Fiction logo

Dragon Hunt

The Last Days of Lothar Half-Thane

By Aaron EkstrandPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 13 min read
Like
image credit to Matteo Badini

“There weren't always Dragons in the Valley,” said Father. “We may yet be rid of them.”

“There weren’t Dragons, no,” said the Mordan One-Eye on the other side of the stone chamber, “but there were terrible things before. The tombs of our ancestors tell us—Belial and his sons, Beasts of every kind, Giants. We should remember and keep to wisdom, as we always have. Men should not go in the Valley. Men should stay safe in the Mountains and give thanks to the Goddess.”

The Yarl did not look at either of them as they spoke but stared at the cooking fire that cooked nothing tonight. Dolsun couldn’t see the old leader’s face from where he was hiding to spy on the meeting, but he’d never seen him sad. Did he look sad now on the day his daughter was killed?

“Hungry in the Mountains, scared to leave caves,” said Father. “Valley has rivers with fish. Valley grows food. Valley is warm.”

“Ingrate!” Mordan jabbed a finger towards him. “A fool expects all the blessings of life and none of its woes. Let us feel our grief when it comes and not curse our lot. If Lothar Half-Thane likes not the Yarl’s halls, he may take his Goblin son and go down to the Valley of Spring himself!”

“I will go, yes, but not my son. Dolsun is Eagle Clan, same as me. He has a right to be here.”

Mordan stared at Father with contempt but dared not challenge this.

Father continued. “Give me Argathax—I will fight.”

“Argathax!?” Mordan was speaking directly to the Yarl now. “Must we lose the spear of the ancestors as well as our warriors?”

“I do not ask for other warriors to come.”

There was silence. The other dozen or so Clan Thanes looked astonished at Father.

Then Mordan cackled. “One man against the Dragons? Fall on your own spear if you wish to die, not upon Argathax!”

“My own spear has spilled blood for the Yarl until the ground went slick to mud. You all know my strength, but I need magic to fight Dragons. It may be that I cannot drive them from the Valley alone, but I can hurt them.”

“Why should you go alone?” asked Mordan, narrowing his single eye. “You wish to take Argathax and return to the Forest to be with the wicked Goblins again?”

Father lifted his shirt. Dolsun couldn’t silence his gasp from the shadows, but others gasped and murmured as well. There was a deep wound under his ribs—a leaky hole that colored the skin black all around like some horrid spider web. “I will not live to see the year turn or the snows melt. I will die lying down in these halls or I will die on my feet in the Valley.” He took one step towards the Yarl. “Allow me to make war on the Dragons.”

The Yarl looked up from the flames and caught Father’s eyes, eyes filled with a shared knowledge of loss. A few moments passed before the Yarl gave a slow and deliberate nod.

Dolsun didn’t wait to hear the clamor that erupted then. He retreated into the dark to dry his watering eyes.

_

Dolsun stalked Father all the way down the mountain. His body was small and he clambered easily on all fours. He wore the helm, bracers, and sword that he’d been given, but left the rest of his early inheritance behind. He did not want to live with the Clan if Father was gone. He did not belong with men like Mordan.

Father leaned heavy on Argathax as he made his descent. When was he wounded? He hid it well when anyone watched.

“Is it true?” Dolsun had asked before he left. “That I am a monster? That you are not my father?” He clenched his fists and raged at his eyes for welling up again with tears.

“You have been old enough to know the truth long before I could find the heart to tell it to you,” said Father. “Your mother was my wife when I lived at the edge of the Great Forest, that much is true… but your father was a monster. I slew him and his ilk for what they did to my family.”

Dolsun’s vision was bleary with wetness then.

“It was your mother’s mercy, not mine, that spared you, and it was for her that I raised you after she passed. And—” he put a hand on Dolsun’s shoulder, “I am very glad that I did. Blood or no blood, you are my son and you do me honor.”

“Take me to fight with you,” croaked Dolsun. “Don’t leave me here and die alone!”

Father shed tears then and hugged him tight. “My son. My only son and heir, I want you to live. I have no child left but you, and you must take my place beside the Yarl. You will win glory for the Clan and have many sons and daughters yourself.”

That was the day before yesterday, when Father still seemed an invincible Giant. What he saw far below now was a frail old man with a walking stick stumbling down the mountain to his grave. The thought gave him more tears to curse.

_

It was almost evening on the third day when Father reached the burrow. He stopped first at the stream to drink and wash, then rested and prayed. If the Goddess favored him, she would gather his soul with the other virtuous dead and place it in a newborn later. Others in the Clan claimed they had visions of their own past lives—often as Eagles—but Dolsun never had any. That’s because he must have a new soul, they said. The Goddess would not put a soul in a form such as his.

Father was standing now at the lip of the great hole. It stunk like eggs and old carcasses of great Beasts—Goats and Bears and Aurochs—which were strewn all around. He leaned Argathax on his shoulder while he tightened a woolen bandage around his wound, then held the spear with one hand and turned it over, twisting it while he traced the runes carved along the shaft, chanting softly. The runes began to glow white-blue. Then Father held it aloft as a faint torch and crept inside.

Dolsun could feel his heart pounding in his head as he drew his sword and followed. He had seen the Dragons from far away before, never up close. He’d kept checking the skies for them as they descended into the Valley these past days, but never saw any. Dragons spent long periods of time underground in sleep, it seemed, and then crawled out with ravenous hunger, gorging themselves on Man and Beast until the weight of their meal slowed them into another sleep. Father said that the world was encircled by a great Dragon that the Goddess always kept asleep, but that one day she’d forget when no one prayed anymore and that was how the world would end.

The air in the den was so putrid that a haze was visible. Dolsun had a strong stomach for foul things, but a normal man might gag and retch here. He prayed his Father could withstand it.

The halo of Father’s weapon was disappearing into the darkness, to which Dolsun was also well-adapted. He walked in. Colors faded as he let his eyes adjust, seeing into the blackness with Goblin sight.

As the tunnel sloped downward, the first three hundred feet or so was made of mud baked hard, but then it turned into solid rock and leveled out. Dolsun stopped before the tunnel turned and crouched. The stone here was cold, but the air was lukewarm and flowed in and out, in and out. He saw, in amazement, the source of the flow as he crawled forward and peaked around the bend.

There was a monstrous reptile lounging in a pocket chamber connected to the tunnel, larger than any creature he could remember seeing. Its shape in the dim light was like a small hill that went all the way to the ceiling. It was difficult to tell where its body ended and the craggy stone walls began. Father was there with Argathax raised above his head, its point hovering just above the creature’s eye.

WSHHH-chKAK

Father brought the spear down with both hands. It struck through flesh and pierced the stone underneath. The weapon’s light was completely concealed.

The Dragon tensed and coiled its tail and its whole body but could not pull its head away. It thrashed its claws, but it was only its death throes and it did not open its mouth to give a cry. It looked to Dolsun like a serpent he had once chopped in half for sleeping in his bed.

Father watched the claws writhe but held the spear fast in the Dragon’s skull. The movements made a grinding sound as they scraped against the rock. They gradually decreased, then stopped. Father’s muscles strained as he pulled Argathax free, now covered in dark ooze, but the light shone through again. He waited only a moment before continuing down the tunnel. Though it was tragic to leave so much hide and meat and bone, Dolsun continued after.

He was truly in awe of his father now. His previous terror turned into the thrill of the hunt. If all the Dragons slept loudly like that, perhaps they would be easy to exterminate? How would the Yarl honor them for making the Valley of Spring safe for Men?

These thoughts made him forget his stealth. Father had turned around and was holding Argathax aloft, but Dolsun managed to stop short of his light. The man peered at the darkness for a few moments and took two steps forward, looking right at him. Dolsun was sure he’d been discovered, but then the air visibly moved around them and Father turned back the other way.

Dolsun let him get far ahead so his own pulse could subside before hurrying after. He felt the air move with more strength as he neared Father, and faster than when it moved before.

Father was nearing a bend in the tunnel where it opened up into another cavity. He slowed his pace and stalked slowly towards the chamber.

Dolsun’s heart stopped. A huge neck craned around the bend, and on the neck, a monster’s head with flared red nostrils and blazing eyes.

Father dashed in and the head snapped back out of sight.

aROOOOOOOO

Fire exploded and smoke plumed out of the chamber, turning the already-dense air into a choking poison. He heard Father yell and claws rending stone.

Dolsun stood there clenching the sword. He wanted to run forward, to help somehow and save his only family, but his legs refused to uproot. What could he do with that tiny blade? Was it over already? Would he hear the sound of screams? The sound of bones being crushed between teeth?

But there was no sound.

He forced his right leg to bend, then his left, made them move down the tunnel just as though he were in the Yarl’s halls again, walking to fetch a pitcher. He rounded the corner.

There was the Dragon, fearsome and huge as the last one, pitched on its side and not moving, and there was Father, thrown clear of its body. There was a spray of blood in a straight line along the floor, up the wall, and across the ceiling of the chamber. The Dragon had its back to the tunnel, its head cocked backwards at an odd angle with its tongue lolled out. Father was doing his best to suppress coughs as he felt his way around on the ground and walls, now and again pausing to press a hand against his wound and adjust the bandage.

You’ve done it! Dolsun thought to shout. You’ve done enough! Let’s go take a rest. Let’s go home now. But he said nothing.

Father moved away from the wall and groped at nothing in the air, turned halfway around, wandered out into the tunnel, then touched the far wall and started to follow it hand-over-hand deeper into the Earth.

He’s lost in the dark, Dolsun thought. He stepped quietly into the chamber. Did the Dragon fall on Argathax, smothering its light? He climbed over the creature, following the line of blood.

There was a little knub sticking out of the creature’s breast, right under the arm. As before, it was wrenched in too deep to see the light.

He sheathed his own weapon and pulled slow and firm, slipping the spear from meat and bone. A little light shone through and then a little more, and then he heard footsteps returning so he pushed it halfway back inside and crawled away from the corpse.

Father retrieved the spear as Dolsun slipped back into the tunnel, retreating more as the light came out of the chamber. The man stopped for a moment to wipe the blood covering the runes with the wool of his shirt, then pressed on down the tunnel. Dolsun followed.

Were one of those Dragons the one that got the Yarl’s daughter? They said she was scooped up in its snout, just swallowed whole. They did look big enough for swallowing, especially to a slender girl.

Yanna was her name. They were of the same age but he’d seen her rarely, and even then only from afar. She sat, of course, at the Yarl’s table during important feasts. He usually found an unlit corner to take his own food at such occasions, to see and not be seen. He hated jeering eyes and false smiles equally. No one loved a monster—no one but Father, but Father had to take his meals at the Yarl’s table as well. He was a mighty warrior so they made him a Thane, but they gave him no halls of his own, so he would not bring his family to dine with the Yarl. That is how he came to be called Lothar Half-Thane.

The tunnel went deeper than Dolsun had imagined, and it ran into a tunnel at least three times as large that ran perpendicular to it. His ability to see in the dark only extended out about 20 yards, so the top of the tunnel was out of sight.

He noticed then that the rune-light was out of sight as well. Which way did Father go? Left? Right? He took a chance on left and ran down the passage. After a few minutes, he realized that he should have caught him already and doubled back the other way, paying little mind to the sound of his footfalls now.

He slowed after rounding a bend and catching a glimpse of a far-off light. He assumed it to be Argathax at first, but as he approached he saw that it was too diffuse. The tunnel widened up into a massive cavern, and there was ambient light coming from somewhere far up above—sunlight, it seemed, either shining directly or reflecting off something. The floor sparkled with iridescent splendor, and he was astounded to see mounds of cut gemstones littered atop a carpet of silver and gold coins. In the dark cavern, it gave the effect of looking into the night sky. Wind blew in from some high part of the chamber, enhancing the effect.

He came into the cavern and jewelry, saw baubles and ornaments of every variety, rings and crowns, swords made for Giants with decorative hilts, columns of carved marble, and there—some 30 yards away, atop a dais on a bed of fine fabrics, basking in a beam of light—reclined a beautiful young girl with long flaxen hair. She wore a white linen dress that showed her curves and made Dolsun’s heart catch in his chest. He came closer still and recognized Yanna, the Yarl’s daughter. This alone was more wondrous than all the treasures before him.

First looking left and right for any Dragons that Father may have missed, he stepped lightly toward her. Coins slid and jingled as he crossed the room, but he was careful not to cause too much noise. Perhaps she would love him for taking her from this place? He saw a vision of the Jarl smiling, saying, “Well done, Lothar’s Son.” If the Jarl could love him, perhaps the Clan would as well?

He stepped up on the dais and into the beam of light.

“Yanna,” he whispered.

She breathed languidly in and out, in and out, but gave no response. He circled around the bed and saw her eyes shut in sleep.

At the same time, he saw a massive head with horns and a long snout near the other end of the cavern where he had come from. It had looked before like only a part of the wall widening out into the large chamber. Its breath was so slow and so deep that the wind created ambient weather. He knew then that the Dragons from before were only very small—young babes, perhaps, or even Dragon-dwarfs. He also knew that there was no way a man could hope to fight it. A man may as well hope to fight a hurricane.

Only the head of the creature was visible, illuminated from above by a white-blue light. Dolsun traced up to the source of the light with his eyes and saw Father finishing his chant over Argathax. He had managed to scale a marble column and was now preparing to make a leaping stab at the Dragon’s closed eye.

EAHHHHH! A monster, my Lord!” Yanna was crawling backwards away from Dolsun on the bed. Her eyes were wide with shock and terror at him.

Father was looking at him now, also with eyes wide in shock. He never saw the Dragon snap up with one motion to close its jaws around him, his little spear, and most of the column he was standing on as well.

Dolsun had bolted to the far end of the cavern before he was even aware that he was running for his life. His helmet fell off somewhere in his flight. He found a crack in the rock and dove, letting out his breath and squeezing down into unknown darkness.

The chamber behind him roared with a belch of fire that sounded almost like laughter.

Fantasy
Like

About the Creator

Aaron Ekstrand

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights

Comments

There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.