This is the final installment of the Dragon Letters. In the narrative of Simon, Gregory’s brother, it tells of the end of the Great Dragon.
Simon, Squire of Helfain, Chief Apprentice to the Armorers.
Servant to His Majesty, Prince Edwin Time.
It grieves me I and my brother have been unable to write you since mid-winter. But more distressing are the events since Gregory’s last letter.
In a perverse and childish way, I am glad the news of his death has reached you before the Prince’s herald and my missive, so perhaps the sting of it had lessened somewhat. Undoubtedly, you wish to know how he died and Prince Edwin asked me to articulate this clearly to you so you could see his unwavering courage and bravery, though as his father you have no need of proof. I have seen it every day of my life since he saved me from one of my dangerous misadventures as a small boy. And you were ever his watchful guardian, though it would seem, unlike me, he needed little guidance.
It was early in January and we had been pressed hard all winter. It was bitterly cold and I wish to never see snow again. Gregory was more a man than most about the cold and he never complained or winced if his foot slipped on the treacherous ice. I was not so courageous and battered him mercilessly with my own private troubles.
Even amid our trials of battle and survival, we managed to enjoy one another’s company immensely and I daresay he enjoyed teaching me combat more than was warranted. Rather, I think he liked to hit me with the flat side of a wooden stick to make up for all those days I drug him around the fields of our childhood home, showing him the many demons and soldiers I fought.
We had a heavy battle on our hands almost every two weeks and several smaller ones in between. We suffered many casualties and we had to use a cave as a tomb for our fallen. Putting all those men in one common grave is a sacrilege but we must do what we must and we have given them every honor we are able.
It was a foggy night and we were well aware that the dragons liked to attack when they could see better than we, and do not make a mistake, they have very keen eyesight. We knew it would be cloudy and we waited on the parapets for an attack. Our dragon traps and grappling hooks had been broken out of the ice and prepared and every man seemed to hold his breath in anticipation of the coming fight.
The silence was sickening and not even a breeze stirred to relieve the tension. I was on the ground and Gregory was high in one of the towers. And then like the angel Gabriel himself, Gregory sang out in his booming baritone and the whole mountain seemed to echo with his hymns. It wasn’t long before most every man there joined him and even the clouds around us seemed to reverberate with our songs.
Then amid our songs, the dragons attacked and there were a great many of them. They pelted the stone towers and buildings with fire and tried to land on them to tear them to bits. But they couldn’t even get close for the grappling hooks flew every which way and they were unable to touch us with a single claw. It wasn’t long before they abandoned trying to land and reverted to hurtling rocks and chunks of ice at us. Many a man was struck by at least a shard and the size of these pieces concerned us mightily. We had never yet seen a dragon equipped with the size to lift such a weight and we wondered what sort of devilment was in store.
Gregory, atop the centre tower, shouted commands so loud the men on the ground obeyed him. He knew the minds of dragons like few others and guided the archer’s arrows with as much precision as he could manage. Many a terrified cry from a dragon was heard and boded how well he succeeded. As the fog cleared and the night sky became open, we saw their shadows, flitting this way and that and one of them was terrible to behold. It was the Great Dragon himself and it was he who pelted our defenses with chunks of ice and reduced our retaining walls to rubble.
One of the massive ice pieces struck Gregory’s tower at the base. With screams and cries of panic the men inside were crushed and the ones on top tried to balance as the crenulations piled on top of the rest of the stone that had once been a tower. The dust and ice flew upward from where it piled and the air was dense with blindness. A shard of rock struck me in the shoulder and penetrated my mail and leather hauberk. Before I even realized my injury, Gregory had dug himself out of the rubble and was beside me at the ballistae.
He shouted out orders to the men controlling it and then when it was lined up to his liking, he fired. The long-bolt shot much further than it would have under my instruction and we heard a mighty roar just a moment later. Realizing my injury I turned to Gregory for help as I always did and saw a grim smile on his face. He had hit his mark and we believed the battle to be over, for no other blocks of ice or balls of fire sped toward us and we were left once again in silence except for a distant roar, growing ever further away.
Gregory saw to my wound immediately and we spent what was left of the night together in one of the caves, tending to my wound and his cracked ribs, – a gift of the falling tower.
Many others were pulled from the rubble and a mercifully small few were dead. The next day, Gregory and his fellow Knights went out in search of the Great Dragon’s body. From what was retold to me, they found him, skewered through the shoulder and wing and utterly crippled. He had landed on a small farm and the few spawn left to him circled him and protected him.
The High Knights arranged what soldiers they had and Gregory offered to be the one to bait the dragons. Three soldiers offered to go with him, but he refused them and went alone.
On horseback and bearing his crossbow, Gregory rode into the open field behind the farmhouse and baited the smaller dragons. One of the Knights told me he sang and shouted at the beasts the entire time. Dart after dart he fired and the smaller dragons were unable to get close to him. I daresay not a single dragon escaped without one of his shots in its hide. As he held the others at bay, he fired shot after shot into the Great Dragon until the monster was riddled with dozens of bolts. They say Gregory maneuvered his horse expertly and never came within fifty feet of any dragon. He dodged fire, claws, and tail spikes with skill only experience can bring. He anticipated every move perfectly.
The High Knights attacked as quickly as they could, bringing down the smaller dragons one by one. It took an hour and Gregory was out of darts when at last the small dragons were all down and only the Great Dragon remained. Grounded and unbound, they couldn’t get close to the beast. Its massive tail flailed in all directions, killing several Knights before they finally had a plan to defeat it. They needed a man to get right up under it and slice its throat, but only a few grappling hooks had not been broken by the other dragons and they would have to attempt to kill it without the aid of traps and ropes.
One of the most skilled Knights volunteered, if the others could distract it long enough for him to get close.
Grasping a shield, Gregory charged the dragon. The monster roared and spewed a stream of fire at him. He crouched down and the fire licked around him and the protective shield. He ran a second time and again the dragon heaved a great breath and streamed fire at him. Gregory was able to protect himself a second time, but the men behind him saw his clothing smoldering.
The third time, the dragon snapped at Gregory and caught the shield, shredding it into many pieces. His razor-like teeth were presented to the Prince and I marvel they didn’t catch Gregory with the same bite. Dodging the Great Dragon’s gray head, Gregory slipped up and sliced one of his clawed feet. Distracted by his new pain, the dragon turned on him and gave the other Knight a clear path to run up and slice his throat from jaw to jaw.
Before he could even get his sword into the beast’s hide, Gregory was doused by a third bath of fire and they say he was dead in an instant. While distracted with his freshly killed prey, the Dragon didn’t see the second Knight under his neck, but he felt his steel and cried out in one last mighty roar and breathed his last.
Since we have returned to Helfain, no news of any dragon has reached our ears. It would seem your son, my brother, is the last victim of their terrifying reign.
Gregory is highly honored in the city and I daresay many children will bear his name in this year. As his brother, I have been treated well on his behalf. My training has progressed and I am now considered a warrior along with the rest. I hope I shall never have to try my skill against these monsters, but I would be a liar if I didn’t think they are all but gone. Some dragon, somewhere, has eggs and there will be more of these scourges in the future. But whether they exist or not, I shall always have a treasured hate for them. When you return to your lord’s land in the spring, I will come to you and live with you for a time. My Prince has bidden me freedom to come and go as I please. I hope I shall not abuse this gift too severely, though I would be loath if I didn’t confess my strong desire to do just that. I will see you in the spring and no longer do you have need to watch the skies, for Gregory has made them safe once again.
Your loving son Simon, Chief Apprentice to the Armourers.”