The kingdom of Eldrawn awaits in despair
“There weren't always dragons in the valley,” King Solares explained gently. “There was a time not so very long ago when we were at peace with the wizards and the valley was a safe haven for us all.”
Princess Geldra of the Kingdom Eldrawn looked up at her father in confusion. “I don’t understand. If there weren't always dragons in the valley, why are they here now?”
King Solares looked at his daughter’s beautiful face and sighed. She looked so like her late mother that it often pained the king to gaze upon her. Her long flaxen hair framed large blue eyes, high cheekbones, a small, straight nose and full, heart-shaped lips.
He had known that the day would come when he would be forced to tell her the truth, but he always managed to find an excuse to put it off. Now he understood that it was not the time for feeble excuses. “They come at the behest of the dark wizard.”
“Sangar? But why should he bear us so much malice?”
“Let me gather my thoughts and I will tell all.” The king poured himself a goblet of wine with a hand that shook slightly before continuing. “At the time of your birth he started, there was a great deal of unrest in the valley. We were at war with the wizards and they unleashed their dragons to attack us and cast fear in our hearts,” his eyes softened, “but when you were born everything changed”.
Geldra frowned. “How so, Father?”
“You never knew your mother child. She died giving you life, but all who saw her commented on her great beauty. Even as a baby you rivalled your mother in beauty and when Sangar first saw you he fell deeply in love and asked me to promise him your hand in marriage when you were of age.”
“You agreed to this?” she asked incredulously.
There was deep sorrow in the King’s eyes. “Sangar swore to me that if I promised him your hand, he would drive the other wizards from the valley and ensure that the dragons were also banished.”
“So I was to be given away as chattel?” The hurt in her voice was almost palpable.
“No, no of course not! It wasn’t so.” He reached out for her hand, but she pulled away from him.”Geldra please! I had no other choice at the time. The townspeople were being slaughtered mercilessly.”
Geldra took a moment to examine her father’s face. “What happened then to anger Sangar so?”
The king’s face was a study in misery. “When you were born, I wanted to hate you for taking the life of my dearest love during childbirth, however I felt nothing but the deepest love for you.”
“Oh father!” Geldra started sobbing.
“No, no, my child. No matter how much I tried, I could never hate you. You are the embodiment of your mother. You are kind, pure, and very, very dear to me. You are what I live for. I realized as you got older that I could never condemn you to a life with Sangar.”
“So what did you do?” she asked in a whisper.
“I told him that the day would never come when you would be his wife.”
“So his dragons have been scorching all of the crop fields and killing townspeople because of me?”
The king nodded. “And it will only get worse. Sangar is trying to pressure me into relenting. If I don't reverse my decision, he vowed he will destroy the valley and lay everything to waste." The king buried his face in his hands, his shoulders drooped in defeat. "Geldra, I fear we are lost. I have no idea what to do."
Geldra sat up straight and squared her shoulders resolutely. “You will do nothing, Father.”
King Solares raised his head from his hands. “Nothing?”
“I am the cause of this and therefore I will be the solution.”
Sangar summoned his dragons to the tower of his castle, Naesbrey Keep. He was under no illusions about the loyalty of his dragons, Apep and Haku. They honored no one but themselves. They would kill him if the urge to do so overtook them, but he had something he knew they would do anything for.
Apep was staring at one of the gold amulets around his neck and Sangar shivered involuntarily. It was the dragons’ eyes that bothered him most. Lifeless and malevolent, they screamed carnage and death. Sangar grasped the amulet between thumb and forefinger and ripped it from his body. “This is what you want, isn’t it?”
Apep shifted from one foot to another, small tendrils of smoke coming from her nostrils. “Gold,” she hissed. Meanwhile Haku stood very still, his eyes never leaving the gold in Sangar’s hand.
“In a few days time I will have council with Geldra. If she rejects my proposal, I want you to destroy the valley. Kill everyone and burn all of the crops that still flourish. Then destroy the castle of Eldrawn and slay the king along with his daughter. The kingdom holds your reward but only I know where it is hidden. I will show you where there’s more gold than you could ever want in a lifetime.
Apep’s nostrils flared and flames flew out. She looked at Haku and nodded. “We will lay waste to the fields today.”
“No! Not yet.” Sangar knew the exclamation was too forceful even as the words left his lips.
Apep drew herself up to her full height of 20 men, spread her wings, and let loose with a frightening firefall.
Sangar shrank back. “The time will come for you to act. If Geldra accepts my proposal, you still lay waste to the kingdom and all of its people. You just don’t touch the princess. Kill everyone else.”
Sangar smiled and tossed her the amulet which she caught in her talons before signaling Haku that it was time to leave.
“And you say Sangar’s dragons will lay waste to the kingdom?” asked Prince Doran from the courtyard of Grimtal Stronghold.
Geldra nodded miserably. She glanced at his handsome face, her heart thudding painfully in her chest. “Yes my prince and he will probably kill you first when our engagement is announced.”
“Let him try,” Doran sneered through clenched teeth. I’m not afraid of that vile, old wizard and neither should you be.” Doran knew the dragons would be a different story, however, but he would deal with them when the time came.
"Sangar has two dragons at his command,” Geldra reminded him.
Doran appreciated her fear of the dragons and if he were honest, he'd have to admit that he feared the beasts himself. “Dragons are neither loyal to humans nor to wizards. We must find out what it is that Sangar’s dragons want and give it to them.” Doran hoped but seriously doubted it would be as simple as that.
“So how would we find out?”
“You must do that, Geldra. You must tell him that you are willing to marry him and gain his trust so that you may determine how he controls those dragons. Once we gain that knowledge, control of the dragons will pass to us.”
“And what of Sangar?”
Doran smiled malevolently. “I have a plan to deal with the dark wizard and if it works, he will be out of our lives forever.”
Bordered by mountains on all sides, Eldrawn valley was a lush, verdant green paradise peppered with well maintained homes and thriving fields of crops. The Kingdom of Eldrawn sat atop one of the mountains that overlooked the valley.
A casual observer might have thought that all was well, but a keen observer would have noticed the squared shoulders of the townspeople and the weariness in their eyes as they went about their daily chores.
Cassian was the first to hear the rumble in the distance. He shrugged off his blacksmith apron and ran to Aleric who was picking fruit from one of the valley’s many fruit trees. “The time has come, brother. I hear dragons in the distance,” he called to Aleric, who was halfway up an apple tree.
The other man jumped down from his perch in the tree, still holding an apple in his clenched hand.
“Have Crispin gather together the women and children and ferry them to the castle as quickly as possible. Then gather all the bowmen you can find, arm them with the spears and arrows from my blacksmith shop, and position them strategically around the valley. Have Castellian and Edmund help you.”
And what of you, Cassian?” Aleric asked.
“I will ready the keep's catapults.”
“And the knights?”
“I will send a messenger to the castle and have them ready their knights with lancets and shields and position them throughout the valley.”
Cassian and Aleric looked at each other.
“For honor and family,” Aleric whispered fiercely.
“For honor and family,” Cassian agreed grimly.
The honeysuckle was in bloom and its cloying scent was choking Geldra. The gardens were lush and a virtual splendor of color but she was unable to enjoy them.
She was consumed by thoughts of how she could best coax out the information she required.
“So, you’ve had a change of heart?” Sangar asked with barely concealed skepticism. He and Geldra were sitting in the courtyard of Naesbrey Keep.
“My heart has not changed my Lord. ‘Twas my father who refused you, not I.”
“I am not a Lord,” Sangar’s voice was deceptively gentle, “and I can only assume that conferring that title on me was nothing more than a brazen attempt at flattery.” Sangar smiled. “More tea, my dear?”
“Yes, please.” Geldra pushed her cup and saucer forward on the table. “The use of the title ‘Lord’ was not so much an attempt at flattery as it was a loss of knowing how to address you.”
“Sangar is fine. And I suppose you’d like me to believe that a beautiful princess such as you would like to spend the rest of your life with an ugly, old wizard such as me?” Sangar’s voice was sickeningly sweet, but his eyes were flinty and cold.
Geldra had thought hard about how she would respond if Sangar posed a question like this. She was very careful in her answer. “If I am to be honest, I hold no attraction for you. Your features do not appeal to me, nor do I particularly like your temperament. You do, however, have something I desire very much. Perhaps more than anything in the world.”
Sangar leaned forward in his chair, very much invested in what Geldra had to say. “And what is that, my dear?”
“Power,” Geldra replied simply. “Especially the power to control the dragons.”
“And what would you do with such power?” Sangar wanted to know.
“I would take over all of the kingdoms in the land and luxuriate in all of their riches.”
“And you would use the dragons to accomplish these goals?”
Sangar leaned back and sighed. “Dragons can not be controlled, Geldra,”
“But you can control them.”
“No, that is where you are mistaken. I don’t control my dragons, I manage their actions through the use of rewards.”
Sangar waved a hand through the air dismissively. “Yes, yes. Dragons are incredibly greedy creatures with very little or no remorse for their actions. As long as I promise them gold, they will do whatever I want, but I’m not such a fool that I don’t know that if the desire to kill me struck them, they would do so with no hesitation whatsoever.”
Geldra was barely paying attention to Sangar’s words. Her mind was instead focused on the catacombs of the Eldrawn kingdom where she knew her father had stored a vast fortune in gold.
The candlelight in the sorcerer’s library was burning low.
“Let me see if I understand your desire, young prince. You would like me to create a plan to imprison a dark wizard for all time?”
Doran nodded. “You are the most powerful sorcerer in all the lands. None would be better suited to defeat the dark wizard than you, Tobias.” They were seated across from one another, on opposite sides of a vast oak table.
“And for this you would promise me a wealth in riches, the finest home in the valley, and a bride of my choice?”
“That is so,” Doran agreed.
“And on what object would you have me cast a spell?”
“A looking glass. The dark wizard Sangar is known to be very much in love with himself. I believe his narcissism may be his undoing. Please make it so that anyone caught gazing into this looking glass for more than a moment, will be trapped in its depths forever.”
The sorcerer hesitated only a second before nodding. “It shall be done. Now be gone from this place and leave me to my dark work.”
The air was foul with the smell of burned flesh. Cassian was bloodied from the battle, but relatively unbowed. He found Aleric tending to a man who appeared to have sustained burns to the majority of his body. “Aleric my friend! I am gratified to find that you still reside among the living.”
“And I you.”
Cassian surveyed the valley. There were still a number of fires smoldering and a few dozen burned bodies to be buried. “You enlist the aid of the few remaining men to put out the fires that still burn. I will do the same and see that the remaining bodies are buried.” He turned to leave, but Aleric caught at his arm.
“We are no match for the dragons, Cassian. The next time they strike, I fear we will be destroyed.”
“I know it, brother, but all is not lost. I hear from those close to the king that there is a plan afoot to deal with both Sangar and the dragons.”
“From your lips to God’s ears. Would that be so, brother. Would that be so.”
Doran was terribly winded when he reached the first plateau of Mount Doret, the southernmost mountain of those surrounding the valley. He sat heavily on a fallen log before reaching for his flask of water and taking a long drink while he contemplated his situation.
Geldra had told him that Sangar summoned the dragons by simply jingling pieces of gold and calling out “Come. Gold.” She had told him that his chances of success would be heightened if he stood on a high vantage point when he summoned them.
Doran corked his flask and flung it back over his shoulder. He then reached for the bag of gold he had taken from the catacombs of Eldrawn Castle, held it above his head and started shaking the pieces of metal violently while screaming, “Come. Gold.” at the top of his voice.
Within minutes he heard the rhythmic pounding of powerful wings. The sound of wings pounding through the air preceded the appearance of the dragons by only a few seconds and before Doran knew it, both dragons were standing before him.
“You pitiful creature. You dare to summon us?”
It was Apep who spoke and although Doran had heard tales of female dragons who possessed the power of speech, the dragon’s verbal prowess nevertheless disconcerted him.
She stood easily 20 men tall and the male, Haku, was larger. Yet despite the male’s size, Doran found that he was much more frightened of the female. Her icy blue eyes with the snakelike slits were malevolent and Doran couldn’t rid himself of the uncomfortable feeling that he was being sized up for dinner.
He opened the bag of gold and showed it to the dragons. “I’ve got more of this, much more. A fortune in gold and it is all for you.“
“And what would you have us do for this fortune in gold?” Apep sneered.
“All I ask is that you leave Eldrawn Valley in peace.”
She turned to Haku. “What say you, Haku? Do we leave the valley in peace?” Haku stomped his foot and let loose a tremendous firefall.
Apep turned her attention back to Doran. “Haku wonders why we should take heed of a mere mortal like you.”
Prince Doran’s mouth was so dry he was incapable of swallowing. “I’m offering you a fortune in gold.”
Apep tossed her head in disdain. “Sangar offers the same, but he is a wizard.”
“Why does that matter?” Doran's voice crackled like brittle parchment.
“We don’t confer with mortals. We eat them. Let us begin with you.”
Haku bellowed his agreement and let loose a terrifying blast of fire.
Apep smiled and looked at Doran hungrily.
Geldra was waiting for Sangar’s return to Eldrawn Castle. She had spent the past couple of weeks with Sangor, earning his trust. Now it was time to act. She glanced at the looking glass nervously. It was covered in black cloth and she had been warned by the sorcerer, Tobias, not to gaze into it for too long.
She wondered how Doran fared with the dragons. Gold was a tremendous motivator as the dragons lined their nest with gold and believed they absorbed its nutrients while they slept, but she wondered if it was all they needed.
There was a knock at the library door and a maid entered. “The wizard Sangar has come to call, your Royal Highness.”
“Please ask him to come in.”
“Yes, your highness.”
A moment later, Sangar came bounding into the room in a heightened state of enthusiasm. “My darling, how wonderful to see you!”
Geldra smiled. “Surely you can’t have missed me so. We last saw each other only two days ago.”
Sangar smiled. “My love for you is so strong for you that an absence of two minutes would seem a lifetime.”
“Sangar, you flatter me so!”
“The flattery is well deserved. Not every mortal woman could attract the attention of a powerful wizard. Only the most lovely.” He bent and kissed her hand before gesturing toward the looking glass and asking, “What do we have here?”
‘It is a gift, my dearest. A gift for you. A wedding gift.”
“A wedding gift, you say? May I uncover it?”
Sangar tore the black cloth from the ornate looking glass and turned his head away from it. ‘Why thank you, my dear. How very thoughtful of you.”
“Aren’t you going to look at your reflection in the glass?” Geldra asked innocently.
“Why should I? So that I can be trapped within its depths for eternity? Why don’t you gaze into it, Geldra? Yours would certainly be a more appealing image than mine.”
Geldra was now fearful and the fear was apparent on her face.
“Did you honestly think you could fool me with a cursed looking glass? I’ve known of your plans the entire time we have been seeing each other. At first, I’ll admit I wanted to kill you and be done with it, but I very much enjoy your company and looking at you is a pleasure so I’ve decided not to kill you. I will also spare your father, but he will be banished from Eldrawn Valley. You and I will be married and I will rule the Kingdom of Eldrawn.” Sangar sneered. “Now tell me, my dearest, how does that sound to you?”
Geldra’s eyes darted at the chamber doors but she knew there was no way she could reach them in time to escape.
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