A children's fairytale I wrote some time back. I'm looking for an illustrator....
THE THREE-HEADED DRAGON
Once, long ago, in the deep woods of Culary, there lived a very unique magical beast. Well, he wasn’t really a beast, more like a dragon really, with scales, long neck and tail, that kind of thing. And he wasn’t really very magical. Nope, not one magical bone in his whole body. I guess he wasn’t all that unique either. Oh sure, he was a fire-breathing dragon, and he did have three heads instead of one, uh . . . I guess that is kind of unique, isn’t it? Actually, mostly unheard of for dragons, except maybe in myths, folklore and fairy tales--which is exactly what this story is.
His name was Shwagon, or Shwag for short, the ‘S’inging, ‘H’umming, ‘W’histling dragon with three, (count them) one, two, three heads. Not a very proper name for a dragon, I agree, but one that referred to many names all at once--kind of like a mish-mash of musical sounds and whimsical, melodious folly, if you will.
Shwag lived a very lonely life in a deserted little part of the forest. All the other dragons, used to laugh and call him names (hey, that sounds familiar, don't it?). So Shwagon took to hiding from everybody, and everything.
“Neener, neener, neener! You’ve got three heads,” the other dragons would tease.
Shwag thought how nice it would be just to hear a kind word from someone sometime. But thinking about it didn't make it come true. So, he just kept to himself.
“We’ll always have each other,” said one of the heads. “Let’s sing a song together! That oughta cheer us up.”
“Yeah," said the other, "let's sing a happy song!"
The funny thing about Shwag’s singing was that each head would sing something just a little bit different than the other two. One head would sing; the other would hum; and the last would simply whistle. Quite an extraordinary sound I assure you.
Nevertheless, Shwag would give it his all, and each head would loudly do its own rendition of its most favorite song, which was never the same and always sounded like three different songs at once.
“I sing a song of the Old Dragon
(hummm, hum, hum, hum, humm)
(whistle, whistle, peep, whistle)
And all the things he did so kind
(hum, humm... hum, hum, hummm)
(Peeep, whistle, whistle, peep)
And the mystery of his silent passing
(Hum, hum, hummm, humm)
(whistle, whistle, peeep)
And the hidden secret he left behind.
(Humm, hum, hum, hummm?)
(Weee, whistle, pop!)
“Hold it! What secret?” asked the whistling head, suddenly stopping in mid-whistle.
“Yeah, what secret, hmmm?” asked the other.
“Well, you know fellas, the secret they don’t allow us to talk about,” said the first.
The other two cocked their heads and stared doubtfully at each other.
“You know, about The Ancient One!” he said, trying to lead them toward the obvious answer. But there was still no sign of intelligent life from his brothers. “Come on guys, you know, Drak, the very first Dragon,” Shwag said impatiently. “There, now you made me say it.”
“Hey, we're not supposed to say his name, are we?” asked the second head. “Hmmm?”
“Yeah, that’s right, we’re not even supposed to talk about him,” whistled the other. “And I think you just said his name, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I did,” said Shwag boldly. “Because I’ve finally figured out who can tell us the secret of the First Dragon.”
“Who, pray tell, who, hmmm?” asked one head.
“Tell us, tell us, (loud whistle) do you really know?” piped the other.
“Well, there is this very old scholar -- or wizard -- or something, in the town of Brison,” said Shwag. “He lives in the old church there, where it is said, he keeps all the records of dragons, human folk and such. His name is Merlyn, and he is very old and wise.”
(Whistle) “He must be old indeed to know all about the history of dragons,” said the third head.
“Well, that settles it. Let’s go see him then,” said the second head.
“Can we hum songs on the way?”
“Yeah, and whistle too?” asked the third, whistling.
“Uh, well...let’s not start that again,” said Shwag. “We don’t want to draw too much attention to ourselves, do we?”
And so, eager with anticipation, Shwag set off toward the town of Brison, very thankful for the quiet journey. And it wasn’t long before they had reached the outskirts of the town, where they stopped a passing guard to ask directions to the old church.
“The church of Brison is located in the center of town,” said the guard, “but you can’t go in there like that.”
“Like what?” asked Shwag.
“Well, in case you haven’t noticed,” the guard laughed, “you’ve got three heads, and three-headed anythings are not allowed in town."
"Sorry, those are the rules. Hey, can I ask you something?"
"Well, tell me, is it hard to make up your mind about anything?” The guard was still chuckling to himself as Shwag turned and walked away.
Shwag just stood there for awhile trying to make up his mind on what they should do next. Having no success at that, he sauntered into town.
It wasn’t long before he began to notice the very UNfriendly looks he was getting from the supposedly very friendly villagers.
“Go away monster, or whatever you are,” they said.
“We don’t like strange strangers around here, stranger.”
“Yeah, BEAT IT!” they yelled. “Don't you know the rules? No funny looking dragons allowed!”
The townspeople chased him for awhile with more insults, and Shwag ran off as fast as he could, but it just so happened that he was able to hide in a large building until they had all past.
“Now what, hmmm?” asked one.
“Yeah, this is one fine (whistle) mess you got us into this time,” said the other.
Shwag felt heartbroken. How was he ever going to find Merlyn at this rate?
Looking around at the building they had run into, he discovered they were hiding inside the old church.
“What luck!” he exclaimed. “This is where the wizard lives. We’ve made it after all.”
The other heads turned, twisted up and down, then finally agreed that they had actually found the church. "Well, of course we did."
"I knew it ALL the time," said the other.
Half-heartedly, they began to explore the place.
It was getting dark, when in one of the dark hallways, Shwag almost ran over a little old man with some kind of light shining from a colorful ball he was carrying in his hand.
“Whoops! Excuse me . . . but . . . oh, there you are. I’ve been looking all over for you,” said the little man. He was smiling with such warm enthusiasm that Shwag had no choice but to smile back.
“Follow me, my boy,” said the monk. “I’ve been watching your progress with my magic ball here. You’re just who I’ve been waiting for all these years. But, first things first. Introductions are in order. My name is Merlyn, the great and powerful wizard, at least, that’s what folks around here call me. My real name is Marlene, but, uh . . . I changed it. Who in their right mind is going to be in awe of the Wizard Marlene, heh?”
“My name is Shwag”, said the dragon nervously, “the miserably misguided, and misfit dragon.”
“Hah! So you are, so you are,” said Merlyn patting Shwag on one of his heads. “But your brave heart led you to me, and it’s high time you, and all of Dragon kind, discovered the real truth about the origin of the dragons." He looked around nervously. "Quickly now, follow me to my secret chambers. The walls around here have ears. Look! There’s one now!”
Shwag quickly looked and saw an ear of corn stuck to the wall.
Merlyn called from down the hall, “Hurry! Hurry, I say! This way!”
Shwag seemed compelled to follow the strange little man. They rushed down corridors full of long forgotten books and papers. He was amazed by the size of the place. Finally he got up enough nerve to ask Merlyn a question. “Do you really know the Secret of Drak?”
The wizard laughed. “Do I know? Of course, I know." he snorted. "Well, I should know, since the whole idea was mine to begin with. Do I know? Ha! I know all right. Boy, do I know.”
Shwag was astonished, and just a bit confused, one of his mouths even fell open. “You actually knew the Great Dragon?” he asked.
“Oh yes,” said Merlyn, who used to be Marlene. Then raising one of his bushy eyebrows said, “I knew him quite well. Best of friends, actually.”
“Please, Merlyn, tell me,” he begged.
"Yes, yes, all in good time."
Just then, Merlyn stopped at a huge door with a large lock on it.
“Ah, here we are,” said the wizard. “Home sweet home. This is where I spend most of my time. Now, if I can remember where I put that key.” He searched through all of his pockets, then pulled out an old rusty key on a chain. “I put it on this chain so I could wear it around my neck and never loose it. I guess it worked, sort of.” He quickly unlocked the door and pushed it open with all his might.
Shwag couldn’t believe what was in the room: test tubes and beakers with multi-colored bubbling liquids; bowls and pots of every sort and size, old books and scrolls all strewn upon huge tables scattered haphazardly about the room.
“I’ve been waiting for you, Shwag,” the wizard finally said. “Waiting for this precise time to tell you all about the dragons. And, to tell you who you really are.”
“What do you mean? I'm Shwag. I’ve always been Shwag.”
“Yes. But what do you remember of your parents? Who were your mother and father?”
“I don’t know. I can’t remember ever having any.”
“Ho-ho, but you did, my boy! Let me tell you the story.”
Shwag listened with all his heads.
“In the beginning”, Merlyn said, “there was an evil wizard named, Pallore, who decided to create dragons for his own evil purposes. After many failures, he came up with the first Dragon. He was large and strong, very intelligent and knowing all the good things of the land that dragons are famous for today. Pallore called the dragon, Drak, and expected Drak to bow down to him as a servant and slave.
“But Drak saw the evil that existed in the wizard’s soul and fought him bravely, refusing to do his bidding. Pallore was furious. He resigned to start from scratch, and make another dragon that would obey him without question.
“What happened next is mostly unknown to anyone but the very old. There was a magical battle, and Pallore captured and locked Drak away in a secret tower. He barred the room with a magical door, and no one was allowed to ever see the dragon again.
“I was but an apprentice then," Merlyn explained, "full of daring and adventure that only accompany the very young. I snuck into the tower late at night and tried to release Drak, but the spell on the enchanted door was beyond my abilities to comprehend.
“In the process, Drak and I became close friends. I brought him food and water and did not let him whither away as Pallore intended. But I could not free him.”
“You mean, he's still alive?” asked Shwag.
“Yes, I believe so. It takes a lot to kill a dragon, for they are enchanted creatures. If Pallore could have destroyed Drak he would have done it by now. His own magic had turned against him and he was unable to undo what he had created. So Drak was locked away, and I was his only window into the outside world. Unfortunately, I was discovered helping Drak and was forced to leave Pallore’s apprenticeship under threat of imprisonment. And the first dragon was left to fend for himself.”
“What happened next, hmmm?”
“Pallore created another dragon for his purposes. His name was Soar.”
“Do you mean the King?” asked Shwag.
“The very same,” said Merlyn. “Soar, is still King to this day, and claims to be the very first of all the Dragons. But he is a false King, obeying Pallore’s every command. The land has suffered under his rule. Now people mistrust dragons and wizards.
“I was but a young lad in those days,” continued Merlyn. “But I learned all I could from Pallore, studied all the ancient books of magic. Finally, I challenged Pallore to a magical duel. The winner would take control of all the Land and the creatures that lived in it. We battled for three days.”
Shwag whistled. “So what happened next?”
“Aw, that is the sad part of the story.” Merlyn pulled out a long stemmed pipe and lit it with the flame of a candle. Gray smoke billowed around his head as he sat himself in a wooden chair and propped his feet up on the table in front of him.
“My plan was to release Drak with a mighty magical spell I had found in one of Pallore’s secret books. I had long since discovered Pallore was using his magic to benefit only himself, which is strictly forbidden in the Wizard’s Pledge.”
Sneaking into the tower late at night, I hoped to free Drak and be gone from the area by morning. But Pallore was waiting for me. He had discovered my theft of the spell and my plot to release Drak.
In the confrontation that followed, the tower lit up with the sparks of magical battle, and the sky turned black, blocking out the sun. For three days we exchanged magical blows in a sea of threatening enchantments. On the third day my knowledge of spells began to fail me, but Pallore was just getting started. I was forced to flee for my life and Drak was destined to remain imprisoned.”
“But that was so long ago! Surely, he has been released by now,” Shwag said.
“As fate would have it, he did escape, but only briefly,” Merlyn continued. “As it came to pass, the years rolled by under the evil rule of Soar and Pallore, and people began moving away from the land of the dragons. Trees grew old and died from age just as buildings toppled back into the dust from whence they came. Just as the tower did that held Drak prisoner, and he was able to flee his prison and escape into the woods.
The alarm was sent out by Pallore that the rogue dragon, Drak, had escaped, and must be captured at all costs. Soar told the other dragons that Drak was crazed and under the delusion that he was First Dragon and the rightful heir to the throne. He also said that Drak was a dangerous murderer and had killed several defenseless young dragons already. All dragon-kind scoured the countryside looking for him.”
“We were even taught in school about the dangers of going rogue,” Shwag said, wide-eyed and totally engrossed in Merlyn’s story. “They used Drak as an example of how a dragon behaves when he allows himself to go wild.”
“Wild?” Merlyn cocked an eyebrow. “More like a story told to keep you frightened and afraid to break the ridiculous laws set up by Soar and his wizard.”
“You mean Drak wasn’t crazy?”
“Crazy? Of course not! He was as sane as either you and I, more so in fact, because he knew of a hidden cave deep within the mountain, and Drak hid there avoiding the search parties for several weeks before something wonderful happened to him and caused him to be recaptured.”
“What? What happened?”
Merlyn re-lit his pipe. “Drak fell in love.”
“Fell in love?” Shwag’s three chins dropped. “Fell in love with who? And how could that cause his recapture?”
“Patience my boy, patience. A cake is not enjoyed in one big gulp, but better taken in small bites and thoroughly chewed. The stars guide our destiny, I but give a simple recounting of the story.”
“We’re sorry, Merlyn. Please continue . . . please?”
Merlyn cleared his throat and readjusted himself in the chair. He stood up stiffly and stretched. Shwag heard the old man’s bones pop.
“Yes, yes . . . now, where was I?”
“You said Drak fell in love. And this love led to his recapture. How sad. How very, very sad.”
“So true, but a necessity to the tale. You see, if Drak had not fallen in love, then his only hope of escape would not have come about. But I see I’m getting ahead of myself.
“Drak hid in the cave during the day but would wander out at night to scavenge for food. It was during one of these midnight raids that he happened upon a beautiful dragon sobbing her eyes out. She wept openly as Drak approached. Apparently, while sitting against a mountainside gazing out into the lake, the young beauty’s ankle was pinned between two large boulders from an avalanche of rock and debris that cascaded down upon her. Drak was able to free her and only then did she look up from her lamenting to give notice of her rescuer.
“She recognized him as the rogue she had been warned about, but immediately realized that he was gentle and caring. Drak carried her to his secret cave to better doctor her wounds. And they became smitten with each other. Drak told her of his captivity and the evil that Soar and Pallore had planned. Her eyes were opened to the truth and she vowed to help Drak in anyway she could.”
“What was her name, Merlyn?”
“Her name was Jaspere, and Drak loved her more than life itself.”
“Jaspere? My old foster parent, Hanna, said that was the name of my mother.”
“Oh, really? What a coincidence. Anyway, she stayed with Drak throughout the summer and one day led him to a secret place behind a waterfall to proudly show him her dragon’s nest. In the center of the nest lay one lone egg. She said, ‘This is your offspring. You’re to be a father.’
“But Jaspere’s secret place was also known by her father who swore he’d never reveal its whereabouts, but when he became aware of Jaspere's romantic encounter, he and the wizard, Pallore, set a trap for Drak.
“As Drak returned to Jaspere’s nest, Pallore ensnared him with a sleeping spell and he was carried away to a newly built tower and many more years of lonely imprisonment. And to make sure the same incident never occurred again, Pallore placed an enchantment around the tower making it invisible. Then he fashioned a magical door with a musical lock that could only be opened by one person singing three different melodies at once.”
Merlyn searched out an old scroll, laid it on the table in front of Shwag. It was filled with drawings of an elaborate ornate door. “I thought it was impossible. How could one person sing three melodies? And what were the pieces of music that were to be sung? It was a riddle with no answer, until I discovered you.”
“Me?” asked Shwag.
“Yes, my boy! A person would only be able to sing three melodies at once if that person had three heads. You’re the answer to the riddle!”
“But you said Drak’s love would provide his only hope of escape.”
“Yes I did, didn’t I. Then perhaps you must listen with your heart to understand my meaning. Jaspere was a princess, daughter of the First Dragon himself, Soar.”
“And I . . . was that egg?”
“Yes! Very good! Excellent in fact.”
“The Jaspere in the story was my mother. Which means that Drak is . . . my father?”
“Now you’re cooking with three heads!”
“But I was raised by the King’s cook, Hanna,” Shwag said, his face deep in thought. “She was stern but kind to me. She only told me my real mother’s name was Jaspere, who was taken away by King Soar and imprisoned; no one has ever seen her since.”
“It was I who gave you to Hanna,” Merlyn said, gently. “When I heard the news of Drak’s freedom, I traveled from the world of man back to the land of the dragons. But by the time I had arrived, Drak had been captured again. I examined the place where Pallore had ambushed him and discovered Jaspere’s secret place behind the waterfall, and a single egg. I gave the egg to Hanna for safe keeping, and she swore an oath of secrecy to me.”
“So my uncle is Soar?”
“I’m afraid so, my boy, but he doesn’t know of your existence yet.”
“But what about my father? I must free him!”
“Yes, yes, all in good time. But first we must find where the new tower was built. Remember, it was rendered invisible with one of Pallore’s spells.”
“But Merlyn, how can we find something that cannot be seen?”
“How indeed! A counter-spell should do the trick, but where to cast it? It is a dilemma.”
“If you were Pallore, where would you build it, Merlyn?”
“Someplace close to me, I would think. Someplace where I could keep a close eye on the prisoner so that any further attempts of rescue could easily be squashed. Hmmm . . .”
“Maybe if we were to keep a close eye on Pallore, watch his comings and goings, he would unknowingly reveal its location.”
“Why, that’s an excellent idea! But it could not be I because we are mortal enemies. You, Shwag! You could do it. You could get inside Pallore’s castle, say you are there to visit Hanna. Stay for a time and see if you can learn anything. Once we know where the tower is, then the hard part starts. We would need time to use the counter-spell, rush to the magical door and attempt to open it before we are discovered. It would be very dangerous, very dangerous, indeed.”
“I’m not afraid. We must free my father so that he can take his rightful place on the throne.”
“Yes, but Soar will not concede without a fight, and as long as Pallore is around to help him the two will be most formidable opponents.”
“Ah, Merlyn, it’s hopeless! We could never defeat them as long as they’re working together.”
“Perhaps, my boy, but with a careful plan I think we just might be able to pull it off.”
“You have a plan Merlyn?”
“Of course I do! What wizard worth his salt doesn’t have a plan?”
“Wonderful! What is it?” Shwag asked excitidly.
“Well, uh...it still has a few kinks in it, but we’ll just have to improvise those parts. Are you with me, Shwag?”
“Yes, Merlyn. To the very end.”
Merlyn’s plan was put into motion, and Shwag soon found himself at the front gate of the castle. He asked the guard for the cook, Hanna, and she was summoned at once.
“Shwag, you ugly three-headed beast, how are you?” Hanna was very old and sassy, the fattest dragon in the land. Those apparently were all the requirements needed to become the King’s cook.
“Hello, Mother! Your long lost son has finally returned home.”
“So you have!” She cocked an eyebrow, then secretly signaled him to silence. “Guards! Open the gates! Let me wrap my neck around my son of a sea serpent.”
The main gate was opened and Shwag entered into the world he only remembered as a small dragon.
“Oh, Shwag, how I’ve missed you,” Hanna kissed all three heads in turn, and from the genuine tears in her eyes, Shwag could tell the old dragon sincerely had missed him.
“Oh, Hanna, its been ever so long. You still make those dragon-shaped sweet cakes?”
“Ha! They’re the King’s favorite!”
Shwag frowned at the mention of the King and cast his eyes downward so as not to betray his contempt. Hanna hurried him down the maze of alley-ways toward the castle’s rear entrance and the smell of some of Shwag’s fondest memories.
“Merlyn sent me,” Shwag whispered to her.
“Merlyn? Then you must know about...everything?”
“Yes, he told me the whole story. I’m here to find the Invisible Tower. Merlyn believes it is located somewhere within the castle walls.”
“Ha! Invisible Tower, indeed,” She spit on the floor. “You should have come to me from the very beginning. The Tower is right there.” She pointed toward the back of a dead-end street.
“Where, hmmm? I don’t see anything.”
“That’s because its invisible, you brainless dragon. Every two days a guard is summoned to my backdoor to gather the scraps from the evening meal. I became curious one day and followed the guard to the end of that street. He stopped and knocked three times on the middle of the wall and eventually a door opened. Pallore himself came walking out, and quickly took the food from the guard.”
“That’s gotta be it!” Shwag danced around the big cook, joyfully. “Oh, Hanna, you are a wonder! I must get word to Merlyn.” He reached up and kissed her. “I’ll always think of you as my real mother, Hanna, always.”
Shwag rushed out of the castle and back to the town of Brison. Merlyn was none too surprised to see him return so quickly.
“Merlyn! We’ve found it! We’ve found the Invisible Tower!”
“That’s great news, Shwag. Now we need to figure a way to smuggle me into the castle without Pallore becoming any the wiser.”
“Well, Merlyn, you are a wizard, make with some wiz stuff.”
“Yes, yes...hmmm. I’ve got it! There is a wagon filled with straw in the stables. You will pull the wagon into the castle while I hide in the hay.”
“That’s magic? That’s the extent of your great powers?”
“To use magic is very draining, Shwag. I think I should conserve my strength for the battle with Pallore.”
“Yes, you are right, Merlyn. I'm sorry, but let’s hurry.”
They traveled under the darkness of night, Merlyn hiding under the straw as Shwag pulled the small wagon. It was just before dawn when they arrived at the front gates of the castle. Shwag was remembered by the guards as Hanna’s boy and was allowed to enter. She was waiting for them.
“Shwag, where’s that old goat, Merlyn?” Hanna teased.
“Watch your tongue, Hanna,” Merlyn said as he popped out from beneath the hay. “My name is not popular around here, and you’re not that good of a liar.”
“How are you, my old friend?” Hanna reached into the wagon and picked Merlyn up, gave him a great big hug.
“Put me down! Put me down this instant.”
“Still the same old grouch, I see. It is good to see you little man. Besides, there’s a debt that is owed.” She set him upon the ground laughing.
“A debt? Surely you can’t mean I repay you for raising Shwag?”
“No, of course not. I’d do that over again in a heartbeat.” She looked adoringly at Shwag. “No, the debt of which I speak concerns the loan of a horse.”
“That was no horse. That was an old bag of bones with a tail.” Merlyn softened and smiled. “Without her, I never would have made my escape after my duel with Pallore. In my gratitude, I released her in a meadow and told her she would never have to pull a manure wagon again for as long as she lived.”
“Aw, then the debt has been paid. Thank you, Merlyn.”
She ushered them into a pantry with a small circular window. “From here you can watch unobserved as the guard delivers the scraps.”
“Thank you, Hanna,” said Shwag, “for everything. You know, if you are caught your life may be forfeit.”
“We’ve had enough of Soar and his evil rule. Just be careful Shwag.”
That night, the guard appeared at the backdoor asking for the scraps. Hanna gave him an old wooden bucket filled with baked chicken.
“Hey, this isn’t scraps! This is good food. What’s going on here?”
“Oh, I thought it was for you. I couldn’t see giving a hungry dragon scraps when he should be eating from the table of the king.” She batted her eyelashes at him.
“Well, that’s awful nice of you, but this ain’t for me. This is for a prisoner.”
“You can eat it then and give the prisoner whatever is left.”
The guard didn’t argue, but hurried away gnawing on a chicken bone.
“Okay, Shwag, this is it," said Merlyn. "Watch what happens when he knocks three times.”
The guard approached the back of the street unaware that he was being watched. He wiped his greasy hand on his shirt and knocked three times. An invisible door cracked open and Pallore reached out and took the bucket.
“That’s it, my boy!” Merlyn cried out. “That’s the Invisible Tower all right. I'll bet it’s also where Pallore has secreted his library of magic books. I must get my hands on them. We should sleep now, Shwag, for tomorrow we fight.”
“Merlyn, what can you tell me about the magic door? How will I ever open it?”
“Because of your extraordinary abilities, and the fact that you happen to be the only dragon around with three heads, you should have no difficulty getting the door to open. The thing to remember, Shwag, is that you must sing, hum and whistle at the precise time.”
“The precise time? What do you mean?”
“When you approach the door, three holes will appear in the door. You must stick your heads into the holes and start to sing.”
“Sing what? What happens if I don’t sing?”
“Well, then the door will chop your heads off, of course.”
“Chop my heads off? Oh great, you pick a fine time to tell me that! Why didn’t you mention it earlier?”
“Well, you did say you were in to the very end.”
“Yeah, but the thought of having my head chopped off kind of puts a damper on things, doesn’t it?”
“Shwag, listen to me. You’re father has been locked in that tower for more years than I can remember. Are you going to help free him, or not?”
Shwag didn’t hesitate. He took a deep breath and said: “Of course I am, Merlyn. I...uh, just got cold feet there for a moment. Is there anything else you’ve neglected to tell me?”
Merlyn softly mumbled, “Well, there is the magical traps that we’ll have to get by.”
“Excuse me? What did you say? Magical traps?”
“Well...yeah, Pallore is sure to have some diabolical traps set about.”
“Oh, man, this just keeps getting better and better. What kind of traps?”
“Well, how am I suppose to know? That’s why they’re called traps!”
From the other side of the pantry door, Hanna yelled-out, “Would you two please pipe down, or you’ll have the guards personally escorting you to Pallore.”
Merlyn smiled. “Yes, Hanna, we hear you. Let’s get some sleep Shwag. I’ll explain everything tomorrow.”
“All right, Merlyn. Goodnight.”
But Shwag couldn’t sleep. He tossed and turned the major part of the night, and when he finally did sleep, he had terrible dreams of getting his head chopped off. The morning light was already shining through the window when Merlyn gently shook him awake.
“It’s time, my boy. Let’s get busy.”
Over a hearty breakfast, Merlyn explained the finer details of his plan, while Shwag picked at his food finding he had no appetite.
“I have a sleeping powder that Hanna will put on the food before the guard comes. Once he is asleep we will attempt to enter the tower. Hopefully it will not be Pallore that opens the door, for then our plan of surprise attack will be gone. Once inside, I will cast a counter-spell and make the tower visible. Then we’ll try to free Drak.”
“And after that, Merlyn?”
“After that, I will attempt to find his secret book of spells and engage Pallore. Drak, once free, will try to dethrone Soar, and take his rightful place as King before we are all captured. And you, my boy, once you have opened the magic door will head back to Hanna and the kitchen until it is all over.”
Night approached and fell quickly as Hanna cooked the most delicious pie.
“Seems a waste to ruin such a good smelling pie, Hanna,” Merlyn said as he sprinkled his sleeping powder upon it.
“I’ve baked another just for you, Merlyn. I don’t think the guard will be able to resist this one though.” Hanna set the pie at the bottom of the bucket.
“Shwag and I will wait in the pantry. The potion acts very quickly. We’ve got to be ready, time is of the essence.”
It wasn’t long before Merlyn and Shwag heard the guard at the back door.
“A whole pie? Hanna, I’d swear you were sweet on me. I hope there’s enough left for the prisoner.”
“Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve had a handsome young dragon come ‘round to my back door as often as you do.”
They both laughed, and the guard finally hurried away to enjoy the pie. Merlyn watched from the small window as the guard scooped his hand into the pie and shoved it in his mouth.
“Aha! He’s eating it!” Merlyn exclaimed. “One, two, three . . .”
The guard fell over in his tracks, out like a light.
“That’s it! Let’s go, Shwag.”
The two of them rushed out and carried the guard back to the kitchen. He was gently laid upon a pile of potatoes in the pantry. Hanna set the pie next to him.
Merlyn led the way to the back of the street with Shwag following close behind.
“Stand back now Shwag. I don’t want you to get hurt.” He poured the sleeping powder into his hand, then knocked three times on the invisible door. Merlyn heard a heavy bolt being drawn, and then the door opened.
It was Pallore.
Merlyn quickly took a deep breath and blew the powder into Pallore’s face.
“Merlyn! No! You little . . .” And with that he fell over sound asleep.
“Ha-ha!” Merlyn shrieked. “We got him! Hurry, Shwag, inside.”
Shwag entered the door. An entire workshop stood before him. There were bubbling vials of different colors, scraps of papers scattered everywhere, and in the corner was a steep staircase heading up into darkness.
Merlyn closed the door and together they pulled Pallore’s body to one side.
“Hurry, Merlyn, before he wakes up!” Shwag started up the stairs toward the top of the tower. Merlyn hesitated, looked about the room. This was his chance to go through Pallore’s secrets. If he only had more time.
“Merlyn! Merlyn, help!”
It was Shwag, and he sounded like he was in trouble. Merlyn rushed up the stairs.
“Shwag! Shwag! Are you all right?”
Just around the first bend of the tower stairway was Shwag. His feet were frozen solid to the stone stairs.
“Oh, Merlyn, what’ll I do, what’ll I do?”
Merlyn mumbled an incantation. Sparks shot from his fingertips and melted the ice holding Shwag in place. “Don’t go getting cold feet on me now, boy.”
“That must have been one of those traps you were talking about, Merlyn. Maybe you better lead the way.”
Merlyn turned and hurried up the stairs. He took another twenty steps and stopped short. “Hold it! There’s something here.”
“Another trap, Merlyn?”
“Yes.” He looked up at the stone roof, saw a slit in the ceiling. “Carefully walk to one side Shwag.” They both took turns hugging the wall and climbing up the next few stairs. Merlyn bent down and touched the suspicious step. With a ring of metal on stone, a large war-axe shot out of the slitted-shaft and slammed into the wall. Shwag jumped back startled.
“Pallore is not fooling around. He wants this tower kept secret. We must be very careful.”
“But that’s gonna take time, Merlyn. Time we don’t have.”
Merlyn calculated the time they had left before the sleeping wizard awoke. “You’re right, Shwag. It’s best we try another tactic. Take your boots off.”
“My boots? Whatever for?”
“Hurry, boy! Do as I say.”
Shwag removed his dusty brown boots and gave them to Merlyn.
He held the boots to his face and talked to them.
“Up, up, up,
keep walking do not stop.
Climb every stair,
until you’ve reached the very top.”
He set the boots down and they began to shake and quiver. Then they started walking up and down. “Hurry along now. Up you go.” Merlyn told them. The boots hurried up the stairs on their own accord. “They should spring every trap.”
Merlyn looked at Shwag with a serious furrowed brow. “You must keep going to the top. I’ve got to return to Pallore’s laboratory and see if I can find his book of spells.”
“By myself, Merlyn?”
“Now, my boy, don’t be afraid. You yourself said we were running out of time. You can do this, Shwag.” Merlyn patted the dragon’s back. “Now go on. Go and save your father. You’re the only one who can.”
Shwag understood what Merlyn was saying, and what the consequences would be if he failed. His heart matured that moment, as he swiftly turned and ran up the steps chasing after his own boots. Merlyn ran downward, back to Pallore and the secret lab.
Pallore lay crumbled upon the steps and Merlyn vaulted over the top of him without losing a stride. At the foot of the stairs, he quickly scanned the nearby tables laden with scientific equipment. There was no sign of a book, but there were many notes and diagrams that Merlyn deemed important.
He studied the papers. Evidently Pallore was planning to expand the boundaries of the Land of the Dragons to include other lands. According to the rough maps that were drawn, the Land of Man would be the first conquest. This was more serious than Merlyn had thought. Pallore was evil and obsessed with gaining more power. “Perhaps that is his weakness,” Merlyn thought.
He was even more determined now to find the secret book. “Pallore must be stopped!” Merlyn tore through shelves and cabinets but could not find the book. “If I were Pallore, where would I hide it?,” Merlyn said aloud as he looked over the room and tried to find the slightest hint of something out of the ordinary. “Hmmm . . . what’s this?”
The wall revealed a crack, Merlyn ran his hand over it. A smile ran across his lips. “There must be a lever somewhere to open it, let’s see . . . aha! Here it is.” A torch stuck out from the wall; it was the only one that wasn’t lit. Merlyn pulled it down and watched a small door spring open. Peering carefully inside, he saw the book.
Merlyn checked Pallore, he was still out cold. Quickly reaching into the rabbit’s hole he pulled out the magic book. He could feel evil emanating from it, knew it must be destroyed. His scientific mind wanted to study the book, but he had too little time. He rapidly paged through the book until he found what he was looking for, the counter-spell to make the tower visible again. He read the spell; closed his eyes and focused for a moment, and then said the words. The enchantment wrestled in the air in front of him, until he said the last word, then shot out like a cool breeze buffeting against the tower walls. It was done. The tower was now visible to all. He could only hope that Hanna would be able to rally some of the dragons to help support their cause.
Merlyn lifted the book as he continued to go through several pages looking for the spell that could transport this evil to a uninhabited place. “Spell of transportation,” he read. “That’s it!” He hurridly tried to memorize the spell.
Suddenly, the book was slammed shut in his hands, and Merlyn looked into the evil eyes of Pallore. “Hello, little man. We meet again.” Pallore hit Merlyn with a powerful force that sent him crashing into the wall. “How nice of you to drop by.” Pallore was seething mad, and he spoke with his jaw clenched tight. Taking the book out of Merlyn’s hands, he said, “I’ll take this if you don’t mind.”
Shwag climbed the stairs. He found broken arrow shafts scattered about the floor that had been shot from holes in the walls, another trap left by Pallore. As he neared the top he saw his boots still marching up and down now with no more stairs to climb, but still enchanted. A large door loomed in front of him. It was intricately carved with a scene of a dragon emerging from a wall of flame. A slot was built into the bottom of the door so that food could be slid in. There were three holes in the door, large enough for a dragon to stick his head through. Shwag swallowed in a dry throat. He knew what he must do.
“You're not going to stick your head in there are you, hmmm?”
“Yes, we must all do it together.”
(Loud whistle) “Not me, I’m too young to shave.”
“Listen, fellas, you want to save Dad, right?”
“Well, sure we do. But we have a fondness for our heads, don’t you? Hmmm?”
Shwag thought for a moment, then came upon a brilliant idea. “I know! Let’s all sing a song together.”
“A song, (whistle)? I thought you didn’t want us to sing.”
“Yeah, you told us it annoyed you, hmmm?”
“I know, but this time we need to sing. We need to sing loud and clear.”
“But what shall we sing, hmmm?”
“Well, my favorite is the one about the First Dragon, Drak.”
“Oh, I like that one, (whistle.)”
“Good!” said Shwag. “Then let’s put our heads together and really belt it out.”
“I thought we were to put our heads into the holes in the door, (whistle).”
“Oh, that’s right!” Shwag slapped his head. “What was I thinking. Okay, everybody pick a hole and let’s hear those wonderful voices singing out.”
In perfect unison, they inserted their heads into the door. Shwag started to sing.
“I sing a song of the Old Dragon
(hummm, hum, hum, hum, humm)
(whistle, whistle, peep, whistle)
And all the things he did so kind
(hum, humm... hum, hum, hummm)
(Peeep, whistle, whistle, peep)
And the mystery of his silent passing
(Hum, hum, hummm, humm)
(whistle, whistle, peeep)
And the hidden secret he left behind.
(Humm, hum, hum, hummm?)
(Weee, whistle, pop!)
The door vibrated, then shook completely off its hinges. Shwag felt the weight of the door fall upon his shoulders. He momentarily staggered back, then someone helped him lift the huge door from his three necks.
Shwag stood facing a dragon twice his size, solid black in color, with three, (count them) one, two, three heads.
The dragon fell upon one knee. “Thank you, oh mighty wizard. You have freed me from a fate worse than death.”
Shwag could say nothing, he was still in shock to see his father for the first time. His eyes began to tear.
“I am Drak. The First Dragon, long since held captive inside these tower walls. Tell me your name, so that I may know who I owe my very life to.”
“Sh, Sh...Shwag, sir. And I’m no wizard. I’m your son!”
Merlyn gathered himself from the floor, stood his full height. “Pallore, you haven’t changed a bit. You’re still as ugly as ever, I see.”
Pallore tucked the book under his arm, and in a rage threw another mighty wave of magic. Merlyn was lifted up by the force, then released suddenly to smack against the floor. He got up again, chuckling.
“What’s so funny, Merlyn? You’re about to die, and yet, you laugh.”
“That’s because I know something you don’t know, you old, decrepit bag of bones.”
Pallore was intrigued, hesitated for a moment. “What could a little minor wizard like yourself know, that I don’t know?”
Merlyn prepared himself. “Oh, nothing, I guess. You probably wouldn’t be interested anyway.” Merlyn’s lips faintly moved as he mumbled a magical spell. Then threw it at Pallore like a lightening bolt. It caught the wizard full in the chest and he dropped to his hands and knees. The book lay on the floor beside him and Merlyn called it to his hands. Catching it in mid-flight, he quickly paged through it, found the spell that was needed, and loudly began to speak it. But before he could finish the first sentence, Pallore had recovered and cast a spell of transformation.
His body grew, and took the shape of a evil, hideous dragon. He reared back his head and let fly with a blast of scorching fire.
“My name is Shwag.”
“My son? You’re my son?” Drak beamed with pride. “My son!” He scooped Shwag into his arms. “Aw, my boy, you fill my heart with joy. Tell me, how is your mother?”
Shwag lowered his heads. “I am sorry to say that I do not know my mother, except that her name is Jaspere, and the King’s only daughter. I was raised by a lowly cook named, Hanna. She is the only mother I have ever known.”
Drak’s face showed the care and sorrow of hearing the news. “But what happened to Jaspere? Is she dead?”
“I think not, Father. Soar would not kill his only daughter. Merlyn and I believe she is being held prisoner somewhere here in the castle.”
“Merlyn? Merlyn is with you? Where is the pint-sized wizard?”
“He is below us trying to discover the whereabouts of Pallore’s magic book.”
Drak showed his teeth. “Pallore! I have a score to settle with that one.”
Just then a loud roar was heard coming up the tower steps, followed closely by the smell of brimstone.
“A dragon battle! Merlyn is in trouble! We must hurry.” Drak charged down the stairs with Shwag following. As they rounded the last corner, Drak saw Merlyn being lifted up by the leg and about to be dropped into a dragon’s mouth.
“PALLORE!” shouted Drak.
Pallore turned around facing the charging dragon he had kept prisoner for all these years. He dropped Merlyn on his head, then swung to meet the new threat.
Drak did not hesitate, but with a few quick flaps of his wings landed on the back of Pallore and bit down on the dragon-wizard’s neck in a vicious death grip.
Pallore screamed, shooting flames out of his nose and raking his huge claws in the air trying to grab hold of Drak. But Drak flapped his wings lifting him and Pallore into the air. Pallore tried desperately to turn himself around, but Drak’s hold on his neck proved to be too much for him.
Merlyn, cut and bleeding from a dozen different wounds, crawled to the magic book and opened it to the transport spell. He firmly spoke the words aloud:
Within a moutain made of ice and snow
To a world not yet known or found.
Where Winter reigns in lands of cold,
I send you to that hidden ground.
A whirlwind took shape before them. Scraps of papers and beakers of brightly colored liquid twisted high into the air. Chairs and tables were sucked up in the torrent of confusion.
“Release him, Drak! Release him!” shouted Merlyn.
Drak opened his mouth and Pallore fell into the center of the hurricane. It twisted and churned more furiously; compressing itself smaller and smaller with Pallore, in the shape of a dragon, spinning around and around in its vortex. There was a loud pop and the whirlwind winked out. Papers and furniture fell about the room. Drak landed upon the floor near his son. The storm was over. Pallore was gone.
“We did it!” shouted Merlyn.
“But Merlyn, where did he go?” asked Shwag.
“He was sent into the center of a frozen mountain,” Merlyn said, happily. “That oughta cool him down for awhile.”
“Merlyn, I see you’re up to your old tricks again," laughed Drak.
“Drak! I told you I wouldn’t give up, my friend.” The two briefly hugged each other, and Merlyn’s eyes sparkled with welled-up tears. “It is so good to see you free at last, Drak. But now we have other pressing matters to deal with.”
“Soar,” said Drak, angrily. “Where is he?”
“This way, my King.” Merlyn opened the tower door to behold an army of dragons waiting outside. He quickly slammed it shut. “Uh, we seem to have a slight problem. There is a plethora of armed and dangerous dragons waiting outside to greet us.”
“What are we going to do now, Merlyn?” asked Shwag. “We can’t fight our way through. There’s gotta be a better way.”
“There is, son,” Drak said. “Follow me.” And with that he swung the door open wide and stepped out to confront Soar’s army.
There were over a hundred dragons wearing the crimson colors of Soar’s guard, and Drak bravely faced them all; Merlyn stood on his left and Shwag on his right. Shwag was very proud of his father’s courage; and he puffed out his chest showing he too had no fear.
A green dragon wearing the emblem of Captain of the Guard strode forward. “You are under arrest in the name of King Soar!”
Merlyn spoke, loud and clear: “You are all patriots, brave and true. But you serve a King that has betrayed you--lied to you from the very beginning. Soar is not the First Dragon! He is the second. Standing before you is the rightful King!”
“We know about Drak. He is a rogue dragon just like Pallore told us. Soar is First Dragon!”
“Listen! Listen! Pallore is no more. He has been vanquished from the land and can not do you anymore harm.”
The army of dragons looked at each other. They had all been afraid of Pallore’s magic. Even though they held their allegiance to Soar, it was good news that they now heard and some of them began to lower their weapons.
Within a flapping of large wings and billowing dust, Soar landed in the midst of his army. He surveyed the situation and hollered at the Captain of the Guard. “Why do you hesitate? Arrest these intruders!”
“But, sire, this one here claims to be First Dragon.”
“I am First Dragon, you fool!" screamed Soar. "Where is my wizard? Where is Pallore?”
“You can no longer depend upon Pallore to fight your battles for you, Soar,” Merlyn said, stepping to the front. “He is gone. And will never return.”
“Merlyn!” Soar said with defiance. “You have been a thorn in my side for more time than I care to remember. I see you have released the killer Drak.”
Drak roared, lunged forward. “I challenge you, Soar. I challenge your right to be King.”
Soar’s face momentarily showed fear. But he knew he could not afford to lose the respect of his troops. “A challenge can only be given by one who can prove their lineage. Where is your proof?”
“I am his proof,” said Merlyn, loudly. “I was there the day Pallore first called forth the dragons of old. Drak was the first, but knew Pallore’s evil heart, and would not bow to him. For that, he has been imprisoned for nigh on one hundred years. You, Soar, are but the lowly second dragon that Pallore created.”
There were whispers and rumbling from the troops.
“And knowing this, you helped Pallore and his evil plan to enslave the kingdom and keep Drak prisoner. You are also guilty of locking up your own daughter, the Princess, Jaspere.”
The soldiers then became quite agitated, and Soar could hear the word ‘challenge’ drift among the ranks.
Again Drak yelled out, “I challenge you, Soar. Here and now!”
“This dragon is a fugitive. Arrest him,” Soar yelled to his troops. “Arrest him I say!”
No one moved. Soar heard the word ‘challenge’ again as it started off as a weak whispering, and then built in strength.
“Challenge! Challenge! Challenge!”
“All right, then,” screamed Soar, “I accept the challenge!”
Everyone backed away, clearing a large circle in the center of the square. Soar sat crouched low in the middle, swishing his tail so hard you could hear the whipping sound as it cut through the air.
Drak stepped forward. “Be careful, Father,” said Shwag with a look of concern upon his face.
“Do not fear,” Drak said looking back at his son. “Soar has not had to fight his own battles for a very long time. He is a coward at heart.” Drak turned and approached the center of the circle.
“Come, come, Drak. I’m sure we can settle this in a civilized manner.” And as he spoke those words, Soar jumped high into the air, and with a resounding whip of his tail, caught Drak unprepared. The tail hit one of Drak’s heads and it folded down upon its neck and lay there unconscious. Drak staggered backward from the force of the blow.
Soar wasted no time, as he lunged to Drak’s back, and with all his weight, knocked him to the cobbled street, and pinned him there with his long talons. “This is all too easy,” he said, jeering at Drak.
But with phenomenal agility and strength, Drak flipped his body over, and sank his claws into Soar’s soft underbelly. Soar let out a tremendous howl and tried to fly out of Drak’s reach, but Drak gripped his tail and viciously pulled him down. Soar landed heavily upon his side knocking the wind from his chest. Drak captured Soar’s neck in his mouth and held him in a death grip.
Soar spoke between pain-clenched teeth, “If you kill me, you will never see Jaspere again.”
Drak hesitated, his hold on Soar slipped away. Soar took advantage of the situation and bit furiously at Drak’s neck while he whipped his tail several times against his opponents body.
Before Drak could recover, Soar slipped out of reach and puffed himself up for a gush of hot Dragon-fire. He let loose the fiery-death catching Drak in the initial blast, but Drak lowered his heads and let the flames shoot over him.
“He breaks the rules of solitary combat!” yelled several soldiers. “Bad form for a so-called, noble King.”
“Something is amiss,” mumbled Merlyn. “And I think I know what it is.”
“What Merlyn?” asked Shwag. “Why didn’t father finish him?”
“Listen, my boy, this is what you must do. Run to the main castle and find your mother. Most of the guards are out here witnessing the challenge. You should be able to slip inside and discover her whereabouts without any trouble. Stay true to your heart Shwag. Find your mother and bring her here before it is too late.”
“Yes, Merlyn. I shall try.” Shwag ran off toward the castle’s Main Hall.
He entered through the kitchen, seeing Hanna watching the drama unfold outside through her window.
“Shwag! What is it?” she asked. “What is going on?”
“I must find my mother, Hanna. Merlyn believes she is being held captive somewhere in the castle.”
Hanna joined him. “Three times a day, I prepare a royal meal for a single individual. I always assumed it was for Soar, but maybe it was for another.”
“Do you have any idea where the food is taken?”
“No, except that a hand servant comes to take the meal each time. I did notice that they carry the food upstairs toward the royal bedrooms.”
“Then that is where I shall look first.”
“I will come with you. I have stood by for too long and done nothing. My dragon heart craves for action. Let’s go!”
“Thank you, Hanna. I won’t forget this.” Shwag hugged her tightly.
“Enough of that mushy stuff,” she said wiping her eyes dry. “Let’s find your real mother."
They climbed several short staircases until they reached the Great Hall. Another twisting staircase led up toward the royal chambers. They scurried up the steps as quickly as possible. The first landing held several doors. There were no guards about.
“I will check these rooms, Shwag. You climb to the next level and begin there.”
Shwag climbed another spiraling stairway that came out onto the third level of the castle. He saw three doors here, and knocking upon each one, called out for the princess Jaspere. The rooms were unlocked and upon hearing no reply, swung wide the doors and looked inside.
He lay against the wall in frustration. A tapestry hung there, and as he put his weight against it, he fell through to the other side. “Another staircase!” said Shwag getting up off the floor. He quickly climbed the stairs.
This was the stairwell to one of the many towers that stuck up from the main castle. There was but one door at the top, and it was locked by a heavy bolt from the outside. Shwag felt a glimmer of hope. This was the only door locked from the outside. It could only be meant to keep something or someone from getting out. He tapped on the door. There was no answer. He threw back the bolt and pushed the door open.
There was a beautiful dragon sitting at a small table in front of a mirror. She was talking to herself as she ran a comb through her golden mane. Shwag silently approached her.
“Haven’t aged a bit,” the dragon mumbled to herself. “My looks do not fade like my mind. Even now I can see an apparition of my long lost love, Drak The First, just as clear as can be. As if he were actually standing in the room with me.” Her upper body collapsed upon the table; her shoulders shaking as she sobbed.
“Jaspere? Princess, Jaspere?” Shwag gently touched her arm. “Mother?”
She spun around, confronting her tormentor. “Be gone ghost! I am not yet ready to join thee.”
“Mother, it’s me, Shwag.”
“Shwag? I don’t know that name. Who are you?”
Shwag fell to one knee before her. “I am the son of Drak, the First, and the Princess, Jaspere. Rescued from a shallow cave hidden behind a waterfall by a wizard named, Merlyn. Then raised by a lowly cook named, Hanna, who has been nothing to me but a loving mother. I am your son, Mother. I am Shwag.”
Tears welled in her eyes as she saw how much Shwag looked liked Drak, then her heart broke and the tears flowed freely down her face. She reached up and touched him, verified that he was indeed real.
“I am here to free you!”
“Free me? But . . . but my father. He will never let me leave.”
“Soar is in the Castle Square, even now as we speak. He fights to the death with my father, Drak. Merlyn has instructed us to hurry to the Square before it is too late.”
Jaspere was confused. She looked behind Shwag, saw the door opened wide. “Could this be? Is this all really happening?”
Shwag grabbed her hand, and pulled her to her feet. “Come, Mother, we must hurry!”
She appeared to be in a trance and allowed herself to be led from the room and the down the stairs. “Yes . . . yes, we must hurry.”
Shwag tenderly helped her down the steep steps. They met up with Hanna, who ran to assist them. “Oh, m’lady, it has been so long.”
As they stepped out in the sunlight, Jaspere shaded her eyes from its brightness. The Square was filled with dragons, and the sounds of battle could be heard emanating from its center. Shwag lead them through the crowd, pushing a way clear for Hanna and his mother.
“Merlyn! We are here! We are here!” Shwag finally got the attention of the wizard. “We are here!”
Drak was down on the ground. His neck torn by a vicious bite, his back raked deeply by Soar’s great claws.
Jaspere looked at the two fighting dragons, but her eyes did not focus on Drak, but rather her father, who she feared above all. She staggered along as Hanna and Shwag pulled her toward Merlyn.
Shwag glanced at the center of the Square. His heart sank when he saw his father down and struggling to get up. “Father!” He made an attempt to enter the circle and aid his father, but was pulled back by Merlyn.
“Shwag, listen to me. You may not interfere with the Challenge. Drak must do this on his own.” Merlyn slapped Shwag’s back. “You did it, my boy. You did it! You found the princess.”
“Yes, but she is not herself. She walks in a dream world.”
Merlyn studied Jaspere. “She is under a spell. I will attempt to awaken her.” Merlyn pulled Jaspere down to gaze into her eyes. He spoke an incantation and slapped her between the eyes. She jumped back startled, shook her head to clear it.
“Where am I? How’d I get here?”
“You have been freed, Mother,” said Shwag. “You will no longer be kept a prisoner.”
“Free? My father and Pallore locked me away; took me from Drak.”
“Drak is here, m’lady,” Merlyn said. “He fights for your freedom and the crown.” Merlyn pointed to the turmoil in the center of the Square. “Call out to him, Jaspere. Call Drak, let him know you are here. Call him, now!”
For the first time she noticed who was fighting. A gasp escaped her lips, as she saw Drak trying to rise. “Drak! Drak!” She broke through the crowd and entered the circle. “Drak! Oh, my Drak! I am here!”
Drak lifted a head and stared at the one love he never thought he would see again. His eyes cleared and he jumped to his feet. “Jaspere? Jaspere!”
Soar saw his daughter. His trump card was loose, his wizard banished, it was turning out to be one of those days. In the brief break in the battle, he weighed his options.
Drak lumbered toward Jaspere, she reached out to him, trapped by the inner edge of the crowd. “Jaspere! You are alive!”
“Yes, Drak. I live, but have been held captive by my very own father.” She looked over Drak’s shoulder, stared with loathing at Soar. “He is evil, Drak. He went rogue years ago. He is mad. He even killed my mother.”
The nearby dragons heard what was being said. Saw that the speaker was none other than the princess. Voices spread through the crowd. “It’s the Princess! Princess Jaspere!”
Soar felt that this was as good a time as any to make his escape. He shot to the air in a billow of dust and wind.
Someone yelled, “He’s getting away!”
Drak turned around. He had endured a lot because of Soar. He would endure no more.
He jumped to the air in pursuit.
The wind felt warm against his skin, as Drak pushed his tired and injured body to its limits. Soar, though a smaller dragon, was in much better shape, and had a longer wing span. Drak gave his all just to keep the dragon in sight.
Suddenly, Soar rose above the thick white clouds, and Drak couldn’t see him at all, though he searched frantically. He had lost him.
Drak called out, “Soar! Soar! Let’s finish this battle, brother. There is nowhere to hide!”
Soar attacked from above. He followed the path of the sun, and Drak never saw him until it was too late. “I’ve been waiting for you too, Drak.” He dug his claws into Drak’s neck, tried to force him to the ground.
But Drak had a plan. He wanted Soar to attack him, counted on it. He reached up and grabbed Soar’s legs, then collapsed his wings as they both fell like a stone.
Soar panicked, released his grip, wildly flapping his wings as he tried to hold the weight of both dragons up in the air. His only thought was of escape, but Drak would not let him go.
“We will die together, younger brother,” Drak said calmly.
Soar realized that Drak was serious. Desperately, he kicked and pulled, trying to get his legs free.
They continued to fall.
“Drak don’t do this. Let me go! Don’t, Drak! Don’t!”
There was a huge splash of water as the two hit Minowren Lake, and though the force of the contact knocked the wind out of Drak, he still refused to let go. They sank to the bottom, their bodies twisting and turning in a fight that neither could win.
“Where are they, Merlyn?” Shwag asked again, impatiently. “What’s taking so long?”
“I do not know. There is nothing we can do until one of them returns as the victor.”
“But what if he is injured and cannot return. There will be no one there to help him.” Shwag paced back and forth, unable to control his emotions.
“Shwag,” said Princess Jaspere, “no one wants Drak to return more than I. But Merlyn is right. We have no idea where they may be.”
“We could send out patrols! You are the princess, Mother, the troops will listen to you.”
Merlyn checked the position of the sun. “Perhaps that is a good idea. Give the order, Princess. It’ll be dark in another hour, and then we’ll have to deal with Shwag’s nervousness for the entire night.”
“Yes, Merlyn, I will try.” Jaspere stepped out onto the balcony that overlooked the Square from the main castle. The soldiers stood below, some milling around, some resting with their backs against the wall, but none would leave the Square.
“Defenders of the Land,” the princess started. “It has been over eight hours since Drak and Soar were last seen.” The soldiers stood and looked up at her with respect. She was now their Queen and deserved no less. “Form several search parties and scour the Land for any sign. We must know what the outcome of the Challenge is.”
The orders were given, and over a hundred dragons took to the air in a torrent of swirling dust.
“Can I go too, Merlyn? I can’t stand still any longer.”
“Yes, of course, my boy.” Merlyn looked sadly at Shwag. “I hope with all my heart that you find him, Shwag. Good luck to you.”
“Thank you, Merlyn.” Shwag wasted no time; he stepped out on the balcony and jumped off. His wings caught the air and pushed his body upward. A silhouette of a giant three-headed dragon stretched across the Land, as Shwag flew above the forest. He could see other patrols in the distance. He prayed aloud, “Please, Father, please be all right.”
He landed upon the shoreline of Minowren Lake. He was already tired and he thought a quick break and a cool drink of water would refresh him. He slipped into the clear lake, wading out to chest high water. The cold mountain run-off felt so exhilarating. He stuck his nose in and took a big gulp, looking deep into the water. Shwag nearly choked. Soar swam through the water like a crocodile heading straight toward him. He back-pedaled, desperately trying to get out of the way, but the mud and moss-covered stones were too slippery for him. He could see Soar’s head as it rose from the depths. It broke surface right in front of him. Shwag flinched defensively at the attack he felt was sure to come.
The King’s face was contorted in rage. To Shwag, he was the scariest thing he had ever seen. Soar’s entire body floated up behind the head, flipped over on his back and lay still in the water.
The King was dead.
Shwag gingerly grabbed Soar’s tail, pulled him to shore. His mind bustled with questions, but there was one he wanted to know--needed to know. He called out to his father. “Father! Father!”
One of the search parties heading back to the castle heard Shwag. Landed close to him and saw the body of the late King. “We’ll take it from here, little one. Together we can carry the body back to the castle.”
“We can’t go yet!” yelled Shwag. “Where’s my father? We’ve got to find my father!”
“But night closes in swiftly. There is no more we can do out here until morning.”
“I will not leave! I will search until I find my father!”
“As you wish, young sire.”
“Tell Merlyn I am all right and will keep searching until morning.”
“You found the King when no one else could. You are a brave dragon, Shwag. If anybody can find Drak, I'm sure, it’ll be you.” He offered his hand.
The soldier’s words warmed Shwag’s heart. He clasped the dragon’s hand and they shook as comrades in arms.
“Thank you,” Shwag said. “I won’t forget your kindness.”
The dragon barked out some orders and Soar’s body was lifted into the air by four soldiers.
Shwag watched them until they finally disappeared behind the tree tops. He waded back into the water and dove in, swimming to the deepest part of the lake, and searching for what he hoped he would not find. As the sky darkened, the icy waters became black and Shwag was unable to continue. He emerged on the opposite shoreline, shivering from the cold. He sat under a large pine, drawing his legs up and tried to warm himself. He looked at the water’s edge, heard the slapping of the windswept waves.
He noticed a large set of footprints in the mud next to his own. Shwag jumped up. A dragon had left the shore here. A big dragon. The footprints headed into the forest. Shwag’s heart pumped with a new hope as he followed them deeper into the woods.
There was so little moonlight, Shwag could not make out the trail any longer. And, in fear of losing it and going astray, he decided to sleep under a large overhanging rock and take up the trail in the morning. He curled himself into a ball and tried to stay warm, eventually, his exhausted body fell into a deep sleep.
He awoke stiff and hungry. The sun had almost entered the center of the sky. Shwag searched the ground for the trail he had followed earlier, but could find nothing. He circled back toward the lake, trying to pick up the trail, but in his confusion, lost it all together. He returned to where he had slept. Here the forest butted against a large mountain. He did not think the dragon tracks climbed over the top. So he followed the tree line around the edge of the mountain hoping to run into the trail again.
He proceeded this way for awhile and then in frustration called out for his father. “Father! Father, where are you?”
“Maybe he didn’t come this way, hmmm?” said one head.
“Yeah, maybe instead of walking, he flew back to the (whistle) castle.”
“Then that would mean we search in vain, while the others celebrate Drak’s victory. Somehow, I don’t feel that that is the case. We must keep looking.”
Shwag came to a great waterfall that flowed down from the snow-covered peaks of Mount Gargon. He followed the river to the foot of the falls.
“This is where Merlyn said he found us as an egg. Do you think that perhaps father may have come here, hmm . . .?”
“We must look!” said Shwag, excitedly. He tried to find the path that led to the entrance behind the falls. He noticed dragon tracks in the soft grass. With his heart thumping in his chest, he followed them around a huge boulder and into a grotto behind the cascading water.
As he stepped inside, he suddenly heard a loud roar as a dark, giant shape jumped down upon him from above. Shwag fell and rolled against the back wall of the cave. Above him loomed Drak, biting down at him with his three heads as his heavy, taloned foot tried to pin him to the ground.
“Father! It’s me, Shwag! Father! Stop!”
Drak had gone completely rogue. The seriousness of his wounds, and the heat of the battle, had left him overly susceptible to his bestial instincts. He now only knew one thing--survival.
“Father don’t you know me? I’m Shwag!”
Drak moved backed, a look of recognition crossing his face. He roared at Shwag, as if he had forgotten the ability to speak.
Shwag cowered defenseless in a heap upon the cold stones, his body shivering with fear.
Drak began to calm down. This foe did not appear to be a threat. He relaxed and laid upon the ground, went back to licking at his wounds.
Shwag let out a heavy sigh of relief. He knew he must do something to help his father. Something to help him remember who or what he was. He thought for a long time, then suddenly came upon an idea.
“Father?” he said softly, gently. Drak lifted his head and looked in his direction. “Father, I have a song for you. A song about, Drak the First.”
Drak’s face looked tired and sad, but he made no comment.
“Okay then, here we go.” Shwag stood up very slowly. He did not want to alarm Drak or cause another conflict. He gave a nervous smile and then began to sing:
“I sing a song of the Old Dragon
(hummm, hum, hum, hum, humm)
(whistle, whistle, peep, whistle)
And all the things he did so kind
(hum, humm... hum, hum, hummm)
(Peeep, whistle, whistle, peep)
And the mystery of his silent passing
(Hum, hum, hummm, humm)
(whistle, whistle, peeep)
And the hidden secret he left behind.
(Humm, hum, hum, hummm?)
(Weee, whistle, pop!)”
Drak stood up, smiling. “There’s more,” he said faintly, “more of the song.”
Shwag was stunned. His father was speaking to him.
“You were the hidden secret left behind, Shwag. The rest of the song is about you and your mother.” Drak stopped, took a drink from a small pool of water beside him. Shwag could see how truly injured his father was. “I will attempt to sing it to you.” He sat up, lifted his three heads regally as if there were no pain for him to do so, and sang:
“Young love so true, yet not to be
(hum, hummy, hummy hum, hum)
(whistle, whistle, peep, peep, whistle)
A wicked lie for all to see
(hummy, hum, hum, hummy)
(whistle, peep, whistle, peep)
A hidden love left to carry on
(hum, hum, hum, hummy, hum)
(peep, whistle, peep, peep)
will rule the Land and keep it strong.
(humm, hum, hummy, humm.)
(whistle, whistle, peep, whistle, peep.)”
When he finished he slowly laid his heads back down upon the rocks and closed his eyes.
“Father? Father, are you all right?”
But Drak did not answer. He would never answer again.
Shwag ran to Drak and tried to lift him to his feet. “Get up, Father. Get up! We must go to the castle. Please, get up.” Shwag collapsed to the floor of the cave from the strain. Eventually, he cuddled into the nook of his father’s arm, and cried himself to sleep.
Morning light filtered through the waterfall and filled the cave. Shwag awoke feeling as though he hadn’t slept at all. His heart lay so heavy in his breast that he could barely lift his tired body from the ground.
Drak lay dead beside him looking quite peaceful, as though he was taking a long summer's nap.
“Sleep, Father, rest,” Shwag said trying to swallow back a lump of tears. “I will carry on in your stead.”
Shwag realized that Drak had come here to die. For this was the one place that he had experienced just a small moment of happiness in his life. He wanted to die here in secret, and alone, as he had been his whole life. Shwag would leave him here as was intended, forever the great mystery of all dragon kind.
“Goodbye, Father. Sleep well. I love you.”
Shwag left the cave, exiting from behind the large boulder that hid the entrance. He looked up at the sheer rock mountain; saw the cascading falls issuing from the very top. With strength and determination, he pushed off from the ground and took to air. Higher and higher he flew until he had reached the crest of the falls. There were some fair sized rocks and boulders at the top and Shwag attacked them with his feet and wings, knocking them over the falls. Then flying down again he examined his work. The cave entrance was completely shored up. Drak’s body would finally rest in peace and never be seen again.
Shwag began to realize what the song truly meant. “A hidden love left to carry on, will rule the Land and keep it strong.”
He jumped into the air and headed home. As he flew he surveyed the land below him. He looked at it with different eyes--his father’s eyes, and he felt different somehow, smarter, wiser, forever changed. His cloak of adolescence had finally been discarded. No longer was he the bumbling buffoon--the whining teased child. He was king. King of the Dragons.
Merlyn stood upon the castle parapet with the princess Jaspere and several royal guards.
“First I loose my husband, and now my son,” Jaspere said, solemnly. “Perhaps a better fate would have been to stay under Pallore’s spell, never knowing one day from the next.”
“Aw, Princess, do not despair. All hope is not lost. Drak was released, you were rescued, and the Land is free. Not every tale ends happily ever after--not every story has an end.”
“A dragon, m’lady!” yelled the guard.
“There! Riding along the zenith, just above the trees!”
“It’s a large three-headed dragon,” said the guard.
“Drak?” The princess had to still her heart. “Is it Drak?”
“It must be, m'lady. Look how noble he flies,” said the guard.
The approaching black dragon soared to the apex of the sun, high above the clouds. Then came diving down and making an almost impossible sweep over the castle wall.
“Drak!” the princess yelled.
“No, Princess...it's not Drak. It's Shwag.”
Regally, Shwag landed upon the parapet before them, his heads held high, his wings fully extended. A new era was beginning, a new King was ready to be crowned.