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The Hunted Prince

A lost child finds a winged ally.

By Paul Winzenried Published about a year ago 7 min read
2
The Hunted Prince
Photo by Sebastian Unrau on Unsplash

Penthurax sat enjoying the cool, tranquil evening in his favorite spot, the ruins of the great fortress Artarnir. The fortress was once the stronghold of the Eldermen and was the site of the last great battle between the dragons and the Eldermen. The place always made him feel powerful and confident. He could feel the spirits of his ancestors around him giving him strength and comfort. It was the only place in the lands of men where he could rest safely.

The men of the south steered clear of the fortress because they believed the ghosts of the slain still lived in the charred stones.

That evening was one of the more relaxing evenings he had experienced there. It was a cool autumn evening, and a refreshing breeze was blowing down from the north. The crickets were busy singing their nightly song in chorus with the other creatures of the night. Penthurax could feel the cool breeze slither across his scales and along his wings. He shook his neck in enjoyment upon feeling the breeze. He laid his head across his front paws, ready to drift off to sleep. Before sleep took him, fresh sounds came rushing in from the woods.

These were not the soothing sounds of nature, but loud and obnoxious ones. The baying of hounds and the sounds of voices yelling in loud and angry tones reached his ears. Annoyed, he poked his head around the corner of the wall he was laying behind to get a better view into the woods. In the distance, he could see torch lights among the trees, coupled with the shouts of angry men. The baying of hounds soon drowned out all other sounds of the night.

He spread his wings to take flight when a different sound struck his keen ears. He emerged fully from the corner he was laying in to investigate the sound. After going about fifteen paces around the corner from where he was, he discovered the source of the sound. A small, fair-haired elven child was on the ground, clutching the body of a young elven woman and crying over her.

He wondered why the pair did not flee or attempt to hide. With all the men in the woods, this was not a safe place for a pair of elves to be. His question was answered when he inspected the woman and saw the two arrows protruding from her back. He snarled angrily when he saw that. The elves had always been friends with the dragons and had fought by their side in their war with the Eldermen.

The child must have heard his snarl because he snapped his head around and stared wide eyed at Penthurax. He opened his mouth to say something reassuring to the child, but was cut off by multiple hounds emerging from the woods. With snake-like quickness, Penthurax cradled himself protectively around the child. The hounds bayed angrily at Penthurax. He met the hound's stare and let out a mighty roar in response. The hounds ran off, whimpering. A couple minutes later, six men entered the clearing, the moonlight glinting off their silver armor. Five brandished spears and the sixth carried a bow. A tall dark-haired man stepped forward; his spear pointed upward. Penthurax assumed he was the man in charge. “Step aside, dragon. We have no quarrel with you. We only want the child.”

Penthurax quickly scanned his eyes over the men in front of him. He had never been a skilled fighter and didn’t like his chances in a fight with them. He fancied himself a rather clever dragon. Using his wits and cunning, he could talk himself out of most scrapes. He decided his best chance in this situation was to scare them off.

“Tell me little man, why should I let you take this child?” he replied, his voice low and menacing. “There are six of us and only one of you. Why risk your life for this child?”

Penthurax let out a deep, rumbling laugh. “You think I fear you and your pointy stick, little man? I am a dragon and I fear no man!” the dark-haired man pointed his spear at Penthurax. “I grow tired of this. Step aside and let us take the child!” “I step aside for no man! This child is elf kind, a dragon friend and is under my protection. Any who try to take him will burn in dragon fire.” “You are foolish to take this risk.”

“No little man! It is you who are foolish to press me. Do you not know where you stand? This is Artarnir! The blood of the Eldermen stain this ground, giving strength to any dragon that treads here. Leave now while you still can!”

The dark-haired man tried his best to hide his nervousness. His eyes, however, betrayed him. The eyes of the other soldiers betrayed their nervousness as well.

Penthurax smiled menacingly at them. “You have heard the stories, haven’t you? The creeping winds pry loose the tormented screams of the slain from their stone prisons and free them to take their vengeance upon any man who dares tread this blood-soaked ground. Madness will consume any man who listens too long to the voices on the wind!” No sooner had he finished speaking than a gust of wind swept in from the north. It made an eerie whisper as it wormed its way through the cracks in the blackened stones to light upon the faces of the soldiers.

Penthurax grinned savagely at the soldiers when he saw them look nervously around. He ran his tongue along his sharp, pointed teeth. “On second thought, stay awhile. The voices and I hunger for the sweet taste of MAN FLESH!!” with the last two words, he let out a fountain of fiery red flames at the soldiers. The soldiers quickly fled back into the forest after seeing the flames.

Penthurax smiled as he saw the soldiers run off. The smile, however, was short lived. He knew soon they would return in greater numbers. The smart move was to leave quickly. He turned his head towards the child, who was still kneeling over his mother, shaking her corpse. “Wake up mommy!” he cried over and over.

Penthurax’s heart broke to hear the fear in the child’s voice. “Come child, it is time to leave. It is not safe for you here.” “No! I won’t leave my mommy!” the child cried. “I understand you do not want to leave your mother, but she is gone.” “No, she’s not! She’s just sleeping. She’s gonna wake up, she has to.”

Penthurax let out a deep sigh. The poor child was in shock and too young to understand what was happening. He took another look at the woman on the ground. Anger burned in his heart at the decision he would have to make. Time was a critical factor here, and he wished with everything he had that he could take both mother and child.

Safety, for them, was only going to be found in Elven lands. The best place was the fort that sits on the border of the lands of men and the elven lands to the north. The commander of the fort was a friend of his and would give them sanctuary. It was the distance to the fort that was the issue. Penthurax prided himself on being a swift flier. With the added weight of mother and child, he knew he did not have the strength to make the journey without stopping to rest. Doing that while still in the lands of men would be very dangerous. He knew he wouldn’t have the strength to protect the child if they were set upon. If he only had to carry the child, he could make the trip without stopping.

The soldiers seemed hell bent on taking the child. He knew they would pursue them all the way to the border. The thought of leaving the woman’s body behind ate at his heart like a ravenous wolf. Her loved ones would never wrap her body in the ceremonial cloths and place her in the ground among her kin at a burial tree. The song of the release would never be sung over her body. The men were sure to humiliate her body and display it like a trophy.

How could he call himself a friend of the elves if he doomed her to such a fate? On the other side of that coin, he knew he could not live with himself if he let the child suffer a similar fate. The choice was a simple one, yet heart breaking. Penthurax spread his wings wide, relaxed his talons and grabbed the child as gently as he could with his front talons. With his back legs, he launched himself in the air and headed north. The child, however, was having none of this. He kicked and screamed, begging for Penthurax to let him go and to return him to his mother. His heart grew heavier every time he heard the child cry out. He was worried it would grow so heavy it would tear through his chest and fall to the ground. After over an hour of flight, the child had screamed himself into slumber. A few hours later, the elven fort came into view.

Penthurax allowed himself a brief smile. At last the pair would be safe. At least for the moment.

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