“There weren’t always dragons in the valley” calmly whispered the man to the young child as they found themselves together in hiding. Although there was little light, the man could feel the fear the boy was emitting. The tightness of his grip suggested that this was the first time he was experiencing a collection. The man considered where the boy’s father was and how he had ended up with him in such a significant occasion. The people of the village were taught precise instructions on how to act once the outpost horn was blown, who to follow and where to hide and remain, and yet this boy appeared distressed and confused.
A loud grunt from the pit of the valley startled the child.
“The Ekelion” said the man. He paused to invite a response, but none arrived.
“Where is your hiding post, boy?” softly continued the man.
“Whose orders are you under?”
The boy’s silhouette fidgeted in the light, but he remained silent with a tense clasp on Landoi’s arm. Raindrops gently tapped on the cave’s rocks filling the silence but again, the Ekelion groaned, the sound shuddering the boy once more. It was most unusual to have a child of early two-figure years afraid and out of position, his actions possibly fatal for himself and others, including Landoi. The sound of the chained Ekelion was as frequent as the chirp of birds for the villagers over the last few months and yet the boy appeared to have just been born. Landoi was an intelligent and calming character, calculated in his actions and incredibly powerful across the land. He had earned the trust of the civilisations in the region and built a stable and peaceful world for the people under his legions watch. He had refused to pass the responsibility of a collection over to any of his soldiers, even the most trusted. A process so significant that a slight mistake could cost many lives. He took a moment to remind the boy of the collection process, hoping to calm his nerves.
“Remember that goblins are deceiving creatures under many guises. They are persuasive masters, luring the minds of the uncertain - they kill for fun, turn friends into enemies and ensue havoc on civilisations across the land… they are a dangerous problem.”
The boy slowed as he tuned in to Landoi’s whispering words.
“The Ekelion is the rarest and most skilled of these goblins. The battalion and villagers have done an incredible job in capturing and keeping it captive for this very moment – it’s very important to everyone.”
At this moment Landoi paused abruptly. The realisation sharply stunned him, and he momentarily felt ashamed to have succumbed to the narrative playing out before him. His heart rate quickened, and mind began to focus entirely on what was developing, piecing together the possible outcomes. Silence continued in the darkness for a few more seconds, the boys clasp still firmly on the Landoi’s arm.
“How did you get here, troll?” he whispered.
The boy remained still and silent.
“What is it you want, troll?” he continued.
Landoi knew the poor boy was dead and his physical presence was merely a vessel for the goblin. He also knew how vulnerable he was with a goblin so close to him, touching him. Any poison or weapon could be concealed under the grip of the boy’s hand. A distant thunder broke the silence, but Landoi knew this was no sound of rain clouds. The collection was minutes away as the tension amounted faster than the raindrops now crashing down on the caves protruding rocks. Landoi held his nerve.
“Speak, troll.” he gently whispered.
The boy adjusted and raised his free arm slowly, the movement barely visible in the low light. He jolted his hand and a small flame sparked out of the object he was holding, the flicker shooting light and shadows over the cave walls and both of their faces. The boy was unrecognisable to Landoi, no doubt a child from a less secure neighbouring village. Landoi thought about how his parents might never find the answer to their disappearing son. How the boy must have painfully suffered in silence as the troll crept into his body, dispersing of his life and how this disguised goblin breached his security patrols, to arrive here, at such a dangerous time. The Ekelion grunted once more.
“Take us there” spoke the boy, his voice deep and gargled with an expressionless face.
The two stood up together and edged out of the cave. The heavy clouds had opened, drenching both on their slow stride down the grassy verge to the pit of the valley. Landoi knew better than to attempt to separate from the troll, choosing to carefully assist the boy’s body on the trickier terrain before they arrived at the small open plain where the Ekelion was held. The patch was well lit with the burning torches Landoi had ignited only a short while ago, his final signalling steps in preparation for the collection. There was a friction of chains as the crouched goblin rose to its feet watching the two figures walk slowly over. It was Landoi who brought the pace to halt a few meters away, choosing to maintain a safe distance. The man now studied the chained goblin’s appearance at a proximity, something he had refrained from doing in the past. Its form was not quite human but an astonishingly close resemblance that even he found difficult to distinguish the difference. To an untrained eye, this figure would appear like nothing more than an old, hunched, and naked man. It was Landoi who spoke first.
“What is it you want, troll?” his voice raising only enough to reach its target through the wind and rain. “We do not have a lot of time for discussions.”
The Ekelion nodded in agreement. A strange action Landoi observed.
“And a quick discussion we shall have.” replied the Ekelion, in the old man’s voice.
“Do we deserve to be treated this way?”
Landoi maintained a steady gaze, although puzzled by the questioning. The goblin continued.
“Do you believe we have killed?
Again, silence ensued.
“Selfish it may seem, but we have merely longed for an embodiment. Do you know we are born into this land in the air? A floating entity, unable to feel and love and live, but we are there, and we are very conscious. We are just like you. We have a mind, and we have a soul… but we do not have a body. And so, we take yours.”
“You kill innocent people, troll. You are not wanted around these lands.” Landoi countered.
“Unwanted, of course. And so, the clever man you are, you search for a solution to your troubles. And that brings you to the dragon, which you study in great detail. You learn its movements, its needs and desires, and over time you forge a powerful ally. The unwritten rule – you offer goblins to the dragon – and in return the dragon ensures peace in your land. You remove the goblin pest… and everyone is happy.”
The Ekelion readjusted its chains to a more comfortable stance.
“Are your wife and children happy, Landoi?”
“My wife and children are dead, troll. This was at the hand of your kind” he quickly replied.
A pause grew longer whilst the two stared at each other, each refusing to drop their gaze.
“Your clouded eyes see purely murder and manipulation… but there is a shared existence. We have not killed, Landoi.”
A louder rumble hooked the attention of the group. Landoi spun around to see the faint shape of the dragon. Flickers of flames softly illuminated its figure as it soared on the skyline, dipping, then rising and drawing closer to its marked target area where the three stood.
“Please father, I want to come home.”
Landoi shot a glance back at the Ekelion. Its appearance had shifted to a small girl, chains wrapped around her tightly while she helplessly stood looking at the man in front of her, her father. Landoi held his emotions but gazed lovingly at the little girl he hadn’t seen in so long, reducing his guard and allowing a smile of sadness to drift by his lips. She had grown.
“How is this possible?” he muttered to himself, struggling to compose his thoughts amid the tension rising. Before he could focus, the shape had shifted once again, and a woman stood struggling with the secure chains and shackles. Her tired eyes grew large once she spotted her husband.
“Landoi!” she spoke through a cracked voice.
“We’re here. All of us. Please do not forget us! We’re still here, I promise.”
A thunderous roar cut the woman’s speech short, knocking Landoi and the boy off their feet, separating them. High up above the dragon circled, its enormous frame dominant in the sky. Landoi shot up into a crouch.
“Find me a body of my own and you can take your family back… you have my word” barked the Ekelion, his voice rising as the rumbles grew louder.
Questions and thoughts shot around his mind like schools of fish during a feeding frenzy, but he had no time to welcome them, the collection had begun. He darted towards the reserve post - a man-made, sheltered rock assembly close by that his soldiers had created in case any issues were to arise, something he thought he would never need to use. He shimmied into the crevasse, lying flat on the ground with his face tilted to the side to allow for room.
Was it a trick, he thought? He knew goblins were shapeshifters and he knew the Ekelion was the most intelligent… but how could it be a trick, he saw it with his own eyes, she had grown. His daughter had grown. She was older, her appearance more mature and no shapeshifter could replicate age. Could she really be living?
Landoi’s heart pounded against his chest in the cramped space. His wet and muddy face remained fixed in the tight gap, looking out at the chained Ekelion, who continued to stand. A whirlwind picked up with the tall grass on the banks dancing erratically before the legs of the dragon landed. He could feel the panic rising inside him – he knew this situation inside out and knew that in the next few seconds the Ekelion and the boy would belong to the dragon. But he had no choice. With an almighty shriek, the winged beast leapt and hovered off the ground, curling its enormous talons around the Ekelion and the boy. The chains pinged as a greater force pulled them away from their fixings and the two figures disappeared into the dragon’s claw. An additional deafening blast sent smoke and grit spinning into the air and the dragon rose into the sky.
Landoi lay still, breathing heavily. He knew he was fortunate to have escaped and was thankful that the unpredictable beast gathered both goblins instead of him, but he could not shake the idea of his family still being alive and now slaves to the dragon. Nobody would believe his story, and nobody would want to believe it. The peace truss he had worked so hard to create, how could he possibly put it all in jeopardy and take on the dragon to find answers.
He rested his eyes now the signal torches had all been extinguished and darkness filled the area. It was once again quiet and empty. Landoi tried to focus his mind as best he could, but one thought continued to ring around... She had grown.
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme