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The grand marshal announced loudly, “Qewaxon the Great, Grand Wizard to the court of King Athyert Veray and his guest, representing the city of Rockport, Sir Olorry Gleamheart, exalted Paladin of Heironeous, leader of the military sodality of crossbowmen, archers, swordsmen, clerics and wizards of the first order dedicated to serving the deity Heironeous!”
The wizard Qewaxon and the paladin Sir Gleamheart were standing just inside the gilded entrance doors. All eyes were on them as they proceeded forward toward the king on his throne that set atop a low dais at the far end of the huge throne room. The room was decorated with many colorful banners and tapestries. Light was shining in through many large stained glass windows. The walls and columns were of the same gold infused marble as the hallway they had just left. A second floor visitor’s gallery ran along both sides, crowded with gaily clad lords and ladies, all straining to see the activities below. Under both galleries stood castle guards with shields and spears in hand. Behind the two rows of guards were knights and attendants, clerics and holy men, military and civilian authorities, land holders, and others.
They stopped at the foot of the dais. The wizard stood impatiently. The paladin unsheathed his sword and, holding it point down rested its tip on the polished floor in front of him, lowered his head, shifted one foot forward and lowered his other knee to the floor. His looked resplendent with his heavy white cape draping to the floor behind him but he felt inadequately dressed, having left both helm and shield in Rockport.
King Veray, dressed in his red velvet robe with ermine collar and golden crown, was sitting on his massive golden throne. He addressed the paladin, “My wizard informs me that you wish to address the crown. I declared this a day of open court with the purpose of meeting each of the knights before the start of the tourney. Tell me what business you have that is so urgent as to interrupt this day of festivities.”
The paladin remained silent, on one knee and head bowed.
“Arise, Sir Gleamheart!” commanded the king. “Don’t waste our time by having me repeat myself. Or have you been struck dumb by being in my presence?” At this the king smiled broadly at his joke and looked around at his assembled guests who responded with light laughter.
Sir Gleamheart rose, sheathed his sword and responded, “Your highness, I am indeed humbled in your presence. I beg your pardon for this interruption in your day but I chose neither the day nor the time for this audience. It has been thrust upon me by circumstances beyond my control.”
“Well you are here now,” said the king. “So get on with it.”
Looking around at all of the now solemn faces impatiently waiting to hear what he had to say, he began to understand the fear that the city guard had experienced when suddenly required to speak before the guests in the governor’s hall only a few minutes earlier. He decided to ignore the others and concentrate only on the king. He said, “I have come to ask for your help. An ancient red dragon is on the rampage in my homeland. The church of Heironeous is funding an expedition and has chosen me to lead it. I have assembled a group of fighters and enlisted the help of a renowned dragon tracker to find his lair se we can defeat him there. What I need is as many willing volunteers as you can spare to come with us on this quest. The more able fighters we have, the greater will be the chance of our success. They will of course share in any hoard found in his lair.”
The king turned to the wizard, “And what do you know of this?”
Qewaxon said, “The dragon is Abraxas. There are many ancient scrolls in our library describing his ruthlessness. It is well known that he lairs in the black mountains and some claim to know which mountain, but there is no record of anyone ever locating the lair, at least none who have survived. From what I have been able to piece together from current reports, a few years ago an item from his hoard went missing. He is too proud to admit that it may have been stolen, but he is certain that someone has it and is refusing to return it to him. At first he made a few vailed threats and destroyed a few villages. The more time that passes, the more obsessed he has become.”
The king asked, “What is this missing treasure?”
The wizard replied, “No one knows for sure. Abraxas has convinced himself that the thief is keeping it from him and knows perfectly well what it is. He has only referred to it as some type of gem.”
To Sir Gleamheart the king asked, “When is this quest to begin?”
“It was to have begun yesterday, Sire. We had assembled the party in Rockport when the dragon attacked the city and destroyed all of our wagons and most of our provisions. Although we lost only a few men in the attack, a large number have since resigned from the quest leaving us shorthanded and prompting my appeal here today. We should resume as soon as possible. I have already sent forward the scouts to mark the trail.”
“I am sorry for the suffering of your people, but what you ask is quite impossible,” said the king. “Even if I had the fighting men to spare, it would take several months of hard travel for them to reach Rockport from here.”
Gleamheart said, “Couldn’t your wizard teleport them there, as he brought me here?”
The king said, “Being a stranger here, perhaps you are unaware of my decree forbidding all knights and fighting men the use of magical teleport spells into or out of the Golden City of Wheathorp, except in emergency situations or by the expressed consent of the king.”
“Pardon my asking,” said Sir Gleamheart, “but why would you have such a decree?”
“Because it is too dangerous,” said the king. “Four years ago a group of adventurers left here by teleport spell to stop a goblin invasion it Landshire. They were successful, but when they returned, there was a mishap. The wizard’s teleport spell landed them three miles out to sea. Only the wizard survived.”
“If I might add,” said the wizard. “Even if we had the king’s approval, I can only cast a single teleport spell each day.” Before the paladin could remind him that he had already teleported twice today he added, “I used an old teleport scroll to travel to Rockport today and used my one teleport spell to bring you here. The point is, I can take a maximum of 8 willing creatures with me. For me to teleport a large number of fighters from here to Rockport, along with their mounts and provisions, would take several weeks.”
“There is no reason to discuss this further,” said the king. “I will not give my consent.”
“But your majesty, surely …”
The king interrupted him, “Yours isn’t the only mountain in my kingdom with a menacing red dragon. Also, between your mountain and here is a swamp with a black dragon that is stirring up trouble. I have blue dragons in the deserts and green dragons in the forests. I even have white dragons in the frozen north. That doesn’t even count all of the metallic, the so-called good dragons, that are disrupting civil order. Surely you don’t expect me to send troops to deal with all of them. That is why I have local leaders throughout the kingdom that maintain their own troops. As much as it pains me to say this, you and your governor must deal with this dragon on your own.”
He paused a minute and then asked, “What did you say this dragon’s name is?”
No one noticed the nearly invisible ball floating near the ceiling. Someone was magically scrying on these proceedings.
“His name is Abraxas your majesty,” replied Gleamheart.
“Abraxas… Abraxas… I know that name,” said the king. “I was told tales of him when I was a child. A monster to scare children. As I remember the stories he has a complete lack of feeling or compassion. He is big and mean but you and your group should have no trouble defeating him. As I understand it he is a weak gutless coward who was not even able to prevent a thief from walking into his lair and walking out with whatever he desired.”
The magical scrying ball disappeared and the room shook with the sudden appearance of a gigantic red scaled beast that filled the space from the gilded entrance doors to the backs of Gleamheart and the wizard. Abraxas had materialized and he was angry. His head rose well above the heads of the observers on the balcony and he stood with his tail flicking behind him. His wings were raised above his back nearly scraping the ceiling above. The room filled with the smell of burning sulfur as whiffs of smoke puffed out of his flaring nostrils.
Many were overcome with a fear that could not be controlled. There were screams as people pushed and shoved to stumble down the narrow stairways and out through the closest exits. Many a brave lord positioned himself between his lady and the dragon but for others fear overcame valor as they pushed their way to safety. Only the bravest knights and guards remained steady. Sir Gleamheart felt no fear as he drew his sword to protect the king. Being near the fearless paladin gave Qewaxon the courage to dash up the dais and cast a protection spell that surrounded both himself and the king.
Abraxas spoke in a thunderous voice that could be heard over the screams, “Lies! These are all lies! I am not …” He was stopped in mid-sentence by a spear hurled by a guard who was standing near his right foot. The spear pierced the frill that swept back from his jaw. He quickly turned to face his attacker. Flames of anger licked up from his eyes and nostrils. A cone of fire roared from his mouth engulfing the guard and everyone behind him. The flame boiled up the back wall as the gold veined marble blackened and cracked. Banners and flags were set ablaze. Those who didn’t collapse in the blast ran from the area with hair and clothing on fire.
Other guards and knights threw spears and fired arrows. Most either missed their mark or simply bounced off the dragon’s armor-like scales. A few found a crack between scales or hit with enough force to penetrate but Abraxas ignored them as he crashed his tail against the columns supporting the left balcony, knocking them out from under the gallery causing it to come crashing down upon those beneath and spilling the panicked guests out onto the lower level resulting in a great number of casualties. The blood-curdling screams of a knight split the air as Abraxas bit his arm and tore it off above his shoulder. At the same time, the dragon’s sword-like claws fatally slashed open a frightened noble.
Sir Gleamheart took the hilt of his long sword in both hands and charged the dragon. The air surrounding Abraxas rolled in waves from the heat of his body. Gleamheart threw all of his weight into his attack as he landed a tremendous blow with his sword into the dragon’s chest. The sword crunched through scale and muscle to bury itself nearly to its hilt. Abraxas slapped Sir Gleamheart away with the back of his hand, as one might swat away a bothersome fly. The blow sent the paladin flying back up the dais where his head met with the corner of the throne and he collapsed unconscious into a heap at the king’s feet.
As he plucked the sword from his chest, Abraxas said, “If my treasure is returned I might decide to sleep another 50 to 100 years. Otherwise I will destroy your entire kingdom.”
The gilded doors flew open and all of the knights that had been waiting in the hall started running in with sword spear and lance.
With a roll of his eyes as if he were simply tired of the fight, Abraxas disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared.
After the fires had been extinguished, Sir Gleamheart healed, the dead removed and the wounded tended to, King Veray declared the tournament canceled and ordered Qewaxon to provide all the teleport spells that Sir Gleamheart required. He declared the defeat of the dragon that destroyed his throne room to be a royal quest and that all volunteers that joined the quest would have the gratitude of the crown. There was no shortage of volunteers. Most of the knights who had arrived from across the realm to prove themselves in the tournament were eager to join their peers in an actual dragon hunt. The king also promised to provide all weapons, mounts, equipment and supplies they might need.
Back in Rockport, Governor Patrick broke the seal on the message Qewaxon had left. It bore the royal seal of King Veray. It was a royal decree levying a 20 percent tax on all recovered dragon hoards.