drinking his own vodka. It burned in a way only local flavors could, but if the Draconis had learned anything, there were worse fires in the world.
Lord Byron waved his hand, “I've summoned you here because, against the knowledge my advisers say, I believe we have a dragon roosted somewhere in my lands. It's big, if any of the survivors speak true, big as a house.”
“Impossible, m'lord.” Armen retorted, “Any sort of dragon species yet alive typically grow no bigger than a large dog or even a horse, and those I've only seen in the most remote places where few live and few can be bothered.”
“That they've told me too, but I've seen the destruction, dragon knight. No small dog-of-a-drake could do that kind of destruction. The footprints that beast left in the mud. You say impossible, I say we have one.”
“How close to the keep has this dragon come?”
“Within a few days ride. We've posted sentries all along our major roads and by ways. The swamps are relatively unpopulated but we have good, fertile fields that stretch for miles. We can't possibly man every inch with what we have left but we've had reports of flapping wings and trampled fields up near the hillsides in the north east.”
“The mountains are a week or so's ride from here,” Armen mused, “maybe it descended down from there.”
“Aye, that's what we thought too. Things smart though. Only attacks at night when you can't see it coming from miles away. One man said all he heard were a few flaps and then nothing but fire.”
“I get the point, m'lord. Can you tell me anything about what it looks like?”
“Nothing reliable. By all accounts it's just a dragon.”
“There are many types of dragons, Lord Byron. Drakes are the most common because they tend to fly far and fast, being sighted by many. Wyverns and Wyrms tend to stay low, burrowing underground. Dragons in the old stories were as smart as any man and some could even speak. What you're asking me to deal with isn't so much a concern for me as it is for your chamberlain. I get paid by the type, not how dangerous it is.”
Lord Byron laughed loud, his jowels shaking from the effort, “A man after my own heart! I haven't even agreed to letting you walk out the keep and you're bargaining for coin.”
“1000 Vars for a drake, as it probably is one. 2000 for a dragon. Either way I'll bring you its head and we can debate its species when I return.”
“That's a lot of coin to be asking for, Master Draconis. Bring me the head and I'll let you know what it's worth.”
The last known attack of the dragon was 3 days North East. The chamberlain pointed to a village about halfway there called Bridgeton that stradled a river that could be a sufficient place to rest up and prepare. The riding there was easy, for as the Lord had stated, most of his lands were rolling fertile fields that yielded wheat, barley, and all sort of other produce. Varheim, the great star of the West, was mostly fields like this. Armen had been to the city itself only a handful of times but each time he feasted on the freshest, most varied food in all the world. After Nilfheim's march across the pass and onto the fields of Varheim, much of the land was left scorched and salted.
Bridgeton itself was a quaint village of about 300 people, mostly farmers and trademen who sent their goods down river to the Lord's keep or traveled west to the rest of Varheim. It seemed that business was booming, to help the rest of this land recover from the war. It was hard to believe that it was only 5 years since the peace accords. Armen took a room at the local tavern, under the guise of a traveling merchant.
“What wears you sellin'?” asked the toothless inkeep.
“Herbs, remedies, tonics for the aching mind.”
The old inkeep stroked his chin, “Aye, achin' minds we got a plenty up this way. There's a dragon about, son. Best you keep to the main road at all times and ne'er at night. It's dangerous then.”
“Wanted to ask you about that. Watercrest, the village to the north...”
“Damn shame. My sister's family lived there for years. The youngin's they...” he closed his eyes, “We found naught by ashes there. Well, those that were brave enough to go up ya see. Old man Jasper was out that night picking mushrooms in the dark when he heard the wings flapping. He didn't run back to help no one, no sir he didn't. He ran his hobbled legs all the way here!”
“All by himself?” Armen asked, “That's quite a journey for an old man.”
“Ah Jasper, he was in the Lord's army back when we were all younger. He remembers old Lord Byron before the witch hunts and all that.”
The inkeep nodded, “Aye, we get about three a season now. Back then it was more 'an that but there was a bounty then. People will do just about anything for coin.”
“Can't argue there. Where is Jasper staying now?”
“Awfully curious merchant, you are. We don't want none causin' us no trouble, son.”
“I don't mean to intrude, good sir. It's just that I'm a sucker for a good story and it sounds like Jasper has quite the tale to tell.”
The inkeep pointed out the hut where Jasper resided. It belonged to a young family before the war, but was vacant when the man never came home and the woman left to seek out shelter and safety in the city of Varheim. Armen rapped on the door several times and only after hearing the scuffle of a boot inside did he bother calling out, “Jasper, are you in there?”
“Who's there?” came a scratchy voice from behind the door.
“A friend. I want to ask you about the dragon.”
The door creaked open a sliver, the light of hearthfire shining through and shadowing out the huddled form of Jasper, “A friend you say? I haven't one of those since I was a young man. Now scram!”
Armen put his boot into the door just as it came slamming shut on it, “Do you know who I am?”
“A stranger, and one that'll get the beating from the guards if you don't leave.”
“Look at me, old man.”
Jasper peaked out one wrinkled eye and gave Armen a look, “I know what you are, Draconis.” He opened the door and invited Armen inside, offering him beer and bread. Armen declined both but did take a seat at a small table. The hut was modest but cozy, with patted down dirt floors and a full thick roof. The ones who lived here before clearly took good care of the building. “I assume you're here on the Lord's order.”
“No order. Business.”
“Aye, business with you folk. Not sure why they even bother calling you all 'knights' then,” he coughed into a handkerchief and drank some tea, “Still coughing up ash, you see.”
“Inkeep made it seem like you were far away from Watercrest.”
“Far enough to not be near the first blast. The second though, burnt the trees straight to cinder all around me. I hid behind a rock and that about saved my life.” he coughed again, “You going to take care of it?”
“Still not sure if it's something I need to take care of.” Armen stated.
“You don't believe the Lord? You don't believe me?”
The dragon knight shrugged, “No one seems to have properly seen this thing. It attacks only at night, strange for any drake, wyvern, dragon or otherwise, and has gone almost exclusively for major settlements. Farmlands have been untouched. You'd think something of that size would need to feed. I passed two days worth of farms of all shapes and sizes with any number of cattle, sheep, pigs and not one of them has been disturbed. Whatever this thing is that's attacking, it clearly isn't interested in its own well being.”
Jasper sat in though for a moment, sipping his tea, “And what do you reckon is doing this?”
“I did say I would look into it, find out if it even was a dragon. More likely than anything it's some sort of weapon. You knew the Lord a long time?”
“Aye, that I have.” Jasper said.
“Tell me about the witch hunts.”
The following day Armen spent a lot of time thinking over what Jasper had told him. 20 years ago, Lord Byron cultivated one of the most fertile regions in Varheim by hiring out a sorceress by the name of Camilla. She lived in Stillwater's keep, creating magical decoctions to help encourage the land to better growth. It's even been said that, on occasion, she shared Lord Byron's bed.
Lord Byron's son, Steffon, became involved with a dark-haired apprentice boy of Camilla's about that time. Byron, in his wroth, blamed the sorceress for cursing his family and burnt her and the apprentice in front of the boy. As his son grew older and showed no interest in women, Lord Byron let his anger extend outside the keep and he rounded up all types of vagrants. The homeless, the destitute, the disease stricken. Even the passing elven and dwarven tribes. Byron labeled them 'witch hunts' but as Jasper was quick to point out, they were more like 'fairy hunts'.
The damage to Watercrest started about a half mile out. True to Jasper's word, the trees themselves were reduced to half-charred stumped over a sea of ash. Armen dismounted and walked alongside his horse the rest of the way into what used to be the town. It was now just a clearing, devoid of even any sound. “Not any crows.” Armen remarked.
He knelt and picked up a pile of ash. What it used to be – human, home, or otherwise, was no longer consequential. He had seen this type of damage before and it was definitely of dragon-origin. All around was nothing but field and river and open land. The mountains were close, but still too far for any modern dragon of this size. He followed along where what he thought a path might have been and was surprised to see a pair of footprints leading out. “Jasper was well the other way when he fled. Who do these belong to?” He followed them to their end, at the end of the ash and the beginning of the forest heading even further north.
He made camp there at the edge of the forest. Already twilight settling down over the horizon and soon it would be dark. He made a small campfire for himself and got to work putting brush in the center of the ashen remains of Watercrest. He lit it, throwing a splash of baneswort into it. An old trick, used by some of the older Draconis from legend. It was said that the smell of burning baneswort was similar to a brooding female. Any dragons within distance of it's scent would come to see what it was.
Armen pulled his armaments off the horse and laid them out on a cloth on the ground. A spear, about his height. Treated steel to withstand high temperatures and enchanted with obsidian runes. His sword, also tempered steel. His shield he lost years before but he kept some of the old runes off of it and fastened them to his leather armbands and across his jerkin. Against a direct blast it would do little, but it offered some comfort in substantial heat. Out here in the open Armen would have to be especially careful. He could make a run for the forest and hope to run into the same luck that Jasper did, but that all depended on what was going to come for the baneswort.
The moon was high in the sky tonight, full and bright. The ash looked almost as snow now. It reminded Armen of a different snow. Far to the north, even past Old Alfheim and it's ice tipped towers. He thought not of heat and flame, but of cold and frost. The sheer ice on his shield and a gasp from behind. He turned to look at her and she was already encased in it, her look that of pain and surprise. They both were surprised on that day.
A roar from the forest to the north brought Armen back to the present. A flap of wings that pushed at the trees above him and then the shadow. It roared again as it came down over the baneswort fire. It stamped over it and sniffed around. In the darkness it was hard to tell what it was, but Armen noted the four legs and the black scales. “A dragon” he gruffed to himself. He picked up his sword and spear, strapping the sword into the hilt on his back and approached slowly, crouched down with the obsidian laced spear pointed directly at the beast's heart.
“This one smells you, human.” it grumbled, turning it's long neck toward Armen. It's eyes blazed hot and red at him, “Clever trick. Old trick. But one This one has seen through. There are no mothers in this part of the world.”
Armen kept his stance, creeping ever closer, “In any part of the world.”
“So you say.”
“Who are you, dragon?”
It circled around, it's long tail swishing about through the ash, “This one has no name. This one lost it's name.”
“How does a dragon lose it's name?” Armen chuckled, “Dropped it over the mountains?”
“The human jests, but this one does not laugh. This one has lost everything – mother, brothers, even its name.” Armen saw it clench its claws in the ash. Keep it talking.
“Didn't answer my question, Dragon.”
“This one knows many things that the human does not. All things that are lost can be found.”
Armen was now just underneath it's snout. He could feel it's breath. “Not everything.”
He pushed the spear up, piercing underneath the scales on it's breast. The beast roared and reared back, pulling the spear with him. Armen held on, riding up onto the lodged spear and grabbed at the scales just above it's shoulder and yanked free his sword, driving it down into the cartilage where the beast's wings met it's torso. He brought the sword up and dove off him, rolling into the ash and spinning to face the beast again, the sword brought up close to his chin and pointed up.
The dragon stood on it's hind legs, recomposing itself and staring down Armen, “This human dares...”
“This human knows what this dragon has done. This village, whole others. Why?”
The dragon dropped down onto it's forelegs with a thunderous boom, bringing his snout to Armen, “This one has lost much and brings loss to much more. I am so very tired, human. End this one's life quickly.
Armen brought his sword up and with a swift slice brought it down again across its neck. The dragon did not so much as groan as its head slid off from the neck and flopped onto the ground, a cloud of ash rising in its wake.
The road back to Stillwater's Keep was met with rain and many bewildered villagers. Bridgeton was glad to see Armen return, Jasper in particular, and the sight of the dragon's head brought him as much relief as anyone. Crossing the bridge and heading south along the river meant having to explain to every sentry and guard post along the road what he was doing with a dragon's head and Armen would rather avoid that, instead moving into the fields and carving out his own path back South. He ended up coming up to the keep from the Western side and entered through the portcullis into the courtyard. Lord Byron was already there with his son and a retinue of guards with swords drawn.
“Draconis” the Lord bellowed, “You've brought me a head!” He opened his hands and took the beast's remnants off the saddle himself, “I'll have it kept and procured and mounted on my hearth. Every woman I take to bed will see this and know the power I wield.”
Armen paid no attention to the boisterous Lord, but rather his son. The shy boy who had kept his head down the last time he was here was now looking at the head. Not with shock, but with sadness.
That night the Lord feasted Armen and the rest of his court on goat and duck and the best beef they could find on such short notice. The beer flowed and the vodka ran out halfway through dinner. Armen was not interested in these. Instead he waited until the Lord and his retainers were well and drunk and he stole off back into the courtyard. There he found the young Lord's son, cradling the dragon's head in his arms.
“Oh! Knight!” he said with a shiver, “What are you doing here?”
“Answering a question that's lingered on me since I got to Watercrest. How did you get away for so long?”
“What are you presumi-”
Armen interrupted him, “I know it was you. I was wondering how.”
The boy sighed and let the dragon head go and stood up, wiping the dark blood of the beast off his doublet, “Father goes on hunting trips so much he is rarely home. Stealing away is easy enough when no one notices you.”
“You're a Lord's son. Hardly someone that can just go missing.”
“I'm a curse. Everyone says so.”
“Is it because you prefer men or is there some other reason?”
The boy looked at him and for the briefest moment he shared the same eyes as the dragon, “What do you think?”
“This Camilla, the sorceress,” Armen continued, “She taught you as well?”
“Mistress Camilla was like a mother to me. She taught me as much as she could. But never about magic. Never. She saved that for Darren.”
“My -” he paused, holding a hand to his heart, “My love, yes. Father could not handle me being the way I was and he had them both burned. He made me watch, knight. He needed to be punished. This land needed to be punished. My father saw the answer in fire and so did I.”
“You keep dancing around my question, m'lord. The question was how.”
“One night I stole away and met a man. A man who recognized in me the curse that my father always preached against. He said that I could wield fantastic powers if only I opened myself up to it.”
Armen approached him and opened his palm, “What did he give you?”
“Give me? He didn't give me anything.”
“Your proclivities in bed don't insterested me. Magic, though? Clearly you're a gifted mage, there's no denying that. But the kind of magic you used to control that dragon. It's something else. Something he must have given you.”
Steffon reached in his pocket and pulled out what looked like a small dragon's talon, but it looked to be made of stone and was incredibly old, “This...he gave me this.”
Armen took it and examined it closer. In his own hand it was as light as a feather.
Steffon lowered his head again and looked as if he was going to cry, “Are you going to tell Father?”
“No. I'm paid for the head and the mystery of how that thing came to these lands is mostly solved.” Armen moved to his horse and climbed into the saddle, pulling back on the reins and pointing back out to the portcullis.
“Where are you going, then, Master Mayim?”
“This man, did he say anything about who he was or where he was from?”
“No. Nothing at all. He came to me, gave me the talon and then left. Only then did I have the dragon dreams.”
Armen thought for a moment and looked down on Steffon one last time, “One last question. The dragon said it lost its name. It's clear by the size of it that it was a very old dragon. Perhaps related to the Dragon Lords themselves, yet it forgot its own name. That is powerful magic, indeed. Did you ever find out what it's name was?”
Steffon dropped to his knees and coddled the head of the great black beast again, “Its name was Leyadin, sir.”
“Give my regards to your Lord Father.” He kicked the horse into a trot and left, the moonlight shining his path south.