“There weren’t always dragons in the valley.”
The old man paused to gulp from his tankard of mead, before clearing his throat and continuing.
“Two moons past the first day of autumn, the dragons would take flight together for the mountains, leaving the valley unprotected. However, they would return each year on the last day of the winter solstice festival, to the raised voices of all those in the valley, elders and children alike, as they sang the songs of their ancestors to welcome the return of their winged guardians.”
Morton hesitated again, before lowering his voice to barely above a whisper, “That is, until the year they didn’t return.”
Logan strained his ears to continue hearing the story through the thin glass of the second-floor window, although at this point, he likely knew it by heart. Morton recited the story almost identically each time he told it, as he did with all the tales he spun for the children of the brothel workers.
“The winter snows soon followed, and so the valley was safe at first. Low-landers couldn’t handle the cold like us mountain valley born. But sure enough, when the first flowers began to bloom, the low-landers came. At first a trickle, then an unrelenting flood. Soon, they overtook everything. Worst of all, we couldn’t properly protect ourselves because when the dragons left, it’s said that they took our magic with them. First the charms to help the crops grow failed, then finally the wardings on the gates.”
“Some say the dragons left so our magic wouldn’t be corrupted and stolen by the low-landers, for they brought with them their own foul magic. Up at the university, they practice both the ancient and unclean magic…”
Logan stretched contentedly in his warm spot up against the chimney, or at least as content as someone could be while resting secretly on a clay tile roof. He lay on his side with his back pressed securely against the weather-worn stones, slightly more awake than he’d been a moment ago, as this was his favorite story. This current sleeping arrangement of his had him tucked out of sight from the street, where the backside of the chimney and two sides of the sloping roof met in a conveniently ridged valley. Sure, it didn’t offer a lot of protection from the elements, but luckily it didn’t rain a lot in Corenia in the autumn. Logan would have to find a new spot before the winter frost set in, but for the moment, he was satisfied to eavesdrop on Morton’s nightly stories and the giggles and gasps of delight from the other children.
Logan had peeked into the window one dark night, curious about his fellow audience members. He’d seen the old man before in the alleyway sometimes, taking out the trash or leaving for the day for destinations unknown, but the young children of the brothel’s workers were always kept out of sight. From his brief glance, he’d caught sight of two girls and one boy. Logan was just past his seventh name day, and both girls appeared a couple of years older than him. The boy however appeared at least three years younger than him, which may have explained why, more often than not, Morton’s stories were about faraway princesses, sirens, and mermen, and not his and the boy’s favorite dragon or warrior stories. The boy was likely outvoted.
Dragons hadn’t been seen in Corenia in at least two-hundred years, but Logan knew that there were still rumors of sightings in the lands to the West, usually by Crestern Mountain travelers. He couldn’t wait to be old enough to make the trek and see one himself.
Logan tensed, sleepy senses suddenly on high alert. There was that noise again, just like the last two nights. He stayed in his position, tucked into a small ball, listening intently.
There were three windows that projected from the slanting roof, with the third one being where Logan hid behind currently. It protected him from view of the other windows, and he quietly sat up, trying to determine the source of this intruding noise.
It sounded as if someone was carefully picking their way across the roof slats along the side furthest from Logan. The noises were barely perceivable above the usual commotion from the street below, but Logan was accustomed to listening for the slightest sound that signified someone was closer than he wanted. On the two previous nights, the noise had stopped abruptly by the furthest window, with no other disturbance for the rest of the evening. Logan had cautiously stuck his head out from his alcove, eyeing the faraway window suspiciously. However, no one had been there to meet his glare, which was a blessing since it had been all for show, his small hand tightly gripping his burlap bag of scant belongings, as he readied himself to run for his life.
Logan had checked all the windows when he’d first found this spot months ago in early summer, and they’d all been steadfastly locked. He doubted that anyone was entering through that window, and so had almost successfully convinced himself that the noises were likely from a small animal, maybe a bird; something that didn’t mind huddling on a roof all night.
Although this time, the source of the noise slowly continued towards him along the roof, pausing occasionally before pushing deliberately onwards. Logan cursed inwardly as he soundlessly grabbed his bag, creeping quickly but quietly across the roof in the opposite direction of the sinister sound, along the escape route he’d planned the first night he’d setup camp here, for his eventual necessary escape. He would miss Morton and his stories, but that couldn’t be helped.
Logan had almost reached the far end of the rooftop when he heard a soft but deliberate whistle, carried towards him along what little breeze the night offered. He didn’t slow down as he hopped the rafter edge and turned, grabbing onto the rain gutter for support. Just before shimmying down the pipe that led to the street below, Logan caught a glimpse of his pursuer.
A boy who couldn’t have been more than two years older than himself crouched cautiously by Logan’s chimney spot, farther back from him than Logan would’ve expected for someone giving chase. He wore a similarly dirty, threadbare tunic to Logan’s, although his was sleeveless, and atop his head was a thick cap the color of mud. Although the boy appeared relatively harmless and was keeping his distance, Logan didn’t slow down in the slightest, continuing his descent down the gutter pipe before landing quietly in a crouch on the dirt floor of the alley. He could’ve sworn he head a soft “Hey…” reach his ears from above, but Logan wasn’t the talkative type. If he’d learned anything from his year on the streets, it was that people only led to pain. Although if he was being honest with himself, he’d learned that lesson well before becoming homeless.
The alley smelled of urine and week-old rubbish as he hurried along towards the entrance that led to the street, his shoulder pressed along the wall as he did his best to keep to the shadows.
Logan glanced back and to his alarm, saw that the boy was already at the edge of the roof, his mud-colored cap moving side-to-side as the boy appeared to be shaking his head, mouth moving as well. Logan caught a few words that sounded like, “Stop…watch…street…” But he had no intention of sticking around to decipher the meaning.
His bare feet had barely touched the cobblestones of the city street when he heard a boisterous voice towards his left, from the entrance of the brothel.
“Well lads, look what we have here!”