The Crescent Marked Man
The Fall of Pritzorigal
The child clothed in his thick nightgown crawled across the forest floor, the dew soaking the cloth and making his knees and wrists wetter and colder. He started to feel tired and scared. There was not a soul anywhere to be found this deep into the forest but somehow, he was here. Alone. He kept crawling, looking for something, anything that wasn’t cold and wet.
With a soft thud his head collided with something hard and leathery. It yielded as his neck bent and his shoulder ran along the surface of the large shape in front of him. It was rough but its warmth offered a comfort the small boy craved. He pushed his small body as tightly to the giant grey, green mass, curled into a ball and drifted away.
The reward from a dead dragon could set a shrewd dragon slayer up for at least five years, and the story of how it happened could offer free ale for five more on top. The rumours of a Dragon in the forests around Vengritas had begun to spread throughout the country and beyond so the local slayer Porgon Crimbalt had been quick to collect his tools and make his way into the lonely forbidding forest in the hope that he would get to his prey first. He was a very experienced man, he had enough to live his last few years comfortably but one more job and he could really enjoy his retirement.
Carrying his rough bag over his shoulder he strode purposefully through the tangled undergrowth only stopping occasionally to check on a broken tree branch or take a deep smell of the air. He had been walking for two days already and was confident he was not only way ahead of the competition, he was closing in on the dragon and judging by the path it had made it was a big one.
The sun was setting and Porgon knew he needed daylight, rest and a full belly to take on a fully grown adult dragon. He found a perfect spot to set up camp for the night. He made a fire and munched in some of the bread and cheese he had carried in a small dragon leather pouch. After he ate Porgon took the coils of rope he carried around his neck and shoved them into his large bag. He rearranged it carefully before lying down, positioning his head and dropping quickly to sleep.
He rose with the sun the following morning and very quickly made his way to a spot deep in the centre of the forest. It was as far from anywhere in every direction as was possible and right at that point was a small clearing in the centre of which lay a huge female dragon. Porgon was an expert in dragons but it didn’t take an expert to recognise this one as female. It’s body position gave it away. Dragons are very lazy creatures and are mostly found relaxing. Male dragons sleep in any kind of position you can imagine, they sleep as they dropped. Females, on the other hand curl into a ball. This is a consequence of being responsible for the protection of their eggs.
He moved quickly and with precision. He placed everything silently onto the grass and pulled a thin but very sharp blade from his bag. Stealthily he approached the sleeping dragon, each step so light it seemed he barely touched the ground. He moved alongside the heaving grey, green beast carefully following the line of black spines that lined its entire back from the tip of its tail right to its slumbering head. He focussed on the spines, counting them diligently starting as close to the back of the head as he dared. He stretched his left hand out tracing each scale in the air with his fingers. At the twelfth spine he paused and held his fingers over the adjacent scale following the shape carefully. Suddenly he stopped and wrapped the fingers of his right hand around the hilt and lifted the blade high above his head. He looked down again at the spot his left forefinger was pointing at and with a thrust slid the sword in the thin gap between the thick scales and into the dragon’s soft flesh. It flinched immediately it’s head and tail straightening as though a bold of lightning had run from one end of its judge body to the other. The terrifying creature let out a flooding and breath-taking roar flicking its head right back. Porgon stepped back as the dragon tried to get to its feet but found its legs would not move, then suddenly its neck and tail lost the rigidity the initial shock had caused and they both slapped to the ground, its heavy head bouncing as it clattered to the earth. Porgon stepped back towards the head and in one swift motion retrieved his sword.
Knowing what was to be its fate the sorrowful creature’s breathing quickened. It’s fear forcing blood throughout its body and the small wound that had so catastrophically disabled it began to weep crimson tears. Porgon returned to his bag, the paralysed dragon’s eye, the only thing that could move, followed his path. He placed the sword alongside the bag and removed a far larger and heavier axe. He returned to the dragon and without looking swiftly and ruthlessly swung the ace causing a deep cut in its neck. Two more swings and the head was completely removed. Blood oozed from the cut creating a deep pool around its body.
Without a word Porgon, who had still not flinched from his steely, cold demeanour returned to his bag to leave the axe and retrieve the rope. He quickly and calmly looped the rope around the giant head which was almost as tall as him and tied it into a harness which he placed on the ground and moved to collect his bag. As he did he heard a noise. For such an experienced and hardened hunter there are few noises which could make him stop in his actions but this was so unexpected he froze, rooted to the spot.
Here, in the middle of this silent clearing, further from humanity as possible, he heard an infant’s cry. He flicked his head round, suspicious that this may be the trickery of a Wood Witch. But there was no sign. But there it was again. He looked hard in the direction it came from. The noise came from behind the bloodied lifeless torso of the dragon. He cautiously edged around walking with deft precision until he could see the opposite flank. There, next to the body of the dragon, sitting in a pool of its blood was a child, not more than a year, bright red but for the stripes of its tears down its face.
Porgon looked for a moment at this peculiar sight. He thought to himself and returned to his bag from which he retrieved a flask and a cloth. He lifted the child from the blood and set him on the floor with his back to the gruesome scene. He took care to silently clean the child with the water from his flask wiping him clean with the rag. Once he had done, he removed the bloodied nightclothes and wrapped him in his own cloak. He turned it into a sling and tied the boy to his body before collecting his bag of tools, pulling the ropes over his shoulder and making his way out of the forest dragging the valuable head behind him.
The heat of the castle’s kitchen would be unbearable to most, but those who worked there were used to its extremes. Those who had grown up from being a spit turner saw no problem with the tiring glow of the ovens and many were scarred from their licks. One of the kitchen hands in particular had acquired a strangely shaped scar from falling against a spit as a child. Across his forearm was what appeared to be a crescent moon. It gained him the nickname ‘Midnight’ though his real name was Porgon, he had been named after his uncle. His mother worked in the kitchen of the castle and had done since she was widowed during one of the king’s campaigns against the neighbouring state of Telmak. She had wanted to be a mother and her early widowhood had deprived her of it. When her brother, a renowned dragon hunter, turned up at her door holding an orphaned boy she was quick to take him in. They had lived happily together with occasional visits from his favourite uncle, working together in the castle and maintaining their small house with its little garden. It was a simple life but one that made mother and son content.
The constant warring with the country’s neighbours meant there were either massive celebrations or even bigger wakes on a regular basis. Gradwen of Traliag, Porgon’s lord, was an ambitious man and would take his militia on each and every one of the king’s campaigns. This not only meant that the amount of young men in the villages and towns of Traliag was low but Gradwen and his fortified town of Almajia was prized greatly by all comers, he had put a massive target on their castle walls. This had never been a problem as the castle was a long way from the border and the castle was known to be all but impenetrable so made little sense for it to be the target for any kind of attack.
Lord Gradwen had been gone for several weeks and as a result the castle, and town were relatively quiet. But there was a tension in the air, there always was when so many men had left with a high possibility that they might not return. But there was something different this time. This time there was an air of expectation, and not in a good way.
The fears were confirmed when the first rider flew through the gates, bloodied and exhausted. He brought the news that their army had been defeated, Gradwen was dead and the Telmakian hordes were descending upon them. Over the next few days the people of Almajia lived in panic. Many fled but those who stayed began preparing for a siege. They knew if they could hold out the king would relieve them.
The siege when it came was by no means anything like anyone had expected. The enemy turned up slowly at first and many of the townspeople were able to leave. There was no attack or announcement that there was a siege.
It just began, grindingly and slowly but it was incredibly painful. Day-to-day life changed little other than a greater willingness to cooperate and ration the food and water they had within the town. The elderly constable who had been put in charge of the defence of the town was diligent but uninspiring. He had been given a job and that was to hold out until they were relieved. Gradually it became clear that this was a forlorn hope but he would not be moved from his goal. Porgon’s mother could see that there was no chance they would escape and so had become depressed. Porgon had tried to cheer her up but it was to no avail. Then one morning, she had changed, she was filled with joy and hope. Porgon was pleased but very surprised. They spent the day working and as they walked back to their home she turned to him grabbed his hand and dragged him away from their house and to a well in the lower part of the town. Next to it was a bag. She picked it up and handed it to Porgon.
“My love, I ask you do not question, comment or refuse me this one request. There is a way out of this prison. I was told this by a good friend. I want you to go. Go and live and then one day come back and find me. I’m an old cook. Whoever holds the castle will want me here. But you. You they will kill. Take this bag and climb into the well. There are hand holes. Use them and about halfway down there is a small ledge. That conceals a hole and a tunnel beneath it. Apparently it is pitch black but it is straight and there is only one way through. Follow it and head to the capital.”
Porgon was about to speak but the steely look in his mother’s eyes told him not to. He took the bag, told his beaming mother that he loved her and then climbed onto the wall of the well before lowering himself down into the dark.
The crawl through the cold, dark tunnel was the most difficult thing the young kitchen-hand had ever had to do. He could not see what was in front of him, the space was so small he was unable to do anything other than push his bag forward and with his head bowed keep shuffling in the only direction there was. After what felt like a lifetime he began to see some slight glints of light reflecting from the moisture on the tunnel floor. This encouraged Porgon to hasten and within a few more feet this glints were strips that allowed him to make out the bricks in the wall and floor of the tunnel. Soon he could see the opening and he pushed on as fast as his burning arms and knees would allow him.
At the end of the tunnel was a hole barely wider than the tunnel itself. The sun had almost set and the light was weakening. Porgon carefully surveyed the outside world from the safety of the tunnel. As far as he could tell he was alone.
He lowered himself down from the hole and dropped with a thud onto the hard floor. He dusted his knees and hands and swung the pack over a shoulder he was out of the siege finally but he knew that he would have to start making progress to put some distance between himself and any potential soldiers. He also realised it was getting very close to night and therefore he needed somewhere safe and warm to sleep.
Porgon walked until it was almost impossible to see in front himself, he stayed away from the major paths but kept them within his eye-line so he could make his way safely to the capital. His legs were tired from the walking and scratched from the undergrowth he had been dragging himself through. It was now far too dark to try to make any more progress so he found himself a large tree with some dense undergrowth around it, used a large stick to create himself a hole and pulled as much foliage as he could around him to disguise his shape from passers-by. He grasped his bag tightly, closed his eyes and fell into an uncomfortable and restless sleep.
He was woken in the morning by the sun creeping through the trees. He checked his bag to see what food he had and found his mother had been very generous in her provisions for him. Not only were there numerous dried fruits and breads there was some cured meat and also a small coin purse with what seemed to be his mother’s life savings in it. He ate a little before taking a mouthful of water and making his way again. After two days of walking through the forests Porgon decided that as he had seen very few soldiers and all of whom he did see were heading towards the capital in the uniform of his own country he was now safe to walk on the highways. This sped up his journey and within three days he was passing through villages on the outskirts of the capital.
It was at this point Porgon made the decision that he would stop in one of the villages and ask for help. He walked into an Inn and spoke to the landlord. He explained his situation and what he was trying to achieve and was instantly brought into the confidence of the jovial and extremely hospitable man who cared for him like a long-lost son. He fed him and offered him lodging for the night which Porgon was very grateful for.
The following morning the landlord took Porgon to see the local sheriff who was very quick to offer his own support to the unfortunate visitor. He offered to accompany him to one of the larger towns as he was heading there himself to give a report on the influx of refugees from other villages who had heard of his own town’s plight. He was exceptionally grateful for all the help that was offered and was delighted to have company on his way to what seem to be even greater safety in a more distant and well defended town.
The sheriff was an elderly man who had clearly fought many battles and been well decorated for it, he walked slowly but was as stout a fellow as you could possibly imagine Porgon despite his age did not feel he could match his escort in any kind of physical battle despite his apparent frailties.
When they arrived in the town of Balkon they swiftly moved through the lower town and were welcomed at the gatehouse of the castle. The sheriff made his introductions and he was taken to see the constable while Porgon was taken directly to the Lord who was interested to find out as much as he could about the fate of Traliag.
Porgon arrived in the lord’s chambers as the huge fierce looking man was finishing his lunch. He stopped for a moment and invited the stranger to sit next to him. He probed Porgon for as much information as was possible and was enthralled by his tales of the difficulties faced by those under siege. He shared his feast with the hungry refugee who gorged on the fresh produce he had so missed during the siege.
As they were conversing in a very friendly manner their jokes became very familiar, it seemed that despite their difference in class and condition they had very much in common. At some point the lord began regaling tales of his own experiences on the battlefield and began showing off his many scars each of which had a story attached to it.
Porgon thoroughly enjoyed hearing these tales especially as each story became more and more fanciful. It was at this point Porgon explained that he had never experienced a battle as he was only a kitchen hand and had never been called up service. He then explained the only scar he had was received by falling onto a spit whilst working in the ovens of the kitchens when he was a child. He rolled up his sleeve and showed the Lord his arm. Immediately and without hesitation the Lord grasped Porgon’s arm just below the elbow and pulled his forearm closer to his eyes. He stared intently for what seemed like minutes, though it was probably only a matter of seconds, he then shifted his eyes to meet Porgon’s gaze. He paused for a minute.
“This is a kitchen scar?” He asked with a strangely curious voice to which Porgon nodded. He let go of his guest’s arm and banged heavily on the table the butt of his knife. The room filled with servants and advisors the lord beckoned the most serious looking of them towards him and whispered in his ear. The advisor grabbed Porgon’s arm and inspected the scar, he too dropped it with careless disregard and gathered the rest of his advisers to him. Porgon felt unnerved by the change in attitudes that had taken place.
The Lord beckoned Porgon over to him and gestured for him to put his ear closer to him.
“You see Porgon. You have presented me with a dilemma. You may not know this but there is a millennium’s old prophesy that a King of Pritzorigal will fall at the hands of the ‘Crescent Marked Man’. As you can see you are a crescent marked man. I can’t see any way you could bring down a king but I can’t help but feel that it is my duty to at least make the king aware of you.”
Porgon knew that this would not end well for him and rose to his feet. As soon as he got to his feet he felt two heavy hands on his shoulder and he was pushed back down into his chair. Before he could say anything a bag was thrown over his head and he was dragged from the chair and across the stone floor. It took him a few seconds for him to realise what was going on and he tried to get control of his feet but the strength of the guards dragging him was too great. He tried to protest but in vain. Within minutes he had been tossed into the back of a cart and secured to the side. Porgon couldn’t see anything and had no idea what was happening. Nobody spoke to him from the minute he was grabbed, not once as they carried him across the courtyard and throughout the solitary journey he took in the darkness of the bag. He waited as he was jostled roughly against the wooden sides of the cart. He didn’t know how long he was there, or where they were going but he was certain it was not going to be good.
Gradually the sounds changed from birds and rustling to voices, bustle and the clatter of hooves and wooden wheels. He heard heavy wooden doors creak open, then slam heavily and the noise stopped. The bag flew off his head and he blinked against the harsh light.
“So you’re the man who is going to see the end of my cousin’s reign.”
Porgon looked towards where the voice had come from. Before he could he could focus his arm was pulled from their bindings and held up.
“Well there certainly is a very clear mark here. I think enough to see you at best locked away for the rest of your days. But more likely you’re for the chopping block. Lucky I found you first. Because I see just how valuable you are.”
Without another word spoken Porgon was helped down from the cart and hurried down a dark side corridor by the well-dressed man who had been speaking.
They tore down side streets until they reached an inn. They slowed, composed themselves and quietly walked through the door. There was a subdued acknowledgment with the landlord and they were discreetly ushered through a door behind the bar and into a secret room. Porgon’s latest companion urged him to sit before following into his own chair.
“My name is Jenrat I am lord of the most distant part of this godforsaken land. My cousin, King Lenias only offers me crumbs from his table as he knows I am exceptionally popular and many people would become agitated if I were harmed. Discarding me would be disastrous for him.
His treatment of me in recent times has not been particularly favourable. I therefore delight in the idea that the prophecy could be seen to be coming true. I therefore see you and I having mutual benefits from you being alive. For my part I have saved you from death all I need is for you to stay loyal to me and we will ensure that you have a very happy and comfortable life.”
Porgon had barely been able to collect his thoughts, he slumped into the chair and dropped his head into his hands.
“I take that as a yes then.” Jenrat said before walking over to a small window. Just as he did the door to the room burst open and it was filled with soldiers. They pinned the two men to the walls as a clearly more senior soldier strode into the room with a broad grin on his face.
“Jenrat, that was a foolish move. Your cousin will be very pleased to receive you in his throne room.” Great emphasis was put on the word his. The man laughed, turned and strode from the room. Behind him the guards grappled with Porgon and Jenrat before manhandling them through the building, out onto the street and up towards the castle.
The pair were dragged across the courtyard where they were dumped unceremoniously. In the centre. The walls were lined with soldiers who encircled the two prostrate men. There was no sound as Jenrat and Porgon lifted themselves to their feet. The only sound they heard was a shuffling as the guards separated to allow the king to enter the courtyard. He marched up to Jenrat and slapped him hard across the face.
“Oh Jenrat. How I’ve waited for this opportunity. You have given me the perfect excuse to be rid of you once and for all. Treason. Oh, how sweet.” The king said circling the pair. He stopped next to Porgon and grabbed his arm, staring at the scar.
“And if you are the prophesied one then I’ll be rid of you too.”
He smirked, dropped Porgon’s arm and marched back to the edge of the ring of guards where he gestured to one of them who picked up a huge sword and made his way towards the centre of the courtyard. He lifted the sword and pointed it at Jenrat who dusted himself down, corrected his clothes and stood proudly facing the soldier.
“You may kill me today Lenias, but it will be the end of you. The prophesy is true, this man has brought you down. I am just sad I will not be here to see it.”
In a flash of rage the king span on his heel and ran across the courtyard towards his cousin. He snatched the sword from the hand of the soldier and jabbed it towards Jenrat’s chest. He lifted it high over his head and hesitated for a moment as he looked at his rival in front of him. At the moment of bringing the sword down there was a commotion from outside the walls of the courtyard. The king lowered the sword and looked towards the guards at the gate to get some sort of indication of what was going on. Suddenly the guards were sent sprawling as a flood of terrified people spilled into the high walls of the castle. The king dropped the sword and ran towards the safety of the castle keep. Jenrat grabbed Porgon by the shoulder and dragged him in the opposite direction and towards the crowd. The disappeared from view almost immediately and as they eased their way against the rough tide and through the crowd they found themselves at the entrance to the castle walls. They eased their way outside where Jenrat shoved Porgon into the shallow ditch that sat around the edge of the castle. They both slid to the bottom and stayed still as the people poured from the city below the castle through its large gate. Porgon was about to ask Jenrat what was going on when he looked up and spotted what was causing the panic. Above them were three fully grown male dragons swooping and diving on the people, incinerating everything in their way, houses, people, horses, whatever they could see. When they got low enough they scooped up people in their mouths and with a flick dashed them against the walls. Porgon scrambled forward and lay flat against the side of the ditch.
The assault was swift and brutal. Porgon had remained in the ditch throughout. The screams were absolutely unbearable, within minutes everyone in the courtyard was dead, the castle was a flaming ruin, the king himself had not made it into the keep and had been burned alive with his guards. They now lay buried under the scattered remains of the keep walls. Porgon climbed out of the ditch and looked back into the courtyard at the scene of devastation behind him. Jenrat followed and placed his hand on Porgon’s shoulder.
“Come with me, lets get back to my home, we can regroup and decide what we will do.”
Porgon was unsure what to say or what to do but he felt his best hope was to stay with Jenrat. They made their way through the silent wreckage of the city collecting what they could for the journey ahead. They managed to find two horses tied in an undamaged stable who they led quietly to the city walls and the gateway out of the devastated capital. As they mounted and began their journey the pair took a last look at the smoking, crumbling city and the space where the castle had stood behind it. Without a word they turned and began their journey. Suddenly there was a swish and the horses began to panic throwing both riders to the ground. A shadow covered the two stricken men and as they looked up, they saw a huge dragon fly over their head and land right in front of them. It turned slowly like a snake uncoiling and then paced slowly towards them. They stood frozen to the spot, they knew it as over, there was no way they could outrun the fire. Slowly the dragon moved its long neck towards Porgon and its giant cold eyes looked directly at him. It paused for a moment, gave a deep, loud snort and bowed its head at Porgon’s feet. Porgon looked at Jenrat and shrugged. He reached out his hand and rested it on the dragon’s snout and it dropped to its knees. Porgon realised he was no longer the kitchen hand, but what he was would take more journeys to discover.
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