“There weren’t always dragons in the Valley. When they came, they came like a storm. And then, as sudden as they had arrived, they were gone, and no one knows why.”
– Masra Corbini, Pherius Institute of Sciences, Autumn 1284.
The dell came alive with the sound of iron and steel indigestion. Row after row of soldiers formed an assembly line, clattering swords and clacking spears, hammering their shields. The battlefield transformed into a factory of war. Phalanx after phalanx formed, cogs in a machine meant only to manufacture death. The initial clash, othismos, was always the loudest. Shield met shield like cymbals clashing and spears splintered upon a wall of armored men like a violent ocean battering a rocky cliffside. Opposing phalanxes wheeled and scrummed vying for position to overtake the other. Blood, sweat, and piss left behind in the wake of destruction churned the ground into sludge.
Vili watched the scene unfold below him, eager for it to end so he could get to work. Skeletal remnants of draconic leviathans were left scattered across the valley bed in varying degrees of burial. The scales had already been pillaged long ago, plucked by greedy lords, leaving the ivory bones behind. But that’s where the real value was, contained within the calcified remains. Vili pulled his occu-lens over his spectacles, an invention of his own making. It was a series of lenses, each with a different level of magnification, and depending on which switch was flicked, a person could either view something very tiny or something very far away. He watched the opposing armies fight for control of the dale, willing to slaughter for unfettered access to the bones.
Two men joined Vili, perching uncomfortably close to the ledge. Durn, the taller of the two standing at a little over four feet, looked like a barrel with arms and legs and a beefy head. He wore goggles and a leather cap squished on top of a mop of blond hair. His chubby cheeks were constantly flushed red. A little triangle goatee grew from a small, dimpled chin. Marn, Durn’s younger brother, by contrast looked less like a barrel and more like a sack of potatoes sprouting limbs. He was lumpier than his brother, rolls of fat spilling out of his shirt and over the waist of his trousers. A long brown beard fell to his knobby knees, tied into a thick braid.
“Who you betting on?” Durn asked gruffly.
Vili lit up a pipe, puffed it few times until the tobacco glowed. “Lord Tyron is shrewd. He’ll likely take the field.”
Marn scanned the battlefield, lips moving silently as he counted the men in each army. “Chaster has the larger army,” he said dully after tallying the results on his fat fingers.
“Numbers don’t mean a stronger army. Tyron will win.” Vili watched as Chaster’s phalanxes made a push on Tyron’s left side, where the phalanx was shallower. Chaster seized upon the perceived advantage, and kept pushing, unaware of the trap awaiting them. As Tyron’s left phalanx collapsed, Chaster’s army found itself wheeled around. On cue, Tyron’s reserve phalanxes marched forward to trap Chaster’s stranded men. The battle was over within minutes, save for the remaining cleanup. While Tyron’s army picked off straggling units, Vili headed to the south side of the valley towards Tyron’s camp.
Marn and Durn followed him, as did the party of hired hands pulling several wagons full of equipment and tools. The hillside sloped southwards and turned along the curve of the bowl of the dell, at the bottom of which, Tyron’s army erected a city of canvas tents. The largest tent was staked furthest away from the battlefield and marked with banners fluttering atop tall posts and guards stationed all around it. The party waited on the outskirts of the camp while Vili, Durn, and Marn approached Lord Tyron’s tent.
After presenting himself to the guards, Vili was invited into the tent by Lord Tyron. The ground was covered with lavish rugs, and a plush bed pushed into the corner. Several officers were surrounding a long wooden table situated in the center of the tent, where a map had been unfurled. The men all wore plated armor, still gleaming, without blemish. Lord Tyron was at the head of the table, facing the entrance to the tent, and the only one not wearing armor. Instead, he donned long robes of crimson, tied at the waist with a royal blue sash. He was a tall, slender man, with an angular and sharp face. An auburn goatee grew from his pointed chin and ended with a curl. His dark brown eyes looked up as Vili entered.
“You’re the merchant?” Tyron’s voice was deep, resonating in Vili’s chest.
“Harvester, Lord Tyron,” Vili replied.
Vili smiled. “I and my team harvest dragon remains, sir. You hire us to harvest them on your behalf.”
Tyron cocked a thick eyebrow. “What’s your price to do something I could have my army do?”
“We simply keep a fraction of what we harvest. And as far as having your soldiers collect the bones, I can assure you we are far more efficient. Excavating around the bones is a delicate art, requiring precision. And beneath the surface lies far more than what we see strewn across this vale.”
Lord Tyron twirled his goatee in his long fingers. After a few minutes of thinking, he nodded. “What fraction will you claim?”
“Nine percent of the total weight that we harvest.”
“Five percent.” Tyron countered.
“Seven,” Vili responded, already expecting Tyron to barter him down.
Tyron nodded and then waved his hand dismissively. “Fine. It will take a couple days to clear the field of the dead. After that, you can begin.”
“No need to wait, sir. Your army did well to avoid most of the remains. We can start with those.”
Vili turned on his heel to leave, but didn’t get far.
“Do you hover over all battlefields, waiting for the end of battles so you can swoop in and offer your services to the victor?” Lord Tyron asked before Vili reached the curtain.
“We all have our jobs,” Vili answered shortly.
“You’re a vulture, picking at the bones of a battlefield.”
Vili simply nodded in response and then stepped out of the stuffy tent. Marn and Durn waited patiently, half the height of the guards, but twice as wide. By the look on Vili’s face, they could tell negotiations were successful.
“We’ll start on the east bank of the valley. That’s where the bones were more densely gathered. Focus on digging out a perimeter twenty meters around the site. Keep it shallow at first, no more than a foot. Once we extract the surface pieces, we can start digging for the ones beneath.”
“How do you know there are any underneath?” Durn asked.
“The unnatural shape of the terrain, and spotty growth of grasses. Also…” Vili paused a moment before looking around to make sure no one else was within earshot. “I noticed Lua Dracos just beginning to bloom.”
Marn and Durn both looked at each other before nodding and heading towards the wagons where they began moving the workers to the east side of the small valley. The caravan of wagons paraded through the army encampment and down onto the battlefield. It snaked its way around the carnage and to the east, where Vili had spotted the grouping of dragon remains. The equipment was unloaded first, mostly shovels, picks, and buckets. But they had machines Vili had invented himself for the express purpose of excavating and harvesting dragon bones, a series of pulleys and wheels, cogs and cranks. Several workers began staking out the perimeter, driving large wooden stakes into the ground and tying string around each of them to form a simple barrier.
The remnants above the ground were just beginning to be devoured by the earth, still standing a dozen feet taller than Vili. He meandered beneath a still intact rib cage, the arcs of the ribs and the spine forming a tunnel. Sprouting from the fertile ground beneath the tail end of the spine was a stout weed, the base a nest of wide and fuzzy leaves. The stem was prickly, and the head was just beginning to bloom with vibrant, purple pedals over a crown of thorny leaves. Vili crouched down and tenderly caressed the weed. He’d been looking everywhere for this simple, useless flower. He snapped the weed mid-stem and a milky white dew leaked from where it broke. Vili tucked the purple head into his pocket, feeling hopeful about this particular excavation.
About the Creator
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Zero grammar & spelling mistakes