This is the story of a few brave men and one brave elf who risked their lives to save the people of Arvad from the savage destruction of the mighty Red Dragon. The story takes place about 40 or 50 years before Book One of the Stones of Caron.
Arvad and the Red Dragon
Ezra stared out over what had been the town of Port. It was one of several oceanside settlements his people had built over the years. But Port was special; it had been the first landing of the Arvadians on the shores of Beneya. The Arvadians had come from the island of Keborah centuries before in hopes of escaping the terror of the dragons, leaving great cities and allies behind in hopes of getting away from their never ending ravages.
But, alas for the noble people of Arvad, they were not to live in peace. When they had conquered the native struggles of Beneya: the wild bears, wild horses, wild fires, and war with men who had proceeded them to the continent, the peace lasted for only a short time before dragons once again came out of the south and terrorized the new land. So, the Arvadians pushed further inland and discovered a land that would be vastly rich when it was tame. But tame it would never be.
Their Citadels in the Mischief Mountains, (their furthest northern boarder), were destroyed when a mountain exploded and covered much of Arvad with ash and boiling rock, taking the lives of many men, women and children, among whom were several distant cousins and Ezra’s father. The Citadels were abandoned at first, but then, in hopes of saving what few people remained in the mountains, efforts were made to unbury the Citadels from the ash.
Dunbyrle Citadel had been shaken until it crumbled and was covered in hardened liquid rock in places, but was still useable. Farmaker Citadel had suffered from the earthquake as well, but like its near cousin, it needed only repair and not rebuilt.
King Ezra had just come from Dunbyrle a few weeks ago and had been greeted by the sight of Port leveled. Tales of a terrible red dragon were rife among the remaining townspeople.
Ezra reviewed his people’s history and silently grieved for the lost among the rubble of the harbor-side town. Sitting above it on a cliff, with a royal entourage, his pregnant wife and son, Jesse, lived in great pitched tents. They had been ocean bound on a pleasure ride when they heard of the attack and Ezra’s wife, Mellolye, had insisted they view the wreckage together.
It was just turning spring and Ezra sat in thick green grass. He was kissed by a warmish ocean breeze and white clouds sailed high and gently. The air was tinged with smoke from what remained of the burning wreckage below. Blackened masts and keels jutted out of the surf, representing the expensive goods which rested on the bottom of the harbor.
Even Mellolye could not comfort her husband as he brooded. Ezra envied his brothers, Seth and Bendole, who could freely travel where they chose. They were down in the village helping where they could with the soldiers whom Ezra had commanded to erect shelter for the stranded refugees.
Ezra stood from his seat at the cliff and walked back into camp under the watchful gaze of his guards as Seth mounted the cliff from the rear. Seth was just a lad of seventeen and Ezra was only twenty himself, but that difference was what defined a king from a prince. “How does it look to you?” Ezra asked his younger brother.
Seth shook his dark brown haired head. “Not good; the dragon made certain everything was torched. A fine mess he’s created and I don’t think he’s done yet.”
“Where do you reckon he is?” Ezra asked. He had done a bit of figuring himself but he was interested in Seth’s conclusions as well. Second opinions never hurt.
“Inland, holed up somewhere west of Arvad I shouldn’t wonder.”
The two ducked into the royal tent and Seth scooped up two year old Jesse on the way to Ezra’s maps. “That is my figuring, the plains to the east are too open to suit a dragon. They like cover, even if it is just a rocky outcropping.”
Mellolye rose from her couch and poured the two men wine. “What are you going to do?” she asked, smoothing her dress over her full stomach and pouring herself water.
“I’m going to find it and kill it,” Ezra said venomously. “I can’t let it destroy my people and their crops at will.”
“Ezra,” Seth cautioned, “this is not your ordinary dragon. I’ve seen his claw marks and he is a beast of legend. Bendole and I measured them at least a foot long, that makes him easily the size of three ordinary dragons.” Jesse had not wanted to simply sit still in Seth’s arms, so he crawled onto his uncle’s shoulders and set to kicking Seth in the chest.
“There is nothing ordinary about any dragon, Seth,” Ezra insisted. “They are each one unique and menacing. However, this one is craftier than any I have yet seen.”
“You and all your wisdom and experience,” Seth retorted, his tongue ever cutting. “You have fought but two yourself.” He contained Jesse’s ankles and the boy quickly threw himself backward to pound his head into Seth’s back.
“Seth,” Mellolye warned. She lifted Jesse off of his uncle’s back and let the boy run around in the tent with his makeshift toys and his father’s spare boots.
Seth seemed to take no notice.
“Yes, brother of mine,” Ezra replied, building fire within himself. It wasn’t difficult, the sight of Port and it’s sunken ships had been enough. “My wisdom and experience. I know enough to recognize the signs.”
“What is the move?” Seth continued unapologetically.
“We hunt it, before it does this again.” Ezra searched over his maps of what lay to the east: Ebwin and its river, Sunrise Creek and then… who knows. “We fortify our towns and abandon the outlaying villages if we can. Move whatever people we can into the Citadels.”
“Arvadians won’t like that,” Mellolye informed them, “we are a free, wild people. Confines do not suit us.”
“Neither does being eaten or turned into a charred cinder,” Seth advised.
Two months after Port was leveled, Ezra came home from the unfruitful search, a discouraged and angry man. His family’s temporary residence in Ebwin was home to his wife, son, brothers, uncle and mother, all eager to help him on his way and uplift his shattered spirits. He was king much younger than he intended to be and his shoulders bore the burden of men twice his age. His father, Dellburn had died just months before, and his soul was still raw from the bereavement. Returning home in defeat had robbed Ezra of what other joy he could lay claim to.
He had not spoken much since his arrival that morning and his brothers were in equally foul moods, though Seth’s was personified by sharper language. His uncurbed tongue heaped offenses on the red dragon and their uncle, Bennett, spent most of his time reprimanding him.
Their place was a large farmhouse which had been donated to the royal family by an aged farmer who normally lived in the impressive two story structure by himself. The old man had opted to stay in a spare room in a local inn and allow the royal family to live there in peace, taking full use of his stores. Bennett kept the pantry well stocked and often set the royal soldiers meant to guard Mellolye to repairing outbuildings and fences.
When Ezra and his brothers sat down to eat, their mood had not improved and Mellolye was finding it difficult to speak civilly to him. She was very much ready to give birth and he had not seen fit to even ask her how she had fared in his long absence. Ezra’s mother, Pathe (who was as great a lady in her elegance as she was in her manner and speech. It had made her a fit queen and a capable mother to her three sons and their sister), did her best to liven the mood by asking her sons various questions, but either they did not answer or they responded with mumbled replies and half information.
Mellolye had completely abandoned her food and was about ready to take Jesse into another room so she could in good conscious shout at her husband without disturbing him, when a knock on the door put tensions on hold for a moment. Perplexed, the family waited until the guard had answered the door and showed the visitor in.
Bennett greeted the newcomer first, Seth, Bendole and Ezra simply stared in wonderment. Standing in the doorway was an elf. He was tall, as all elves are, and his hair was dark brown. It fell over his large, pointed, ears and down the back of his neck in thick, unruly shocks. His eyes were blue and surveyed the room with a knowing smile. His face was angular and housed an intelligent expression. Dark eyebrows rested on his angular brow and he rubbed his chin in thought. This was the king of the elves and a fine figure of a king he made with his clean, pressed shirt and perfectly creased trousers, not looking at all the sort who had traveled for days and days over rugged country to reach the small town of Ebwin.
The elves lived far to the north in their own secluded settlements and were seldom heard from, though loyally trusted, in Arvad. The trust ran deep into generations far beyond Bennett’s grandfather’s grandfather. For all Ezra knew, Aranen had seen Arvad’s entire history and never seemed to age a day as the years flew by in the world of men. “It seems my intrusion is poorly timed,” the king observed by the still foul expressions on a few faces.
“Nonsense, Aranen,” Pathe smiled and motioned for a servant to bring Aranen a chair. “Though my sons are being belligerent and refusing to speak anything but curses this night.”
Aranen’s knowing smile faded and he nodded solemnly. “Yes, I have heard of your trouble. Tell me, what sign of the beast have you found?”
“We have found nothing,” Ezra said in a remarkably restrained voice and stared at the elf only long enough to rectify the strange appearance of the creature in his own mind, but not long enough to be disrespectful. Jesse was not so tactful as his father.
“He’s got big ears,” the two year old whispered loudly to his mother, his wide brown eyes locked onto Aranen.
Mellolye shushed him quickly and blushed apologetically. “Forgive my son,” she hastened to speak. “An elf has not been seen in a royal household for many years.”
“Oh yes,” Aranen winked at the boy and tugged on one ear to show it was not fake. “Now, about this dragon…”
“What are you going to do about it?” Seth challenged and was promptly booted under the table by Ezra and Pathe.
Aranen smiled, “Do not worry, Pathe. I will give him a swift kick myself if he becomes unbearably impertinent. My diplomatic courtesy only lasts for so long before I begin to deal with threats, even if they are only those of a reckless tongued youth. As for what I intend to do, I will travel with you to find this dragon, if the fancy takes me.”
“We have not been able to find any sign of him for the past two months. Perhaps he is no longer hungry?” Ezra asked. It was common knowledge elves had fought dragons as often as anyone else, only they usually lived long enough to tell the story… usually. There had been tales of many elves falling victim to dragons and somehow that was how the elves lost their great power to defeat their enemy of old who now inhabited their ancient lands. The king of Caron, or Kik, as it was now called, lived in all his glory with a flourishing people and seemed to hamper the elves at every turn… with dragons.
Aranen shook his head and accepted the plate of food offered to him by Pathe. “No, I don’t think so. Sea dragons are not like the mountain dragons Arvad has fought in the past. They are bigger, more brutal and they feed more often than once or twice a year. A sea dragon will eat every few months, the rest of the time he spends fighting or swimming. I beg the ladies’ pardon, but a man does not make a good meal for a dragon.”
“He wasn’t hungry when he attacked us?” Ezra asked.
“Not likely,” Aranen delved into the food and nodded approvingly of its flavor. “I would not rule out the possibility, but it is unlikely. Something drove him onto land; sea dragons prefer fish and he could have picked a fight with another dragon instead of razing a town if he was feeling his oats, to borrow the expression.”
Ezra thought for a moment before replying, retreating deep into his own thoughts and closing his eyes. Mellolye’s face contorted suddenly and she grabbed her husband’s arm with a fierce clasp snapping him out of his trance. “Mellolye?” Ezra sounded alarmed and everyone in the room froze to watch them.
Mellolye’s hands clenched, her left still wrapped around her husband’s forearm. Ezra pried her fingers off his arm and held her hand with his. “The baby,” Mellolye gasped. “The baby is coming!”
Ezra’s face paled and he sat petrified. Pathe jumped and ran to Mellolye’s bedroom at the back of the house and turned the bed down. Bennett bellowed at Ezra to get Mellolye into the bed and was quick to guide them both away. Aranen plucked Jesse out of his chair and carried him and his dinner plate out to the front porch. Seth and Bendole sat dumbfounded until Aranen came back into the dining room to lead them out by their shoulders. They came out of their stupor long enough to grab their own meals and hurry out before Mellolye’s screams began.
As Mellolye’s birth pangs advanced, Aranen and Seth built up a distraction for Bendole and Jesse. They made their way out to the barn and Seth mentioned Aranen’s skill with a blade. Thus began the seventeen year-old’s lesson in elfin swordsmanship.
And what a lesson it was, as Seth’s sword sailed into the air time after time. They had used their combined foresight to deem the wooden practice swords a better option than real ones, and time after time, the choice proved sound. Seth was tapped on the chest, head, legs, arms and back more times than he could count, and as the battle continued, he realized the taps were not gentle, they were meant to bruise and soon Aranen said enough, for he knew Seth would never quit, even though he had failed to strike a single blow on Aranen.
“Care to go again?” Seth asked and Bendole chortled from his place on a parked wagon. The barn was full of various implements not being used, but all of the animals had been turned out in the pasture until it got dark.
“No, not this day,” Aranen laughed good naturedly. “You are much too relentless, you should at least wait until your bruises have healed to challenge me again.”
“I accept,” Seth bowed. “I will ask again when my bruises have healed.”
“Not many will spar with an elf a second time,” Aranen said as he hung up his borrowed sword.
“I am not many.” Seth winced with every movement of his body and walked slowly to put his own practice weapon away.
“Indeed you are not, and you’ll be a better swordsman for it, if you survive, though you would never have come out so well if you fought against my wife or my brother. There are none quicker than they and their cousins when it comes to doing battle.”
Young Jesse took this as a challenge and bounded from his place on the wagon to grasp a stick from the yard. He searched for just a moment outside and found another like it which he promptly tossed to Aranen.
“’par,” the two and a half year old demanded and dropped into what he interpreted as the ‘ready’ stance.
Bendole and Seth chuckled, though it pained Seth to do so, and the two got more enjoyment out of watching Jesse flail and strike Aranen than Seth being thrashed. Aranen fought back meekly and then tackled the boy to the ground. Jesse jumped up and whacked Aranen on the back of the neck, displaying all of his impressive, toddler strength and shouting in half intelligible sentences.
“Aiee,” Aranen yelped and received another blow to the ear when Jesse realized he had found a weakness in the elf. “Hi now, that’s all for you,” Aranen cried and disarmed the boy with a quick strike. Surely the blow stung, but Jesse took no notice, he simply let the weapon fly away as if borne by wings. He ran forward and plowed his head into Aranen’s gut.
The boy’s uncles were shouting advice to Aranen when the barn door opened and Bennett stepped through, thoroughly surprised at the sight which greeted him. Aranen saw him first and stood up, Jesse still hanging off of one shoulder. Seth and Bendole jumped off of the wagon, Seth with a pained limp.
“Is the baby here?” Seth asked.
“Yes, and he’s about as strong as Jesse is now; they have named him Quen,” Bennett chuckled. “I didn’t expect to find such brutalities in my own family,” he said pointing to the dirt which covered elf and toddler alike.
“I have no children of my own,” Aranen acknowledged, “but that does not keep me from enjoying them whenever I get the chance.” Aranen put Jesse on the ground and the boy promptly ran off toward the house and his waiting father on the front porch. “I suppose Ezra will be tied here for a while,” Aranen said.
Bennett frowned and shook his head. “He will be more driven than ever. With two children and a weakened wife, he will see it as his duty to destroy this monster, but now it will be more personal.”
“More personal?” Seth snorted. “Bennett, he has been nothing if not vengeful toward this monster.”
“True,” Bennett nodded and started walking back to the house. The other three quickly followed, Aranen with a hand under Seth’s arm to help him along. “King Aranen, I ask you, will you find this beast for us?”
Aranen’s brow furrowed, even though he had expected this question and formulated his answer. “I am a king of soldiers, a king of swords and a king of finding more trouble than I can handle, but a king of dragons I am not.”
“Your experience outweighs every Arvadian alive by more than a little,” Bennett insisted. “We have no right to ask you as a king to help us, but as a warrior and a friend, I beg your help.”
“My nephew will not, nor would have my brother if he were still alive, but I have no such foolish pride.”