It's "Just Write Thursday" again, which means a continuation of what I started last week: The Dragon's Keeper. Enjoy, and comment below if you so please!
The Dragon roared in pain, flames shooting out of his nostrils yet again as he raised his scarred muzzle into the sky. And then Loran heard him swallow. He had swallowed his own fire, and by the wide, lizard-like eyes Loran could see behind the smoke and cinder floating about, he knew the Dragon was in excruciating pain. He watched in awe as the fire in his belly went out like a candle, and suddenly the temperature in the room dropped thirty degrees.
“What is wrong with you?” Loran said, balling his fists. “You just had a new shipment of loot brought in from Renhold yesterday! There was a whole assortment of treasures, enough to choke you with!”
The Dragon got to his feet, flashed Loran his razor-sharp teeth, and snorted a plume of heavy smoke into his face. Loran went into a fit of coughing, waved the smoke away from his face and got even closer to the Dragon – closer than he’d ever dared.
“And speaking of choking, you choked down three sheep – I repeat – three sheep and a full wheelbarrow of corn last night! That’s enough to feed two bloody dragons!” Loran didn’t know that for certain, but he decided to run with it. “And now you’ve nearly killed me twice! I’ve but up with your shit, quite literally, for the last six months, and you say thank you by trying to fry me like a plucked hen? Oh yeah, and the next time you do decide to relieve yourself, you’ll do it in the cart over there!”
“Be quiet, meal, and listen!” boomed the Dragon. “Loran’s chest was heaving, half out of fear, half out of exhilaration and anger. He couldn’t believe he was still alive. The dragon continued, “I am…not well.”
Loran squinted and looked at the Dragon with suspicion. “Dragon’s don’t get sick.”
“Magic,” replied the Dragon, turning his head. “There is magic at work, meal. Cursed ma -…” The Dragon collapsed again, his magnificent, translucent black wings shooting straight out to his sides and his long neck and head landing just a few feet from Loran. He jumped back, and as he did so he spotted something clasped in the Dragon’s right claw. The Dragon let go his grip, and immediately Loran recognized it.
It was the golden mace, adorned with sapphires, emeralds and rubies, brought back by Sir Clayton from Renhold last night. The Dragon had slept with it beneath his scaled belly last night, and as it rolled down a small pile of gold and stopped at Loran’s feet, he shot back a step as something spilled out from its hollow, ornamental shaft.
It was a single, curled finger wrapped around a piece of paper, barely visible in the dimly lit chamber. Loran reached down, picked it up, cracked back the finger and carefully removed the piece of paper. He then read it out loud so that the Dragon could hear:
Treasure plundered, treasure earned.
Lives be lost. Death be yearned.
White death consumes you, it will consume your soul
When the dragon turns, your King will fall
Loran dropped the piece of paper and stepped back from the Dragon, slowly. The Dragon watched his every step and snarled.
“So my Keeper thinks I will die. I wonder what King Gertrand would think of that?” said the Dragon, bearing his teeth in a nasty, unnatural grin. Loran stopped moving. “Those are just words, Keeper. Words on parchment! I’ve had steel run clean through my chest in the Battle of Golgamet! My throat was cut before I devoured half an army in the war against Treyth! And here I stand!”
“Renhold used to hold some of the finest dark magic users in the Kingdom,” said Loran, absently. “You’d be surprised what some of those masochistic, robed freaks could pull off. I mean, just last –.”
“Enough!” roared the Dragon, slamming his tail down just inches from Loran’s feet. Once again, the ground shook and the gold and precious other metals slid and clinked and shifted about all around him. To anyone else it would have been music to their ears. To Loran, it sounded like his death. He continued his backward ascent toward the doorway, keeping his gaze solely fixed on the Dragon.
“Open the ceiling, now!” the Dragon bellowed, looking away from Loran. And after a few moments of silence, the new guard on duty began to turn the crank, opening the roof and letting in the morning sun. “Come back with my dinner, Keeper, or be my dinner.” Loran nodded, his heart racing.
The Dragon took to the air, beating his wings slowly and gaining momentum as the ceiling opened wide. But Loran could see that he was struggling. Pain and frustration was taking over as he moved higher and higher, only a few feet at a time. And then Loran saw it; saw it just before the Dragon disappeared through the opening.
A white, solid circular growth protruded from the Dragon’s dark, black underbelly, and it seemed to be moving, breathing and even growing in the few second glimpse Loran was afforded. Something was definitely wrong, he just didn’t know what. And then, suddenly, Loran really began to panic.
Wide-eyed, he clutched at his chest, and then ripped off his tunic completely. Now in his underwear, he pawed at himself and jumped around like a lunatic, and, finding nothing on his chest, legs and arms, he made one last inspection. He closed his eyes, prayed to all seven Gods at once and looked into his drawers.
Loran dropped to the ground and took a long and deep breath. Nothing there. Nothing abnormal anyway.
“But the King’s Dragon…” Loran whispered to himself. He put his clothes back on and bolted for the door. The guard on the other side gave him a concerned look but said nothing, finding little strange about a Keeper running from a dragon’s lair. So Loran continued up the long stairs and into the main castle, his head full of worry. If the Dragon was sick and up and died, he would be blamed for it. Even worse, if the ominous poem rang true, and there was magic at work like the Dragon said, they were all in trouble.
Loran burst through a pair of heavy-set doors and into the massive, brilliant courtyard. It was early morning, and the trees and grass surrounding the white brick pad and fountain still held their dew and glistened in the rising sun. It would have warmed Loran’s heavy heart, but behind the beauty stood the newest addition to King Gertrand’s kingdom; an entirely new castle built with the wealth and power that came alongside having a dragon. For not all the gold, silver and diamonds had found their way to the King’s Volcano, as the people called him. No, King Gertrand was doing just fine for himself.
The outer castle was made entirely of black marble with gold etchings running through each and every giant slab. The etchings told exaggerated tales of King Gertrand’s taming of the Dragon and his subsequent conquering of the entire continent of Cormandy. What was more, each and every battle that was won while he sat on his throne and filled his giant stomach, meant a brand new story to tell. This meant a new addition to the castle at a huge cost to the people.
But without the King’s Volcano, his castle was nothing. It was built for magnificence, not practicality or defense, and without the always-looming threat of the Dragon to keep King Gertrand’s many enemies at bay, the greatest kingdom this side of the world would fall to ruins.
Loran sped across the courtyard, past the great fountain and through another set of doors leading into the black castle. Almost immediately he was given orders to halt by a group of guards who stood lazy and comfortable at their posts inside the walls. He ignored them and ran past the slow and heavily armored guards at a blazing speed, ducking under a pair of crossed spears that attempted to bar his entry to the throne room.
With half a dozen guards screaming bloody murder behind him, Loran crashed through the throne room door, out of breath and stunned by his own insolence. The King had beheaded people for much less. He had quite the reputation.
“What is the meaning if this?” boomed King Gertrand as he stood up from his massive golden throne. If Loran hadn’t been terrified for his own life he would have laughed aloud. The King’s throne, which was supposed to be a grand display of wealth and power, had the opposite effect on Loran. It made Gertrand look miniature, as if a small doll had been placed on the throne and not a man.
“There’s a problem, your Highness. A problem with the Dragon,” said Loran, his voice strong, masking the nervous energy he felt with spears at his back and violent eyes at the front.
“The Dragon? Don’t you mean my Dragon?” Gertrand replied, gritting his teeth and shaking as he spoke. An assortment of gold chains around his neck jingled along with his jowls with every movement. “And what do you have to do with my Volcano, peasant?”
“Father,” said a woman at his side in full plate armor. Her long, brown hair fell in two braids over her broad shoulders, and she wore a single emerald necklace around her neck that seemed to shine brighter than anything else in the room. “This is your Dragon’s Keeper. His name is Loran.”
She remembers my name?
Henrietta, the King’s only daughter and heir to the throne, gave Loran a quick look, smiled and then returned her attention to her father, who grunted back at her with disapproval.
“So this is our Dragon’s Keeper then, is it?” said the King, sitting back down into his massive throne. “Well then, what is the problem with my Volcano, Keeper? Is he trying to eat you like the first twelve or are you just tired of cleaning his shit?” The courtiers and guards in the room laughed, and despite the distasteful nature of the joke, Loran was relieved – relieved to hear the spears at his back return to their upright positions.
“I’m afraid that me getting eaten is the least of your problems, my King. The Dragon is sick – ill with a wasting disease that has made him weak and unpredictable. I fear for the lives of the kingdom’s people, and yourself and your lovely daughter most of all, your Highness.”
“Sick?” said the King, returning to his feet, approaching Loran. “Tell me, Keeper – who has been feeding my Dragon these past few months?”
Loran knew what was coming, but had no choice but answer with truth. “I have, your grace.” He was a dead man.
“And is it not your job to ensure all food that is given to my Dragon is of the highest quality? Rid of disease and poison?”
“Yes, of course your Highness. But I assure you…”
“Enough! It’s plain to me what has happened.” King Gertrand began to pace back and forth, staring through Loran with hateful eyes. “You have poisoned my Dragon’s food, and in doing so you have condemned the kingdom!” The courtiers gasped and the guards grumbled. Henrietta shook her head in disapproval, but not at Loran. “Guards, prepare him for the block…immediately! Lucius, check on my Dragon for me. I’ve heard this Keeper was once a whoremaster, which makes him a liar.” Loran dropped to his knees, his mouth agape. “And find the man who recommended this peasant to me. I don’t care if it’s Sir Clayton himself! Penance will be paid!”
The guards grabbed Loran by the wrists and bound his hands in chains. He stared at the people in the room in shock, feeling incredibly stupid for even coming. And then he met Princess Henrietta’s gaze. She stared at him with pity, a look that told Loran she was sorry but could do nothing. They were both helpless with King Gertrand steering the ship.
A strange cracking, squishing sound could be heard from behind them. To Loran it sounded like a skeleton running with wet boots, but nobody else had seemed to hear it. Loran took a quick look over his shoulders and then ducked immediately.
A massive battleaxe wielded by Sir Clayton, was swung in the direction of the guards holding Loran. It lodged itself half a foot into the left guard’s side, through plate and all, felling him on the spot with a horrendous scream. The guard on Loran’s right turned to intercept, but Clayton ripped his helm off and bashed him across the side of the face with it, sending him toppling to the ground in a heap.
If it hadn’t been for mitigating circumstances, Loran could have sworn Clay had come to save him. However, truth was, Clay didn’t care for much anyone but himself, and when Loran saw that the white, webby fungus had consumed the entire lower half of his body, and perhaps more underneath his chainmail, he knew the true gravity of the situation. Clay was infected with the mace’s magic, just like the Dragon.
“Sir Clayton, stand down now!” screamed the King, his gold chains swinging back and forth as he stomped toward him.
“Father, no!” screamed Henriette, drawing the sword from her scabbard.
“Shut up, girl!” he snapped, now face to face with the deranged knight. “I know my men, and this noble soldier is one of my best. He wouldn’t lift a finger against his King, isn’t that right, Sir Clayton?”
Clayton’s hands shot up from his waste like lightning, and with dead eyes that looked nowhere, he jammed his thumbs into the King’s temples and pushed with great force. The King screamed as Clayton moved his white lips to his right ear and whispered something unheard by anyone else. Something the owner of this terrible magic had to say to the King. And with a sharp twist of Clayton’s wrists, King Gertrand’s neck snapped with a single crack that echoed loud throughout the large throne room. The dead King fell, eyes wide open, and when he hit floor the sound of chains was loud enough to temporarily disorient everyone in the room.
All but Henrietta that was. Neven watched as she silently ran from her place beside the throne, drew her sword, leaped into the air and drove the steel through Clayton’s heart. He too fell like the King, and Loran gasped as the white fungus rolled off the knight’s body like sand and then disappeared into the cracks of the black marble floor.
“Father, oh god,” cried Henrietta, collapsing to the dead King’s side. But it was strange. There was no surprise in her cry, as if she had been expecting this moment to come at any time. Perhaps she had. There were more people on the continent of Cormandy wanting Gertrand dead than there were people wanting him alive, and no king with his track record died of natural causes.
A moment of shock and awe ran through those in attendance, and all, including the new Queen, Henrietta, remained silent and still in mourning. For his part, Loran was confused, unsure how to feel. After all, Gertrand had wanted him dead.
Queen Henrietta got up from the black marble and approached Loran, who sat on the floor, cross-legged and chained. “The white growth on Sir Clayton. Is that the same strange form of life that has plagued my father’s dragon?” she asked, serious and worried.
Loran nodded. Henrietta walked over to one of the guards, snatched the key for his chains and freed his hands. He took a deep breath, knowing that his death would wait a little while longer at least.
“You’re going to have to kill our dragon,” she said, pointing down at him. He rose to his feet, wiped the dust off his tunic and laughed.
“Me? Please excuse me when I say this my Queen, but I clean shit for living.”
“Exactly,” she said, grabbing his hand and smiling. “I have a plan.”
Hopefully I finish this baby off next week. We'll see what I'm able to get accomplished! Let me know what you think, and feel free to share anything!