Chapter 11 – The Dragon Wakes
Deep in the heart of the barrow, the earth shuddered with the double shock of the lightning strike and the crash of thunder. In the darkness two eyes flicked open, two yellow eyes with vertically slit pupils which slowly opened to black pools of anger.
The dragon was old now, nearly as old as the barrow itself, and sleep was one of the few pleasures left to him. In his sleep he was young again and agile and light as air. The world was fresh and green and unsullied by men, and he soared in the heavens with others of his kind. But as the years had passed and men had become more numerous and more vicious, his brothers and sisters had begun to die at their hands and the slow birth rate of dragons had caused the numbers born to fall behind the numbers who died. All creatures had a natural life span and the dragons’ was far greater than most, but there were humans who killed dragons for no particular reason. They did not hunt them for food, indeed they usually cut off their heads and left the meat to rot, in some form of sport that the dragons could not understand. So the dragons learned to hate and fear humans. This dragon had trained his local humans to protect him from outsiders by burning everything in sight if he was disturbed. Generally it was a plan that worked well. But now he was awake and by instinct could recognise that the storm was not a natural phenomenon, but in some way man-made, and it was time for another lesson.
With infinite care the dragon moved to the entrance to the barrow. There was nothing to see but the curtain of rain, but he could smell two humans not far away. He extended just the tip of his nose, and withdrew it quickly as the rain beat down on its sensitive tip. He rubbed it with a front claw, carefully, because his claws were greatly overgrown with years of inactivity. He considered whether it was too wet for him to fly. Such a vast weight of water falling on his broad wings might prevent him from getting airborne. There was a fine line for any dragon between take-off and ignominious belly-flop, and he wasn’t as young as he used to be…
Outside the red cabin in the Mountains of Morn the Warlock sustained the shrieking chant for as long as he had voice, but after about ten minutes his voice gave up and he had to stop. He coughed and bent over as if even breathing was difficult for him and Galien came out and gave him a shoulder to lean on as he walked back into the cabin. The Warlock sat down by the table and Galien poured a draught of the herb tea from the bowl into a wooden cup. Imi was surprised to see that the Warlock’s hands were shaking as he took the cup and he even spilled a little before he could get it to his lips. Galien steadied his hand. Imi was even more surprised at the tenderness shown by the elf to his master.
“Have we done enough?” Galien asked quietly.
The Warlock did not appear to be able to speak and Imi could not, from above, see the expression on his face.
“I hope so too,” Galien said.
The Warlock sat back in the chair and closed his eyes, both hands round the Horehound tea.
The rain did not ease off, as it normally would. It just stopped instantly. The dragon was now more convinced than ever that the storm was man-made and, what’s more, made deliberately to waken him. He launched himself out of the barrow, intent on revenge. As he flapped his great leather wings a little arthritically to gain height, a cross-bow bolt passed through one section of his right wing, missing all the blood vessels and making a hole too small to be of any consequence. The dragon lowered his head and raked the ground below with fire, before spiralling up into the clearing sky.
“If I had known that you were not a great shot with that thing,” Sir Robin said, coming out from under the dripping hedge, “I would not have let you stop me.”
“Trust me,” said the man-at-arms, “at three feet a blind man wouldn’t have missed you. But hitting a flying dragon is another matter. Actually I did hit it.”
“Not where it mattered.” Sir Robin was relieved to see that his war horse was cropping the grass some little way off and had been untouched by the blast of flame. He marched towards it, keeping a wary eye on the receeding dragon.
“And I suppose you could do better?” the man-at-arms called after him.
“Not with that thing, but with a longbow I could.”
“I see nothing among your acutrements that looks like a longbow.”
“Do you take me for a common archer?” Sir Robin cried, swinging up into the saddle. “All I said was, I could shoot better with a longbow than you can with that contraption.”
A roar of flame made them both glance back towards the village. The dragon was diving on the cottages, spewing fire. The man-at-arms gave a howl and began to run out of the gate and back down the road. In a dozen strides the war horse had overtaken him. Wordlessly Sir Robin reached down a hand and the man swung up behind him and they raced back towards the village. The dragon made several sweeps across the village spewing fire, but the rain-soaked thatch did not light, nor did the sodden and beaten-down crops, and the livestock were all clustered tightly under hedges looking miserable. The dragon circled, puzzled by his lack of success at the village, and set off for the castle whose towers could be seen over the tops of the trees. On the way he poured venomous fire into the west wood for good measure. Some of the drier underbrush caught fire and tendrils of smoke began to rise as the dragon moved on.
As they entered the village the man-at-arms was shouting to the villagers inside their boarded up cottages. “Roy! Laurence! Daniel! Come out and bring your bows! The dragon is out!”
Men and a couple of women came out into the street clutching bows and quivers of long wooden arrows. The man-at-arms issued orders from the back of Sir Robin’s charger and also managed to grab a bow off a youth who didn’t look strong enough to pull it.
“What’s your name, Sir Knight?”
“Sir Robert de Coverlie.”
“I’m Will Garrison. Follow Sir Robert de Coverlet!” Will shouted, “and bring more arrows!”
“Where are we going?” Sir Robin enquired.
“To kill the dragon, Sir Knight! To kill the dragon! Isn’t that what you came for?”
Sir Robin did not like to point out that the dragon was heading for the castle while this posse was heading for the barrow, but he accepted that Will had a plan. All he knew was that his quest was upon him and he was determined to do bravely or die trying.
Copyright Hilary Robinson 30.3.2010
The storm has an unintended result and Sir Robin’s quest is upon him.
Isn’t this exciting! By the way, the red cabin in the snow is taken from the photographs of Redbubbler Monica Scanlan.
The Faerie Tale is protected by copyright and is not in the Public Domain