Posted on November 1, 2005 by Flames
Dark Fantasy fiction by Rob Stratman
Night was soon to fall as he was nearing the cave where the dragon was said to dwell. A crafty creature, responsible for the deaths of many men. Powerful jaws and razor sharp talons. She was as crafty as she was powerful, and had many lairs from what he’d been told, but the latest tale said she was here. Her head, would make a wonderful trophy, that is if she ‘were’ there, and more importantly, ‘if’ he could kill her.
It was getting cold. He looked forward to starting a good fire to warm his aging bones. Almost the oldest of dragon hunters, he’d earned his experience the hard way, and his body bore the brunt of his hunts with the monsters he’d fought. Every ache, every scar, told a tale, and he had many of both.
As he got closer to the foot hills to the mountain where the cave was, he began to see a faint glow. The glow was from a small campfire burning, with only one person there beside the fire seeking warmth.
Upon approaching closer he could tell that the person was a young man. He looked like a warrior, but a young one. A boy, and not a man. The weapons beside him seemed somewhat used and in bad order. His blanket looked slightly burnt, as he did as well.
The young man was stairing into the fire, a thousand miles away, as he heard the old hunter approach. He quickly rose and put his hand on his weapon and looked carefully, out into the night, a hint of fear in his eyes, and in his voice.
“Who’s there?? Step out into the light and show yourself!”
The old hunter stepped out from between the rocks which had blocked the light from reaching him.
“It’s just a traveller young warrior, I mean you no harm. I am a hunter. I saw your campfire, and thought that I would ask for the hospitality and companionship of another, and to warm my weary bones in this cold and desolate place.”
The young man relaxed. He was as tired as he did dirty. He was in no shape for a fight.
“Sorry good sir. I know not what to expect from the wilds of this part of the world, and so many might seek to take advantage of someone such as I.”
Indeed, there were bandits in these hills, though if the drake were nearby, they’d not venture too close.
Through the dirt and soot, the hunter could make out a symbol of heraldry upon the coat of the young man. A symbol of a small far away kingdom.
“Tis alright young sir. I understand. The world can be an unfriendly place. May I approach and take warmth from your fire?”
The boy paused, then decided, “Please do, sir. I am grateful for your company.” He motioned for the hunter to sit and regained his own seat wearily. “I have little food, but you are welcome to what I have. There is some meat in the pan here. A rabbit I had caught.”
The old hunter placed his weapons and his gear on the ground near the fire, and put down a fur blanket to sit on. A plush pelt from another kill he’d done a few weeks ago.
“My name is Gerwalt,” the old hunter said, and held out his arm to be clapsed.
The young man took his greeting and exchanged it as well. The hand of the old hunter was calloused and strong. His arm felt as if it had chords of steel bands running in it.
“Mine is Abesh. I come from the village of Seretal, of the Kindgom of Yorl, far to the west.” He pointed off into the darkness of the night. Hoping that was where west was.
“Well met, good sir,” Gerwalt said. “I am a hunter of beasts, men, and things beyond both. I am here to hunt the drake named Kerza . It is said that she has a lair in the hills here.”
The young man’s eyes grew wide, “Kerza? You hunt the queen of drakes? Aye! Her cave is here in these hills, and she resides within. My burnt hind quarters testify to her presence here.”
“So you’ve met her royal highness?”
He picked up a stick and stirred the embers in the campfire to keep it going, and tossed in some more wood, “Oh yes, I’ve met her. She’s large, and dangerous, and breathes gouts of flame, a powerful and mighty beast…”
The hunter saw an angry and frightened look cross the boys face as he said it.
“Say,” said the hunter, “do you hunt her as well?”
“Aye sir. I do.” He responded.
“But why do you, a mere young lad, come here to fight such a great monster?”
The boy flinched, and looked angry, “A monster indeed… I’m the lucky lad of my village who was the last one left for the king of my country to send to destroy her when he decided that the dragoness was too dangerous to send his much valued knights.”
The boy angrily shoved the stick he was using as a poker into the fire, “I don’t come here for glory, nor for vanity’s sake. I come for here to save my village. For my king has sent the men of my village a few at a time to try and hunt her down, and none have returned. He then sent the rest of us boys that were left, and I am the lucky last of that lot.
The one that, if he fails, all of his village will die, and he will die as well. At least…” He paused for a moment in thought. “At least that will be some mercy, to die before they do, so that I won’t have to endure the pain of my failure…
I think it’s more the king that is the monster here… As so many men like him are.”
The hunter was taken aback by this. He’d spent his life hunting, trapping, and killing those things that mankind had become prey for. He’d spent his life finding unique and dangerous prey to kill so as to become more powerful and gain fame and fortune from his acts. Yet here was a mere lad who sought to help his people. Pushed forward into the meat grinder of life by a man like many others who only saw his people as wood to be burned in a fire to keep his toes warm. It angered him.
“I am here to kill the beast. I do so for fame and glory. One last final kill to to add to my list of kills for people to know me by, but if you’d let me, I would help you kill the monster.”
The young man looked hesitant. He pursed his lips in thought. “If you kill it, you will let me take credit for it? Let me bring back a trophy to prove that I killed her?”
The old hunter thought. If he did this, he would help this boy and his people. There was more than one trophy to be had, and not all were always visible upon a wall to tout a kill.
“Yes, I will let you take credit and bare the trophy back to your people.” Besides which, he thought, if the lad did die, even after his best efforts to protect him, he could still kill the beast, and take the trophy for his own.
The boy smiled. “Then I can go back to the village and save my people… Thank you kind sir.” He bowed slightly to Gerwalt.
“Alright,” the old hunter said. “Done…” He pulled his blanket and warmer furs out to make a bed for himself, and a few for the lad as well.
“So tell me Abesh. What do you know about this drake?”
The Young man thought for a bit, “She likes to play with her food. I’ve heard that often.”
“Indeed, I have as well. I’ve heard that she’s cruel, and a practical joker.”
Abesh thought some more, “She’s smart, and beautiful, I guess, for a drake. She’s famous, and has lived a long time.” “She’s powerful too, but must be stupid, because she’s hiding in a cave. I mean, if I found her, then it must not be ‘that’ hard to get to her.”
Gerwalt nodded, but drakes were really not that smart, but always thought highly of themselves. “I’ve heard she’s magical too.”
“Magical?” The young man said.
“Yes. Able to cast spells. She’s was once the companion of a wizard. She took the form of a beautiful woman, tricked the wizard into falling in love with her, and got the wizard to train her.” He got a sour look upon his face, “Before she ate him of course.”
Abesh looked surprised, “Ate him??? Are you sure? I mean… I mean, it sounds so cruel. To eat someone who loves you?”
The old hunter moved one of the burning logs to keep the fire going, and got it to touch the boy’s hand.
The boy yelped and pulled his hand back, a small burn upon it.
“Sorry lad, sorry, careless of me. I didn’t see you so close. Damn these old eyes. Are you hurt?” The hunter quickly took up his injured hand and looked at it carefully, he could see a burn mark upon it, but nothing too serious.
“Yes, I think I am alright. Please be more careful. I won’t be in any shape to fight tomorrow if I burn to death tonight.” Abesh drew his hand back and held it under his arm.
The hunter had heard that the drake could change shape into a woman, but was impervious to fire. This boy, if that was true, was not the drake, if the drake were able to take on more than one shape. He almost wished he’d brought a wizard along on this journey, but the damn fool would probably have tried to steal his thunder.
They both lay down, and soon enough fell asleep on that dark cold night.
The next morning they rose, broke their fast, girded their armor, and began the trek up the hill to reach the cave.
Not too far up, they came upon a large cave. Outside it, the hunter saw scorch marks, and the foot prints of the young man as he had been told that he was there.
“This is the cave. I entered here and left in a hurry to save my own foolish ass from a firey death.”
The hunter placed his heavy shield before him and traced some runes on the front to protect him from fire, magic, and just about anything else this fool dragon would throw at him as he approached.
He turned the shield around and drew out a small spear, which he then tapped upon the ground and turned it into a long pike with a very sharp and shiny point. He twisted a ring upon his finger and ran his hand over some runed armbands, and he seemed to be ready.
The boy stayed close behind as Gerwalt instructed him too, and they began their march into the cave.
He’d only gotten so far in, when he came upon bones strewn about, the bodies of former brave men who’d died trying to slay this great beast.
Deeper into the darkness they crept. Where is she he wondered? Would she allow them to walk all the way in? Or bathe them in flame before they go much further?
The boy had become very quiet, Gerwalt could tell he was excited though, “She’s here. I know she’s here.” The boy whispered.
“Where??” He whispered back. “I don’t see anything.”
“She’s close… Very verrrry close…”
He felt something cold behind him. A chill of impending doom. Someone walked across his grave.
“By and by good hunter, I”ll have you know. I never ate my husband…”
He turned and tried to bring the shield around, but too late. He saw her, towering behind him, lungs filled with air. The boy nowhere to be seen. The tale of her immunity to fire had been a lie, she had been the boy, and he’d allowed himself to become trapped by trying to do a good deed. Damn him for a fool.
The last thing he remembered, oddly enough before he died, was that she liked to play with her food…
He died as a wall of flame engulfed him, and burned him to a cinder. All that remained was a large shield, his weapons, and some armor. The rest, her lunch.
She watched him die, a look of surprise, and then resignation on his face. He was so smart, so certain, such an experienced hunter… Now, so much meat for her meal.
Later as she gnawed upon his bones, she thought that next time she would be an experienced hunter on his last hunt. That final hunt that would be that last big kill. Looking for fame and fortune. She’d lame herself of course. Just enough so that they’d take pity on him, and let him come along for their last and final kill…