The Chosen One
Chapter one: Pawns for Propaganda
There weren't always dragons in the valley. They used to be trapped in petting zoos; gawked at for entertainment. That was until Leo broke into the zoo and freed them all. His goal had been to break only one of them out, a large female dragon with purple scales he had named "Princess." Once he got there, he figured he miles as well free the rest.
That hectic night, ten years ago, replayed in Leo's mind as he gazed at lush green meadows and forest the dragons now inhabited. The dragons had wildly crashed against their cages when they had seen Leo unlock Princesses' cage. He remembered staring into her onyx black eyes, while the rest took to the sky, clamoring over each other in their haste to get away. He felt a slight wave of heat brush against the back of his neck. He ducked out of the way of an oncoming burst of flame, rolling to the side and popping up to face familiar onyx eyes.
"Oh, you're feeling playful today, are you?" Leo kept his knees bent.
Princess also drew down on her haunches, ready to launch.
"You want this?" Leo wiggled the large red bouncy ball in front of her face, while slowly shuffling to the left.
Princess followed his movements, heaving her weight from one side to the other. She did a small roll, eyes intently gazing at the ball the entire time.
He continued his slow gait, carefully moving the ball to his upper chest, blocking his lips from view, using his other hand to press against the wooden carving hanging around his neck. He invoked his cave bear spirit by whispering the sacred words under his breath: "Show me the kindness I once showed you."
The dragon squinted at him for a moment.
"What are you doing?" The words reverberated through his head.
With that, Leo took off running across the open field.
"Cheater!" Princesses' voice screamed, his eyes swam with the intensity of the sound filling his mind.
"You're a literal dragon!" He screamed back.
He felt his legs strengthen, drawing from the bear spirit. He could hear Princess in hot pursuit. He noted she wasn't flying, just making small jumps in quick succession.
He leaped over a few stray logs, feet pounding into the soil as he sprinted towards the opening of the cave mouth, a mere 50 feet away now. He catapulted off a boulder and sailed through the air. Feet hitting the ground and rolling underneath him as he started running again. The cave was just a few feet away, and Princess was right behind him.
His body hit the ground, face grinding into the dirt. Princess' tight claws and body weight held him in place, the claws dug into his arms. The position was certainly uncomfortable, but not painful. Princess was careful not to harm him.
He grunted as she pried the ball from his grip. The ball had ended up wedged between the crook of his neck and left hand. He could feel the triumphant smile as she ripped the ball from his grasp, his face still firmly planted in the dirt. After securing her prize, she quickly released her grip, allowing him to turn around. She was indeed smiling, the red ball poking out of her maw.
"Yes, yes, I know. You won," he said sighing.
She took the opportunity to slide her tongue across his face. Leo gagged from her had breath.
"We need to get you some more minty dental sticks," he made a note to himself.
Princess looked up; Leo followed her line of vision and faintly saw the outline of Gran waving at him. Princess laid down and spread her wings, allowing Leo to climb on top. The dragon took off running before launching into flight. They soared over the meadow for a minute before coasting to a stop before Gran. The tall grey-haired woman was standing solemnly before them, hair tightly drawn into a ponytail. She was wearing her uniform, the strong cloth intermixed with plates of leather. The metal ax emblem on her breastplate was gleaming in the fresh rays of sun.
"They are coming soon. We need to go over the plan and prepare for his...Majesty's," she about spat the word out, " arrival."
Leo nodded tightly, taking in short breaths.
As Gran walked him into the main hall, She put a hand on his shoulder.
"Breathe. You are a strong, capable warrior- the best of us. We will find out all of what he wants soon enough."
They sat down at the long table, centered in the middle of the great hall. The table was crowded with the rest of the tribe. They all looked around anxiously. Gran took her seat at the head of the table and leaned forward.
"As you are all aware, King Abraham of Jhest will be arriving in a couple hours time. He and his court will be our guests for the night. He sent me a letter three months back concerning the need for a champion. He intends to choose one of you to become this hero, killing the monsters that have been attacking his kingdom in his stead. I have heard from our spies that there is a scribe and medicine woman traveling in his carriage. It is my best guess that he intends to document the killing of these monsters, to booster his reputation with his people."
"Why one of us, and not his own people?" A young man sitting next to Leo spoke up. Leo noted Peter's dark hair was askew, fingers tugging it. He looked almost as stressed as Leo did.
"The same reason he chooses us to take care of his dragons. We live outside of his domain, but close enough for him to remain a threat. If something goes wrong, he holds no blame. We are not his people, he risks nothing by sending one of you out to fight his demons," Gran answered frankly.
"Is this scribe and medicine woman also from a different kingdom?" Leo passed his worry stone to Peter.
"From their descriptions they sound to be from House Caprit- a part of the royal court- siblings. Both parents are dead. The brother is know for his gambling habits. This may be a way to pay off their debt," Gran reasoned, "I don't know much about them, or how loyal they are to the king."
"And I am the most likely to be chosen, right?" Leo asked the question on everyone's minds.
Gran heaved a long sigh.
"Yes. Given Abraham's obsession with dragons, he will almost certainly choose the only one who is bonded. His little team of heroes riding in to town on a dragon certainly fits into his storyline. And, Leo," she said looking him in the eyes, "you are the strongest berserker in recent history. Abraham may be near insanity, but he isn't stupid."
"So, the plan..?" Peter inquired.
Gran looked at Leo.
"The plan is I will accept this mission- play pawn to the king. You," he said indicating Peter," will come with me as our chauffeur- steering Princess in the right direction. An extra set of eyes and weapons never hurts. I don't see why the King would have an issue with that. Befriend the scribes, make sure our agendas are the same. And just survive."
Peter nodded. The rest of the table remained silent.
"You will survive and you will come back home. Or I will resurrect you and kill you myself," Gran said looking at both men.
"Let's all remember to treat them as honored guests," Gran said, "showing them our hatred will not help matters."
She rose from her seat and clapped her hands. Time to attend to the feast.
Leo spent the next two hours cooking and baking. Peter and some of the others set the table. Gran with some help from the few girl berserkers decorated the area, stringing garlands around the pillars holding up the house.
Leo was in the kitchen, layering icing onto a bunch of hot cross-buns, when he heard the trumpets blare. The king's procession had arrived. Leo quickly cleaned his hands and put the fresh buns on the waiting table, now arranged with trays of chicken, ham, and beef among a variety of fruits and vegetables. He quickly stepped into his place beside Gran, still wearing his frilly pink apron. Horses neighed outside, and the sounds of carriage wheels against stone had stopped. A loud resounding knock set his nerves on edge. He took a few deep breathes. He had been dreading this interaction for months. He could train dragons and fight all day long, but small talk and understanding social cues was much, much harder.
Gran glanced up at Peter, who was standing at the window overlooking the space outside. He nodded. She grasped the large metal handle and pulled the first door open, before moving to open the second.
Leo could clearly see the man that must be the king, swaddled in fine silks and velvets. His crown sat rigidly on his partially bald head. His stern features giving way to a manic grin as he beheld the food laden table. Gran stepped into the morning light, his grin faded.
"Welcome to The Kiln, home of us berserkers," her voice boomed across the threshold, "Unload your baggage and come eat. You must be starved. Peter will show you where to let your horses rest."
Peter scurried over to the first line of horses, before leading them to the stables. The King dismounted, and was joined by a younger man with the same stern features. That must be the prince, Leo reasoned. Two new faces joined them, a man and woman- about the same age as Leo- the man with a shock of white hair defining his already sharp features and the woman with blonde hair swept up into a bun. Leo watched as the group made their way over to his Gran. She waved him over. He approached, eyes enraptured by the man's beauty. Up close Leo could see how the white hair had been shaken out of its ponytail, long strands tickled his cheekbones. Lashes flickered under Leo's gaze, showing him the stormy grey circles underneath. His gaze swept down the man's throat, noting the slight rise and fall of his chest underneath his richly embroidered purple coat.
"Leo!" His Gran nearly yelled at him, clearly he hadn't heard her previous attempts to call him back to earth.
"Yes, Hi, Hello, Sorry. You're very handsome," he continued staring at the young blonde man. He watched a smile curl his lips, a bit of rose coming to his cheeks.
"Thank you," The prince said, interrupting Leo's revery, "I get that a-"
"Not you," Leo said.
He didn't notice the flabbergasted expression of the Prince as he stepped towards the other man.
"You," he pointed at the gorgeous man, who was staring right back at him.
"I'm Leo," he said bowing, "It is a pleasure to meet you."
The pretty man held out his hand, Leo raised it to his lips and pressed a delicate kiss to his knuckles.
"My name is Hugo Cabrit, but you may call me Hugo," Hugo's cheeks had gotten a bit redder. His lips parted slightly as he spoke.
"Leonardo," his Gran's voice grounded him again.
He stepped towards the king and bowed deeply.
"My apologies, your highness. It is not often we are graced with such resplendent company. I did not mean to offend," Leo kept his head down as he spoke.
"So, you are the berserker I have heard so much about. The one bonded to a dragon?" The king's voice pitched up.
"Yes, sir, I am," Leo stated while staring at the stony ground.
"You are forgiven," the king chuckled," up, up."
Leo rose again before bowing to the Prince, who looked like he had eaten something sour, and taking the lady's hand and bowing before it.
"Connor, you must remember beauty is in the eye of the beholder," the king smiled at his son's pinched face.
"I'm Zoe," the sister smiled at him.
"Pleasure to meet you," he replied.
"You may refer to my son by his first name, Connor, to make matters simpler," the king said.
"Of course, your majesty."
"I am sure you are all hungry, please seat yourself. We can discuss other matters afterwords," Gran smiled tightly at the king.
"What do we call you?" Zoe inquired of Gran.
"Ah, yes. You may call me Rey. My kin call me Gran."
The group entered the hall and filled their plates. Seats filled with people as the court and guards came in from the stable. Leo felt a light whack against his shoulder, he looked down to see his worry stone. He looked across the table at Peter.
"What?" he mouthed.
Peter jerked his head towards Leo's side. The only seat left open was right next to Leo and Hugo was tentatively stepping towards him.
"May I?" Hugo tapped the back of the seat.
"Yeah, of course," Leo said a bit too loudly.
They ate the rest of their meal in silence.
" Please give my compliments to the chef," the king said to Gran.
"That would be Leo."
Leo could rarely ever read people's facial expressions, but the king's face was currently a prime example of extreme surprise. He recovered, smiling.
"A man of many talents!" he proclaimed.
His majesty turned to look at his son and the siblings, who had also finished eating.
"Shall we attend to business?" the king asked.
Gran nodded, and motioned for them to follow her to the war room.
The war room was titled that after the large table that sat in the center with a huge map of all the kingdoms sprawled across it, small standing weights in different colors represented the different armies.
They took seats around the table. Gran looking intimidating as always in her chair, the ax emblem carved into the back. She was easily a head taller than the king even sitting.
"Let us speak frankly. What do you want, Abraham?"
"Always so sharp, Rey. I thought old age might have softened you."
"You were wrong," she said flatly.
"So I see," Abraham placed both hands on the table, "As I told you in the letter, the attacks on my people have been escalating. The monsters are becoming more and more bold. One almost made it's way into the palace courtyards the night before our departure..."
Gran raised an eyebrow.
"I am in need of a champion, someone strong and capable the people can cheer for. Someone that can replenish their hope-"
"Their hope wouldn't need replenishing if you took care of them," Leo mumbled.
"What was that, boy?"
Gran leveled him with a stare.
"Nothing of importance, your majesty."
"Good. As I was saying, I need a hero for my people. Your boy here," he waved towards Leo, "seems to fit the bill. You have mentioned his agility and that he is bonded with a dragon. He is clearly strong. You said he can draw upon five different animals, one of which is the dragon in question and a mountain bear. It is truly impressive."
"You are choosing my boy to be your champion then? What will that entail?"
"He will be tasked with going from town to town in my kingdom, kill whatever monsters are causing harm. Mister and Misses Caprit have volunteered to help him on this mission. Mr. Caprit will chronicle his feats. These chronicles will be sent directly to me. Miss Caprit is skilled in the medicinal arts, she will heal him whenever necessary. Leo will be adequately funded, and I am sure the townspeople will be more than happy to share their wares. Should I need to contact Leo, I will send him a letter."
"And you will want them to travel on Princess-the dragon- I assume?" Gran asked.
"Of course! What a fantastical sight that would be for the villagers- hero swooping in to save them on a legendary creature!"
"Of course," Gran smiled.
"Do either of you have any fighting experience?" Leo directed the question at the siblings.
"I am quite good with swords and am skilled with a whip," Hugo replied.
"My weapon of choice is two double-headed axes," Zoe responded.
"That is very good to hear," Leo breathed.
"Leo's friend, Peter, is also skilled with weapons and bonded with a couple of animals. I would suggest you also allow him on the journey, an extra set of hands when battling monsters would not be wasted," Gran suggested.
"That is true. And I will allow him to join his friend as long as he agrees to my conditions," Abraham kept up his sickly smile.
"What are the conditions?" Leo hesitantly asked.
"The People need a hero of the ages. That requires more than my own choice. You need to be The Chosen One," Abraham framed the words with his hands.
"In two days time, we will have a ceremony. I would like all of the berserkers to come. During the ceremony, I will have my septor and ask the gods for a savior. I will ask anyone attending to come up. I would hope a few of your kin would come up before Leo does. When Leo kneels before me, the gods may show their favor by making the septor glow. In this way, a higher power will have chosen your boy to lead him on a holy mission."
Everyone except the prince stared at Abraham.
"Are you suggesting I help you stage a ceremony to lie to your own people?" Gran asked in disbelief.
"It is not so much a lie, as a warped truth," the king stated simply, "I am choosing Leo to be the hero. In that way, he is the chosen one. Who is to say the gods would not bless him with such an honor?"
"But your septor doesn't hold any magic. It's just made of metal. It would be a trick," Leo sputtered, "It's a lie."
The king turned to him.
"My dear boy, all kings lie. All people lie. Royalty just does it at a larger scale. My people need someone to believe in. I believe you to be that person. Besides, you can always chose to not take up this mission. Though, I am sure Mr. Caprit would miss your company."
"What happens if I refuse?" Leo stared at the king's crooked face.
Abraham looked up at the ceiling.
"I have noticed that your roof is lined with wood and hay. Do you think that is a good idea considering all of the fire-breathing creatures you have around?"
Leo opened his mouth to retort.
"And wouldn't it be a shame if the dragons were deemed too dangerous to keep in such free quarters. If Princess was deemed too dangerous to be kept here, she would have to be moved back to her old home."
The King's icy smile froze his heart. Leo looked at his Gran, she nodded tightly. His majesty still held the power.
"What do you say, Leonardo? Are you ready to be my champion?"
"I agree to your conditions," Leo matched the king's smile, "I will be your champion."
About the author
I am a lover of words. I am a trans man (pronouns he/him) writing about my experience through a fantasy and sometimes real world lens. I express the pain of living with PTSD through poetry and horror stories.