Day of the Dragon: A Stonemason’s Revenge
Meryck’s body has withered with age, but his mind is still sharp, and he will destroy the Agassi legacy.
A piece of a five-part non-chronological series centred around the day of the dragon.
The sound of wildlife flitting about the forest occupies Meryck’s senses. A short distance away from the main camp, the elderly man rests on a fallen tree trunk. The break offers his sore feet some respite from the long march toward the city of Gallina.
The birdsong is mesmerising like a melodic spell inducing him into relaxation. With one tweet comes another, plus a whistle in response, and a chirp to the left, harmonising together to create nature’s music.
Thick upper storey foliage produces shade and shelter for the moving army, but it doesn’t hide their movement. They carry something too big to traverse a forest with, so they remain close to the road. Due to rough terrain, the league containing thousands of soldiers occasionally emerges from the forest to walk the road before slinking back into the trees.
They make a weak attempt at subtlety as they advance upon their target: Gallina. The coloured banners they carry shiver in the breeze and the sun glints off their bronze armour. Locals have kept their heads down as they pass the unit hauling Meryck’s contraptions, but they know what kingdom they are from. King Ditruv holds infamy; the red and golden banners always fly in the cities ruled with an unforgiving iron fist. Meryck has done his best to persuade the generals to march the army itself within the forest, but it was a hard sell.
King Ditruv’s army has too much pride, not that Meryck can judge them. After all, pride lead him here. Pride broke his order to silence. He warned them not to tell anyone… but his children succumbed to pride easier than he did. Pride didn’t kill them, though. No, Meryck blames the Noble of War at the time: Walter Agassi.
The rot in Gallina began with Walter Agassi. How dare he steal the credit for building the wall? Meryck directed the entire project! Sure, Agassi provided the funds… but without Meryck’s skills, Gallina would have fallen to attack decades ago. Suffering in silence, Meryck let his bitterness build as Agassi claimed the recognition. When Agassi murdered his family for speaking the truth, framing them for crimes they didn’t commit, Meryck swore revenge. If the Noble of War wants war, then Meryck will bring it.
Calls of the General rousing the army into movement disrupt the birdsong. Meryck sighs, drinking in the idyllic sight of the forest before rising to his sore feet. The afternoon sun which filters through the green canopy above is dimming quickly. Gallina is close.
Meryck’s suspicions are confirmed; it is only a short walk further until they emerge from the tree cover and the army floods onto the stony road. The old man’s legs are aching, his beard is grey, his hands are wrinkled and fingers gnarled from years of hard work. The life of a stonemason takes its toll. Age has withered Meryck’s body, but his mind is still as sharp as it was in his youth.
The Agassi family will learn a lesson: never betray a stonemason and engineer.
Thanks to Meryck, this army is towing three gigantic structures of his design. Now, he can prove he created Gallina’s decades of safety with one fell swoop. Only he knows the shortcomings of the wall, the weak points in its build, and has the intelligence to craft the siege weapons that will destroy it.
Gallina is going to fall tonight. It is Meryck’s last stand. So much passion went into the wall; a protection for his family so they could live safe and fulfilling lives in Gallina. Now, there is no use for the barrier. That foul city is rotten from the inside out, and he has no more family to protect.
The elderly man feels a wistful nostalgia grip him as he hobbles down the road, a road he walked hundreds of times in his youth. This time, he brings an army. His heart twists with grief and loss, throbbing with heartache and yearning.
“Old man,” General Siresh calls. “How much farther to Gallina?”
“Erm, about three hours’ march?” Meryck shrugged. “I haven’t been here in a long time, you know.”
“This road sweeps past the front portcullis eastward to the flaw in the wall, correct?”
Words escape Meryck for a moment while he battles with his conscience. Slowly, he nods. General Siresh grunts in response and begins relaying orders to the unit leaders.
“Remember, our priority is to head straight for the Chamber of the Seats of Nobles in the centre of Gallina. Any rebellious civilians, kill them. King Ditruv doesn’t have patience for people who resist.”
A shadow shoots above them, with the sound of wind pumping beneath leathery wings pushing into Meryck’s eardrums as the beast dives by him. It sweeps the breath from his lungs as he stares in shock at the flying monster quickly receding into the distance at an unthinkable speed. A shriek rattles Meryck’s bones and his hands shake.
Tales of dragons are just that… tales. Fantastical bedtime stories or old myths of the great creator of fire, the sculptor of the earth, the first stonemason: the red dragon. It is flying toward Gallina, leaving King Ditruv’s army at a standstill, frozen in shock.
General Siresh doesn’t acknowledge it, instead continuing his march forward in the hope his men will follow. After a few seconds of scattered footsteps, they fall back into pace with the General. Meryck steals a glance toward the leader, who clenches his jaw tightly and narrows his eyes at the road.
“Sir, with all due respect, I think that was a dragon. Are you sure you want to keep going ahead?”
The General gives a sharp nod. “We do not falter. The d-dragon is already long gone out of sight. It is not a problem for us, only for the poor souls who get it its way. Heston!” A youthful, lightly armoured man hurries up to the General’s side. “Take two men with you and travel back to King Ditruv. We have sighted a dragon toward Gallina. I am not sure what he can do… but he needs to know.”
The boy gives a salute and runs in the opposite direction of the army. It’s no use, Meryck thinks. It’s a dragon, an actual dragon! His grandfather told him stories when he was a boy about the almighty Szrue, Dragon of Creation. Even though an icy fear freezes his muscles, he pushes through the chill toward Gallina. Could the dragon really be their world’s creator? Did his claws carve the rivers and valleys through the earth? Did his wings create the wind which always moves around the world and never stops? Did his fiery breath bottle into the earth’s volcanoes, make the world warm enough for life to exist? Is dragonfire really eternal, impossible to extinguish?
The great creator, a god… excitement breaks the fear holding Meryck. He just witnessed a god, so close to him the wind beneath his wings whipped at Meryck’s cloak!
As thoughts of childhood stories and who the dragon is spin in Meryck’s mind, night falls across the land. Through the darkness, glowing lights approach, hundreds of flickering amber specks floating over the gentle rise of the hills before them, illuminating the crowd travelling along the road.
“Hold. Ready your weapons!”
Upon the General’s command, the front lines of the army brace themselves for conflict. Like statues, they remain still, with shields held close and swords gripped tightly in their hands. Nervousness was all Meryck felt, before the feeling transformed into one of dread. It isn’t an army approaching them; it is a crowd of men, women, and children, some holding sacks full of food and clothing.
“Meryck, you are coming with me.”
General Siresh whispers orders to his right hand before punching Meryck’s shoulder and dragging him forward.
“What? Why me?”
“You are an old man. Nobody will expect harm or malice from an old man. Gallina is ahead. These people can only have come from there. King Ditruv will rule Gallina and its people. Fear works wonders, but charity can earn favour with the people, make them more pliable and accepting of a new ruler.”
The General has always impressed Meryck. The man is a true strategist, not only in war, but in domination.
“Hello!” General Siresh calls. “Where have you come from, is everything okay?”
The people leading the crowd wave and jog toward the pair of men, one carrying a lit torch.
“Hello! Yes, we have come from Gallina. A dragon has destroyed the city. We evacuated, but we do not know how many people remain within Wall Agassi.”
The speaker has bloodshot eyes, with soot smeared across his high cheekbones and hair flat and thin upon his head. He looks exhausted. They all do.
“The wall, was it damaged?” General Siresh asks.
“Of course not! The wall is indestructible, everyone knows that,” snaps the broad-shouldered man holding the torchlight. The buildings of Gallina are burning, but the wall will not.”
Meryck peers at the man’s face lit by the fire’s light. His eyes are piercing and sunken into deep hollows. His lips press into a thin line, his pointed chin pushes forward. Meryck’s heart thuds unevenly.
“Excuse me, are you… what is your name?” Meryck wishes he could project his voice and sound stronger, but the words quiver and crack.
The man raised his head, looking down at Meryck from the corners of his eyes. “William Agassi, Noble of War.”
“I thought so. You are all on the Seats of Nobles?”
“Yes, I hold the Seat of Agriculture. We are leading the Gallinan citizens away from the danger, but there are so many injured -”
“We can help,” General Siresh says. “Set your wounded at the bottom of the hill. We will set up camp together.”
Two of the Nobles nod, relief washing over their weary faces. Tears pool in one’s eyes and he holds his bandaged hands up, desperate for something to end his suffering. William Agassi, however, notices the army waiting in the darkness behind Meryck and Siresh.
“They don’t offer help! They bring an army!”
“Give it a rest.” The Noble of Agriculture shakes his head. “You can’t fight your way out of this one, William.”
“What?! They are an invading force!”
“Yes, we are,” General Siresh says plainly. “We are also offering you aid. Are you going to deny it and let your people suffer and die from their injuries?”
The General cocks an eyebrow. William Agassi is furious, clenching his hands into fists, glaring at the General. An overwhelming satisfaction floods through Meryck while he watches the Noble of War wrestle with his hatred and anger, only to inevitably accept defeat, completely useless. The man has a temper to match that of his father, Walter Agassi, and to watch that anger fizzle into nothing fills Meryck with pleasure.
But the pleasure of their surrender isn’t enough.
When he built the swinging arms that would haul boulders into the Wall Agassi, Meryck always fantasised he would destroy the wall… and then destroy the Agassi family. He is not a violent man and never has been, but grief can rule a man’s emotions, and hatred was born from this grief.
Although they only just met, Meryck despises William Agassi with every fibre of his being. His hatred is like a red hot iron burning through his insides. His hands itch to grab that burning iron rod, turn it away from himself and spear Noble before him. He could not bring back his own family into the living, but he could take away family from the man who took the lives of his.
The citizens of Gallina are compliant, taking direction from the invading forces without question, desperate for care. Soldiers’ tents are pitched and they spark fires to cook food. Meryck stares at the Noble of War sitting on the opposite side of the healing tent. Meryck’s old hands are swift, albeit shaky as he takes the sword of a nearby young recruit, and stalks toward the Noble of War. A fire burns in his chest, and a steely resolve drives him forward to take his revenge.