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Dragon Hunt – Chapter 2, Part 1 – City of Rockport

The man walking along the forest path had his dark cloak pulled tight around neck with his hood pulled over his head. He had been walking this path for several days now and the snow was just beginning to let up. The path was getting broader and more heavily traveled the closer he got to Rockport. He passed several men on horseback, some going to and some leaving the city. Most had passed without noticing him. He stayed to the side of the trail and blended into the shadows. He topped a hill just at the edge of the pine forest and got his first look at the city some called the ‘City at the End of the World’. The city wall was half a mile away and fresh snow caused it to sparkle as the sun broke through the clouds. As he knelt down on one knee to take in the view, a hawk appeared over the trees. It circled and landed softly on his shoulder.

“Well, Rep, ol’ buddy,” he said, as he shared a small piece of dried venison, “It looks like we will be leaving the forest for a while.” The hawk shook his piece of meat, tossed it up, grabbed it and gulped it down. He adjusted his grip and turned his head to the side as he closely watched the man eat the other piece. The leather armor under the cloak kept the raptor’s sharp talons from sinking into his skin. The hawk had been his companion for several months now. One day he just showed up. Trevan named him Rep and they had been together ever since.

It had been five years since he left his cabin. Trevan had grown a lot during this time. He was six inches taller and forty pounds heaver. He had become a hansom young man, a masterful woodsman, excellent tracker, talented hunter and skillful fighter. He had grown to love the forest and understand its creatures. He had fought owlbears, displacer beasts, ogers, orcs and other forest monsters. He was even learning to harness the magic of nature to talk to animals and walk without leaving any trace. Like his father before him, he had become what many call a ranger.

About four weeks ago, in a little village named Comesh, he had met a man who told him of an expedition that was being organized in Rockport. They were going on a great dragon hunt. A dragon that had been quiet for centuries was again causing trouble. From the description that the stranger had given him, Trevan was convinced that it was Abraxas. It took him a while to get here but he was determined to join them. He was hoping that he would not be too late, that they would wait until after the last snowfall before starting. It was early spring now, this snow should be the last and his destination was in sight.

He had been to many cities and towns but had never seen one this big. He could see where the path joined a major road just before it came to a stone bridge over a river. The Blood River it was called because of the color of the water. The road went straight to a large entrance gate in the wall. The wall was made of dark stone and was about 15 feet tall. Looking down on it from the hill, he could see that it was about ten feet thick with a walkway on the top. He could see armored guards milling around at the gate and on the wall. Watchtowers were placed along the wall. These rose ten feet above the wall and were pierced with arrow slits. The top of each watchtower had a huge ballista. These looked very much like Trevan’s crossbows, but were huge weapons fixed to the floor in a way that permitted them to swivel. They were tended by two or three armored guards each. These guards on the towers were all watching the sky, as if a dragon might appear at any moment. Beyond the wall he could see the snow covered roofs of countless buildings and smoke rising from a hundred chimneys. He could see the streets that sliced the city into many irregular pieces. There were towers, like the ones on the walls, at many locations within the city, and they all had ballista mounted on their roofs. These towers were close enough to each other that if a dragon were to land on one, it could be shot by at least two others. Beyond the city he could see water extending to the horizon. This was the Great Inland Sea. It extended back to his left as far as he could see. To his right, where the city wall curved back to the sea, there was another entrance gate and a road that went up to a gap in the mountains. These were called the Black Mountains and somewhere within them was Abraxas.

Trevan walked down to the road. Just before he crossed the bridge Rep flew up, circled twice and headed back towards the forest. Rep often flew away for days at a time, but always managed to find Trevan wherever he might be.

There was very little traffic in and out of the city at the moment. Rockport was an open city. Anyone who behaved himself was permitted entrance. The heavy wooden gate stood open. The guards at the gate appeared to be bored and only gave Trevan a passing glance as he passed through the gate and under the portcullis. This was made from heavy iron bars, and was currently in its raised position. There was an identical raised portcullis at the inner side of the wall. Between them, in the ceiling above, were murder holes. Any unfortunate invader that managed to get caught between the portcullises could expect to get a boiling oil bath. Outside the gateway was a large open courtyard with streets going off in several directions. The courtyard and most of the streets were paved with cobblestones. There were several merchants with their carts parked haphazardly about. Most were just trying to stay warm. They had very few customers. All of the buildings surrounding the courtyard were two stories tall and made of stone, the same black stone as the city wall. Against the wall to the right was a stable and a blacksmith. He could see a couple of inns, a furrier and candlestick maker shop. Most of the shops had a wooden sign suspended above the door proclaiming with a drawing and sometimes in words the name of the establishment. Most of these signs could not be read because they were still wearing a coat of snow. As the sun was growing warmer, many of the shops shutters were beginning to open. Most of the tracks in the snow led to the door of the largest inn facing the courtyard. This seamed a good spot to inquire about the dragon hunt. He went in, dusted the snow from his cloak and lowered his hood.

The door opened into a large room filled with tables. There was a wooden stairway at the far side of the room that went up to a balcony that wrapped around the room. Under the balcony and all along the wall to the right was a bar. In the far left corner was a large fireplace. There were several wooden tables and benches. The place was filled with patrons. Most were sitting at the tables in small groups of two or four. Some were eating, many were drinking. There was a group of five dwarves sitting around the fireplace. They had obviously been there for a while, drinking and being loud. It was much darker in here than it had been outside. The shutters were still closed against the weather. The only light came from the fireplace and three oil lamp chandeliers that were suspended by ropes from the high ceiling. A young dark haired woman carrying a tray filed with drinks was moving between the tables. There were several men standing at the bar, each with a drink on the bar or in his hand. On the other side of the bar was a seven foot tall half-orc engaged in some kind of contest with a man at the far end involving a dagger and stabbing the top of the bar between their fingers. Trevan walked up to an empty space along the bar and waited.

Behind the bar, between shelves of bottles, was a large painting. It was a view from the water of what must have been Rockport with the mountains rising behind it. The city was in flames as a huge red dragon was breathing fire down on the ships at sea. The half-orc noticed Trevan and walked over. He had small tuffs of stiff red hair at random spots all over his body except for his hairless head. His nose was definitely pig-like in appearance and he had a pair of 3 inch tusks protruding from his lower lip. His muscular arms were bare and were covered with many old scars. Trevan jumped when the half-orc slammed his ham-sized fist down on the bar in front of him and snarled loudly, “What?”

The inn became silent for a few seconds before everyone returned to their plates and their conversations. Trevan replied, “I’ve just arrived in town. I am here to join in the dragon hunt if it hasn’t left yet. Do you know anything about it?”

“Food, drink or room?” the half-orc said with a stare.

The barmaid hurried over, placed her tray on the bar and said to the half-orc, “I’ll handle this, Buxter.” The half-orc turned with a grunt and returned to the other end of the bar. “He’s not much of a talker,” she said. “My name is Heather. I heard you asking about the dragon hunt. You may be too late I’m afraid. I heard that Sir Gleamheart finished signing up everyone yesterday. They will be leaving in a couple of days.” She was thin, about 5’-7” and had silver-grey eyes. She looked up at Trevan and gave him her friendliest smile.

Trevan asked, “Who is Sir Gleamheart?”

“You have never heard of Sir Gleamheart? I thought everyone knew him. It seams like I’ve been listening to stories about him all my life. He is a paladin of Heironeous, the god of valor. He’s leading the expedition.” Heather continued, “The church of Heironeous is funding it. They say that this entire hunt was the church’s idea. They say Sir Gleamheart told some cleric that he was planning to take a small party into the mountains to find and kill the dragon. He has been causing a lot trouble you know. And the church convinced him to take a large party to be sure of success but I think it was to be sure he returned with Abraxas’s hoard.”

At the dragon’s name, Trevan interrupted her and said, “So it is Abraxas!”

“Yea, that’s the one all right. You’re lucky you aren’t going,” said Heather. “That’s him there,” she said as she pointed to the painting. “Everyone in the expedition will probably be killed.”

Looking at the painting Trevan asked, “What city is that?”

“That is Rockport. They say that Abraxas has burned it to the ground three times. This is a picture of the last time. It was about 50 years ago. He can’t burn it again. All of our buildings are fire proof now. They are all made of stone with clay or slate roofs. And we have the dragon towers.” Trevan looked like he didn’t know what she was talking about so she continued, “I’m sure you saw them. None of the buildings can be over two stories tall and the towers throughout the city are taller than that. If a dragon lands he will be killed by the ballista on the towers. But that hasn’t kept him from burning nearly every other town or village. He has been attacking everybody and everything he sees. He seems to be very upset about something. They say someone stole something from him. I hear a lot of stories here. I heard that it was magic gem called the Dragon’s Eye. No one knows what it does, but it must be very powerful for it to have upset him so much. No one has been able to use their magic to find it. The church has tried several times.”

“Where can I find Sir Gleamheart?”

“I just told you, they are all going to get themselves killed. If you insist on taking to them, they are using an old warehouse on the waterfront. It’s easy to find because they painted a huge symbol of Heironeous on the side. You know, a silver hand holding a silver lighting bolt. But it won’t do you any good to go there today. This is Sun’s Day, a holy day for them. They won’t talk business until tomorrow. Why don’t you get a room for the night, have a drink, a warm meal and get a good night’s sleep. That way you will be fresh for tomorrow.”

Trevan got the impression that she had made that same pitch to sell room, drink and food many times before. He pulled a gold coin from his money pouch and tossed it on the counter. “How much will this get?”

Heather smiled broadly as she quickly grabbed the coin. “This will get you our best room. Wait here just a minute.” She took the coin to the other end of the bar. She quickly returned after a brief conversation with Buxter. “I am afraid the only room we have available is a communal room with two beds and one of the beds is already rented. If you don’t mind sharing a room, I’ll vouch for him. He won’t be any problem. The good news is that you will get the room for two nights and that includes food and drink today and tomorrow,” she said with a smile.

Trevan replied, “Throw in a hot bath and you have a deal.”

She handed him a key and said, “It is the first room at the top of the stairs. When will you want your bath?”

He took the key and told her that he would take his bath right away, before eating. He went straight to his room. His roommate wasn’t there. The room was small and cold. The small window was shuttered. There were two small beds and a chest at the foot of each. They were both open and empty. There was a small table with a water picture and bowl. There was a single candle on the table. In a few minutes, a couple of elderly halflings carried a bathing tub half full of warm water into the room along with soap and towels. After cleaning up, Trevan left his backpack in one of the chests and left his weapons, except for one dagger, on the bed most distant from the window.

Dragon Hunt – Chapter 1, Part 9 – Winter in the cabin

The cabin was finished before the first snowfall.

Trevan was convinced that the red dragon Abraxas not only killed his father, but was also the dragon that killed his mother years ago. He spent his time learning as much about dragons as he could from his Kabold servant, Yeark.

Yeark continued to be a faithful servant. He did the cleaning and cooking and everything else Trevan asked. He also continued to make traps and got great pleasure in doing everything he could to torment their gnome house guest, Gimble.

Gimble used his magic to keep his clothing clean and in good repair. He seamed to have an unlimited number of brightly colored shirts and paints in his bag. From time to time he would pull something they needed out of his carpet bag. Once he pulled out a sauce pan and a full set of dinnerware. Another time he pulled out a chopping cleaver and he once pulled out two hard leather shields for them to use while practicing with their swords. Trevan never asked, but he suspected that Gimble’s bag was a magical bag of holding.

Gimble would secretly check the magical gem in his pendent two or three times a day. One morning it began to glow and change its color to black, meaning that it detected a black dragon. Gimble went outside, but never saw it. The gem indicated that the dragon flew from the southwest to the southeast and then the gem’s dim light went out. Gimble went inside and asked Trevan if they had ever had any black dragons here. Trevan said, “No, but you should ask Yeark. He would know if any ever came this way.” Gimble refused to talk to Yeark, so Trevan waited until that evening, and then asked Yeark what he knew about black dragons.

Yeark said, “What you call black dragons we call skull dragons. As they get older the skin draws tight around their face giving them a very skull like appearance. They get really big, almost a big as red dragons. They are notoriously bad tempered and cruel. They normally live in warm watery areas like swamps. The nearest ones to here is a pair that lives in the salt marsh south of Morningside, about a 20 day trip from here.”

“Do they breathe fire and cast magic spells like red dragons?” Trevan asked.

“No,” said Yeark. “Their breath weapon is a line of acid. But they do cast spells.”

Gimble had to ask, “Do black dragons ever come around here?”

“I have never heard of any coming this far north, but I would sure like to meet one,” answered Yeark. “There is an elder of our tribe that tells stories of a trip he took when he was young. He spent some time with another tribe that had the honor of providing a defensive guard for a skull dragon’s lair.”

“Do all dragons have kobolds guarding their lairs?” asked Trevan.

“No. Many don’t have any guards at all. Some have other races of guards, such as hobgoblins or ogers. But any kobold tribe would gladly defend a dragon’s lair.”

Gimble said, “I may have seen a black dragon near the horizon this morning.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” said Trevan.

“I didn’t want to upset you. It wasn’t flying in this direction. I was wondering if it might have something to do with the orc raids.”

“Skull dragons have been known to use tribes of orcs to do their dirty work,” said Yeark. “Orcs are not very smart and a clever dragon could easily convince them to do almost anything with promises of great rewards and the backing of a powerful dragon. Perhaps the pair in Saltmarsh is expanding their domain. They may have a new hatchling! If I were back with my tribe, they might have heard if there was any news of that type. Oh, what wonderful news, if it is true!”

“Do you here that?” yelled Gimble to Trevan. “He loves dragons! He wants to serve and protect them! He can’t wait until he gets back to his cave so he can plot with dragons to kill us all!”

“That’s not true!” snapped Yeark. “There are many dragons that I have no respect for at all. I have no desire to kill all humans. Gnomes, yes!” as he stared at Gimble. “And it’s not a cave, it’s a mine.”

Gimble started to say something to Yeark, but Trevan held his hand up in front of Gimble and turned to Yeark, “You have never had anything but good to say about dragons. What dragons do you not respect?”

Yeark thought for a minute before speaking, “We don’t speak of them often, but there are dragons that prefer weakness to strength. They would protect the weak from the strong, rather than allowing the strong to prevail as is their natural right. Instead of dictating to the weaker races they prefer to ‘negotiate’ with them. Rather than killing a foe in battle, they will try to block or only wound and much prefer to avoid any conflict at all. Some actually seek to associate with humans, elves and other lesser races. These dragons typically have the luster of metal to their scales and are called metallic dragons. Fortunately, there are very few of them.”

Trevan said, “I never heard of good dragons. Gimble, what do you know about these metallic dragons?”

Gimble said, “There was a story I heard once about a gold dragon that was good. I also heard many times about a silver dragon that likes to change into human form and live among humans. I never really believed any of those stories, though.”

Trevan said, “Why can’t we find a metallic dragon and get it to help us find and kill Abraxas?”

Yeark said, “No. It is not possible.”

“Why not?” said Trevan.

“First of all, the only metallic dragon that would be powerful enough to defeat an ancient red dragon such as  Abraxas would be an ancient gold dragon, and I don’t think that there are any of them left. Even if there were and you could find him, he wouldn’t fight Abraxas.”

“I understand that he wouldn’t want to fight, but we could let him know of all of the terrible things Abraxas had done, he would have to help us,” said Trevan.

“It’s not just that,” said Yeark. “Long ago there was a great battle between the metallic dragons and the chromatic dragons. It lasted for centuries. When it was over, the few remaining dragons all swore never to kill, or cause to be killed, another true dragon. And this was to be honored by them and their descendents forever. I think this was foolish and the metallic dragons should all have been killed. But dragons are much smarter than kobolds so I guess they had a good reason.”

The winter passed quietly. Trevan and Gimble practiced fighting with sword and crossbow. They learned all they could about the draconian language and dragon behavior. Trevan got better at spotting and disarming Yeark’s traps. When winter turned to spring, Trevan would hunt for small game while Gimble would gather all kinds of edible roots, leaves, berries, fruit, and vegetables. Gimble was an excellent cook and enjoyed making dishes Trevan had never tried before. At Trevan’s instance, Yeark was always invited to share in these meals, but he seldom cared for the soups and breads. He much preferred meat to vegetables and liked it cooked very lightly without seasoning.

Just before summer, as they were sitting down to eat late in the evening on one cool spring day, one of Yeark’s warning alarms sounded. Something at the foot of the hill broke a thread which released a small weight attached to a string that was concealed along the ground up to the cabin which then pulled a pin that was holding up a spoon. The spoon fell down and hit the bottom of an overturned metal pan. This alerted everyone in the cabin of the approach of uninvited guests.

When they peaked out they saw a band of eight orcs sneaking quietly towards the cabin. Trevan was gathering up his crossbow and quiver of bolts and Gimble was putting on his chain shirt when Yeark said, “We don’t stand a chance against them. We will all be killed if we try to fight.”

Trevan paused and said, “Yea, I know. If you want to run away you can. I’m going to stay and fight. Gimble, you can go too if you want to.”

Gimble said, “We couldn’t run away if we wanted to. They’d catch us before we reached the tree line. We could try to talk them into letting us live, assuming one of them speaks common. I don’t think any of us can speak orc.”

Trevan said, “I don’t think these orcs came here to talk. You two run, I’ll try to hold them long enough for you to get away.”

Yeark said, “We can’t win if we fight, but there is another option.” Trevan and Gimble stopped their preparations for battle and stared at the Kobold. “I have an escape tunnel. It’s down here.” He lifted the section of wood flooring that covered the pit that he used as his sleeping area. Trevan and Gimble peaked in and saw that Yeark had enlarged his room and it now contained a Kobold sized chair, table, sleeping mat and had straw mats covering the walls. Trevan held the floorboards up while Yeark jumped down and pulled aside one of the wall mats to reveal a tunnel entrance. It was large enough for the kabold to walk in upright. The gnome would have to bend over a little and Trevan would have to bend over as far as he could unless he wanted to crawl. “It goes to a concealed exit about fifty yards into the woods. Quickly grab what you need and we can be gone before they get here.”

Trevan and Gimble both threw everything they didn’t want the orcs to get into Gimble’s carpet bag and started towards the tunnel. They just got the floorboards back in place before the orcs rushed in. They could hear the orcs tearing up the place as they started quickly, but quietly, running down the tunnel. Yeark was the last one into the tunnel and just before he lowered the wall mat he pulled a leaver that he had concealed in the wall of the tunnel. The three heard a loud crash behind them as they ran. The rock that was covering the exit of the tunnel had been hollowed out and was surprisingly light. They were indeed just inside the forest. Instead of running further into the forest and hiding, they moved cautiously back to the edge of the trees and looked back at the cabin.

Dust was still settling where the cabin had stood. All that was there now was the brick chimney and a pile of logs. The orcs were nowhere to be seen. They must have been under the rubble which was starting to burn. All three of them sat down on a log and just watched it burn.

Gimble retrieved their meal which he had placed into his bag in a covered pot. It was still hot. They ate in silence. After a couple of hours; it was dark, the fire that was once Trevan’s cabin was dying, and the three of them were still sitting on the log at the edge of the forest. Trevan finally broke the silence when he said, “Yeark, I’m releasing you from your vow. You can go back to your tribe. All of your obligations to me have been fulfilled.” He looked over at Gimble and continued, “I’m not going to try to rebuild it this time. I’m going on my own, into the woods to live off the land.”

Gimble said, “So you’re going to become a Ranger like your father.”

Trevan said, “Yes. I still plan on killing Abraxas, but I realize that I am not ready. I still have a lot to learn, and I can’t learn it here.”

Gimble asked, “Would you like me to come with you?”

“No. This is something I must do alone.”

Yeark left immediately. Trevan and Gimble spent the rest of the night where they were and in the morning, after dividing up their belongings, said their goodbyes and went their separate ways.

Dragon Hunt – Chapter 1, Part 8 – Orcs

As Summer passed into Fall, the three came near to finishing the cabin. The walls were up, the roof was almost complete. Trevan and Gimble would only see Yeark after the sun went down each day. And when they woke up each morning they would find that Yeark had cleaned the cabin and neatly organized their work areas, put their tools away and swept. On days when the weather kept them from working on the cabin, Trevan would work on building crossbows, like his father taught him. He found that Yeark quickly learned to help him with this work too and became quite proficient as a crossbow craftsman. Yeark made a small, kabold sized, crossbow for himself. Gimble didn’t like the idea of the Kabold being allowed to have any weapons, but Trevan seamed to trust him. The only real problem Trevan or Gimble ever had with Yeark was his annoying tendency to build traps everywhere. Some of them were useful, like the small traps he set that kept their cabin free from rats and insect traps that killed wasps, flies and spiders. But traps like the one Treven set off when he walked out through the door one day were a real pain. That one caused the shelf that held the pans to fall and created such a loud noise that Trevan thought he was going to have a heart attack. Trevan tried to get Yeark to stop making traps, but the best he could do was get a promise that the traps he made would cause no harm. Trevan eventually got better at spotting the traps, but Gimble really had a knack for finding and disarming them.

One evening, just after sundown, a marauding band of orcs was sneaking up behind the cabin when they stumbled upon one of Yeark’s warning traps. When they stepped on a concealed pressure plate a whistling thistle was shot into the air. The whistling thistle was a local plant that produced seed pods that make a loud whistling noise when thrown. This alerted the three in the cabin and startled the orcs. There were four of them and they stood about six feet tall. They walked hunched over and each carried a large war ax. They had dirty black hair and were very pig-like in appearance with low foreheads, and large canines protruding from their lower jaws. They were dressed in ragged leather armor and were moving very quietly before setting off the alarm. It took them a few seconds to realize what had happened. Once they regained their composure, they gave up any pretence of stealth, let out a loud war cry, and ran up the hill at full speed.

Inside the cabin, it took only a second for them to realize what had happened. Gimble quickly looked outside while Trevan and Yeark each grabbed up their crossbows and a handful of quivers. Gimble yelled “Orcs!,” dove for his carpet bag and pulled out three short swords. He tossed one to Trevan, hesitated a second, then tossed one to Yeark. “We might need these,” he said. Trevan and Yeark ran outside, around to the back of the cabin, and quickly fired at the approaching orcs. Gimble took a second to pull a chain shirt from the bag and slip it on.

The bolts from the two crossbows sang as they flew through the air at the same time and both hit the lead orc. He fell face forward and the other three continued up the hill without a pause. Trevan quickly loaded another bolt and fired while Yeark was still fumbling with his, trying to get his small bolt seated and the mechanism cocked. Trevan’s bolt landed where it was aimed, but the orc it hit never slowed down. Gimble ran around the side of the cabin wearing his chain shirt and swinging his sword. Yeark gave up on his crossbow, threw it down and picked up his sword. Trevan managed to fire once more, but in his haste, completely missed his target. He grabbed his sword just as the orcs were upon them. The orc in front reached Trevan first. Trevan felt the air fanned by the ax blade as it swished past his ear while he struck the orc with his sword. His orc screamed and grabbed his wounded side with one hand while preparing to strike again. The kabold took his short sword in both hands and charged the second orc. His sword pierced the orc’s armor and poked a hole in his stomach. This orc swung wildly at Yeark but only managed to hit the ground as he passed. Gimble ran to the third orc and was nearly knocked off of his feet when the orc’s ax glanced off his chain shirt with a shower of sparks. Gimble staggered and hit as hard as he could with his sword, but it only cut a new gash in his orc’s already badly cut-up leather armor. Yeark took another stab at his bleeding orc but was unable to connect while his orc, swinging his ax back-handed, hit the small kabold with the flat side of the ax which sent him flying through the air. He landed some distance away, unconscious. Trevan stabbed at his orc again but missed. His orc, while holding his wounded side with one hand, swang at Trevan. Trevan jumped back but the ax cut a long streak across his chest. Fortunately, the cut was only superficial. The orc that had dispatched Yeark, now turned on Trevan. He swang his ax and Trevan ducked at the last second, just avoiding loosing his head. Gimble hit his orc again and this time drew blood, but Gimble was hit by a solid ax blow. If he hadn’t been wearing his chain shirt this blow would have proven fatal to the gnome. It cut through the chain links and cut deeply into Gimble’s side. He fell and was wounded to badly to get up. This left Trevan alone facing three angry orcs. The orcs looked at each other and grunted something in their guttural language. They all laughed at what they thought was a good joke and turned to attack the lone human boy with their axes held high. Trevan took a couple of steps back and then stood firm, determined to die before he would run. Bracing for their attack, he noticed that the fourth orc had now recovered from the crossbow bolts enough to get to his feet and was coming to join in the fight.

Gimble was able to lift himself up enough to cast a spell on the weeds and vines that covered the ground just in front of the orc that was running up the hill. The orc failed to notice the vines rising up about two feet off the ground just in front of him and fell again as his feet became tangled in them.

Just then Trevan heard something behind him. Coming around the cabin was another large creature, yelling some sort of war cry and swinging a great sword. Trevan thought, “great, more orcs.” The orcs in front of him stopped and stared at the newcomer. This was no orc. This was a human, albeit a large one. He was dressed in animal hides and pushed Trevan aside as he rushed past and attacked all three orcs with a vengeance. With one great swing of his large sword he felled one orc and wounded another. Then he spun around and buried his sword into the third. As he pulled his sword from the body, the orc he had only wounded hit this stranger in his shoulder with his ax. His animal hide coat absorbed most of the ax blow. With a loud cry the human jumped into the air. With hilt in both hands, he came down sword first and sliced the third orc nearly in two. This wild man quickly jumped up with a fiery look in his eyes and a snarl on his lips and spun around looking for another foe, Ignoring Trevan and Gimble as if they weren’t there.

Trevan suddenly recognized this man as Ozur, the barbarian that had passed this way with a wagon full of children. In his current state he bore very little resemblance to the mild mannered man he had met then.

Ozur spotted the last orc, who had untangled his feet from the vines and was coming up the hill to join the fight. When he saw this wild man running towards him with his bloody sword and the dead orcs behind him, he turned and ran away as fast as he could. Ozur chased him to the bottom of the hill where he disappeared into the woods. With one last warning scream at the fleeing orc, Ozur turned and returned to the top of the hill.

Gimble managed to stand. Trevan picked up the still unconscious Yeark. The four of them went into the cabin and barred the newly finished door. Ozur sat on the floor and leaned back against the wall, exhausted. Trevan checked Yeark for wounds before tending to his own. Yeark would be out for a while. Trevan helped Gimble bandaged his wounds and offered to tend to Ozur’s shoulder. At first, Ozur wasn’t even aware that he had been wounded. He thanked Trevan, but said that he would take care of it himself. He took some herbs from his pouch, spit on them to make a paste and applied it to the cut on his shoulder.

Once they had recovered from the excitement and tended to their wounds, Trevan turned to Ozur and said “Boy am I glad that you came by when you did. You saved our lives! I’ve never seen anyone fight like that. I almost didn’t recognize you. How did you learn to fight like that?”

“No one taught me,” said Ozur. “Something just comes over me when I get mad and I go into an almost uncontrollable rage.” Looking over at Yeark, he continued, “Why are you saving the kobold?”

Trevan thought for a second, and said, “He is my servant. . . It’s a long storey.”

“Do you have a lot of orc raids here?”

“No. This is the first time they ever tried to attack us here,” said Trevan. “We have seen orcs in the woods, but they have always just been traveling through. We never had any problems with them before.”

Ozur said, “The folks down in Morningside said that orc raids were increasing down there. They say that they are moving up from the south for some reason.”

Ozur removed his leather over coat, his leather under coat and his two shirts. Then he tore off a strip of cloth from the bottom of his long shirt and tied it around his shoulder wound. “How are you going to kill a dragon when you can’t even handle a couple of orcs? Or have you taken my advice and given up on that idea?”

“I don’t know how,” said Trevan. “All I know is that someday I will kill that dragon that killed my parents.”

“You certainly have the courage,” sad Ozur. “I know very few men that would face off against three full grown orcs like you did.”

“Except for you!” said Gimble. “You just charged in and whipped them all! It was great!”

“I wouldn’t have,” said Ozur, “if I had thought about it. I just saw Trevan was in trouble and, well, you saw.”

Gimble said, “I’m with you, Ozur. I don’t even think that a dragon can be killed. I saw Abraxas shot with an arrow that would have killed a large bear and he didn’t even act like he noticed.”

“Oh, they can be killed all right,” said Ozur. “Where I come from we kill them all of the time. Of course, they are white dragons, which are small compared to red dragons.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a large knife with a 6 inch dragon tooth handle. “This tooth is from one that I killed.”

Trevan’s eyes got big. He set up straight, inched closer to Ozur and asked, “You killed a dragon? How did you do it? Tell me about white dragons.”

“Well,” said Ozur, “like I said, white dragons are only about half the size of red dragons and they are not nearly as smart. They only live where it’s cold most of the time. They like ice and cold. As a mater of fact, their breath weapon isn’t fire, like the red dragon but a cone of cold that freezes everything it touches. You are right about a single arrow not being enough to bring down a dragon. That is why it is so hard to kill one while it is flying. But, if you can get it to land, sometimes you can hit it with enough swords, spears and the like to kill it. Sometimes we would find one in its lair, where it couldn’t fly, and kill it there. That’s how I killed this one,” holding up the dragon tooth. “But a red dragon is an entirely different matter. First of all, they are really big and really smart. Abraxas is probably the biggest and the smartest of all. He won’t just land and fight a fair fight. The next thing about red dragons is their magic. White dragons, if they are old enough, can do things like control the weather and create magical walls of ice, but red dragons can cast all kinds of magical spells.”

“What if we catch it in his lair so he can’t fly?” asked Trevan. “Like you said you did with the white dragon?”

“Well,” said Ozur, “you have to find it first. Like I said, white dragons aren’t all that smart and their ice caves aren’t that hard to find if you know what to look for.”

Trevan said, “I heard that Abraxas has his lair in a mountain under a volcano.”

Ozur said, “A dragon like Abraxas hasn’t lived as long as he has by making his lair easy to find. You can be sure he has it in a well hidden spot. He may have even used magic to hide the entrance. You might walk right by it and never see it. If you could find it, it may have other monsters guarding it and warning Abraxas of intruders, and he has probably placed traps to kill unwelcome guests. If you did manage to get past all of that there is one more thing have to remember about red dragons.”

“What’s that?” said Trevan and Gimble at the same time.

“He breaths fire.”

After a few minutes, Trevan asked, “What happened to all of those kids you were carting around?”

Ozur pulled out a large leather cloth and began to clean his sword. He said, “When I got them to Morningside I was almost arrested. They thought that I had stolen the children and was trying to sell them. They call my kind ‘barbarians’ and look down on us. If it wasn’t for Drizzle, you remember her?”

“Yes, I remember Drizzle,” Trevan said.

“I remember her too,” chimed in Gimble, “Cute kid.”

Ozur continued, “Well if Drizzle hadn’t told them what had happened I would have had to fight my way out of there. Some nice families took in all of the kids. Drizzle, against my advice, was adopted by a family of mages. They said that they would train her on the use of magic. They said that she had a knack for it. I’m still not sure if I did the right thing in leaving her with them. I don’t generally trust magic users.” As he said this he glared at Gimble. “I was on my way back north to my homeland. I was just stopping here to say hello when I heard the fight.”

Yeark regained consciousness the next morning. Everyone’s wounds healed quickly. Ozur stayed for a few days, just to make sure that more orcs didn’t show up. He gave Trevan and Gimble some tips on fighting with swords. After Ozur left, they practiced with their swords a little every day. They made themselves practice swords out of wood. They found that Yeark was quite good with a properly sized sword. He had been trained in sword play from a very young age. Yeark practiced with his crossbow. They all kept an eye out for orcs.

Dragon Hunt – Chapter 1, Part 7 – Visitors

One day, while Trevan and Gimble were working on a log that was to become one of the side posts for the door, they heard a wagon on the road coming from the direction of Hetsdale. There had been no traffic on the road in either direction in the three weeks that had passed since the dragon attack. As the wagon came into view they could see it was driven by a large muscular man with long blond hair. He was dressed in animal hides and had a very large sword propped up on the seat beside him. Trevan had seen northern barbarians before but never one driving a wagon, and this wagon was like none he had ever seen. It appeared to be assembled from a variety of miss-matched parts and barely hanging together. What was really surprising though was that it was filled with half a dozen human children of various ages. It was being pulled by an old work horse and had all manner of pots, pans, boxes and bags tied to the sides. Yeark, the kobold, hid himself behind the partially completed cabin walls. Trevan called out to the stranger and offered them fresh water from his well. Then he and Gimble walked down to the road to greet them.

The man appeared to be a little un-easy at the sight of the gnome. He said that his name was Ozur and that it was his habit to walk down from the north every few years. He stumbled into Hetsdale about a week ago. All he found was the burned-out shell of a village and these 6 children who were living in the streets.  He found the half-starved horse wandering nearby and he was able to build the wagon from the remains of three different wagons. He understood that there was a town called Morningside some distance south and he was hoping to find homes for them there.

Trevan made a large pot of stew and fed them all. They accepted an invitation to camp in the clearing there for the night.

Gimble was handing a cup of water to one of the smaller boys who appeared to be very sad. He took the cup and, using some gnomish magic, chilled it to the point that it was sloshing with ice crystals. Then he colored it a bright red. The boy’s expression changed to one of wonderment. When Ozur saw this he yelled to the boy, “Don’t drink that!” But it was too late, when he tasted it and found that it tasted like sweet strawberries, he broke into a wide smile. Ozur turned to Gimble and said, “Nothing good ever came from magic. I don’t want you to magic up anything around these children.”

“It’s just a sweet drink,” Gimble said. “It couldn’t hurt anyone.”

The other children gathered around and pleaded with Ozur to let the gnome make a red drink for them too. He finally succumbed to their sad, wide eyed faces and backed away. Gimble then made one for each of the children. While they were enjoying their cool treats, he entertained them by making some ashes from the fire dance with him as he sang a familiar tune.

It wasn’t until later that evening, while they were all sitting around the campfire enjoying some fresh mint tea and exchanging stories, that the oldest child, a ten year old black haired girl named Drizzle, asked Gimble, “Aren’t you that funny gnome that works for the blacksmith?”

Ozur looked up with a start, held his big hand out to gently push Drizzle back away from the gnome and asked, “You’re from Hetsdale? How is it that you survived the dragon attack?”

“I ran away,” explained Gimble. “I was hiding behind a tree at the edge of the forest when the dragon arrived. I watched until he started burning the village. Then I ran into the forest and never returned. I could see the fire from a distance. I had no idea that there were any survivors.”

Ozur wasn’t sure that he completely believed Gimble’s story. He was always suspicious of anything he ever heard from a gnome but he could think of no reason for him to be lying about this. Gimble had freely admitted to being a coward. Still, he felt that he was hiding something. At the very least he should have returned to look for survivors.

Gimble asked Drizzle, “Could you tell me what happened after the dragon started to burn the town?”

“No!” thundered Ozur as he rose to frighten Gimble away. “These children have been through enough.”

“It’s okay,” said Drizzle. “I want to tell somebody, but let’s wait until the younger kids are asleep.” She looked around and the two youngest were already asleep. She busied herself making pallets for the children by spreading blankets on the warm grass.

The sun had just fallen behind the hill where work on the cabin had been abandoned for the day. The sky was turning a dark violet and the first stars were starting to appear. Fireflies were beginning to dance in the trees at the edge of the forest and somewhere a lone cricket began to chirp. It was going to be a warm, still night. All of the other children were fast asleep. Trevan, Gimble and Ozur all set on the ground around Drizzle as she began her story. “First, I wish everyone would stop calling him ‘the dragon’. He said his name was Abraxas. He may be the only dragon I ever saw, but I know that all dragons aren’t evil like he is. They can’t be . . .” She stared at the fireflies for a few seconds, fighting back her tears. Then she continued, “Me and Mama was in the kitchen, hiddin’ under the table. I could hear screamin’ and shoutin’. I could hear the shutters rattlin’ like they do in a wind storm. I heard things hittin’ the side of the house. We were there a long time and I was scared. Then he finally came to our house. There was a very loud noise and large pieces of the wall came flying into the kitchen. Some of them landed on the table. Mama pulled me closer and suddenly there was another, louder sound and there was a bright light. He had ripped the roof off and the sun was shining in. I remember smelling rotten eggs.”

“That would be the smell of sulfur,” interjected Trevan.

“Well, it was very strong,” continued Drizzle. “It made me sick to my stomach. Then the table rose into the air and flew away. Mama fell down on top of me and then his big scaly hand scooped us up and he held us up close to his face. I thought he was going to eat us! His teeth were terrible. They had yellowish stains on them. They were bigger than table legs and sharp like a knife. There was smoke coming out of his nose. He was looking at us. His eyes were bigger than a soup pot and they had slits, you know, up and down, like a cat’s eyes. It hurt my ears when he talked because it was so loud. I wanted to cover my ears with my hands, but I was afraid to let go of Mama. I thought I was going to fall.”

“What did he say?” asked Trevan. He moved in a little closer as did Ozur and Gimble. They were all listening intently to the girl’s story.

“He thought Mama was hiding some magic gem of his. She told him that she didn’t have it but he didn’t believe her. He held her and flicked me off to the side. All of a sudden I was flyin’ through the air. I went up real high. I could see the whole village. It looked like everything was burning. When I started back down, my dress caught on the chimney of the house next door. It ripped nearly in two. I was hangin’ by my dress. Then I was able to grab the stones and hold on to the side of the chimney. The very top of the chimney was broke off. The roof of the house was mostly gone and most of the walls and the stuff inside was on fire. There was a lot of smoke coming up around me, but I could see inside our house next door because the roof was missing. I could see Abraxas holding Mama. He said she was lying about the gem, but she wasn’t. He got mad and threw her down on the floor. I think he broke her because she never moved after that. Then he started searching the house. He dumped out all the drawers and boxes be could find and looked through everything that was in them. He kept a couple of things he found. I couldn’t see what they were. There wasn’t much left. Mama had already taken all of our money and stuff to him earlier. Then he busted up all of the furniture and most of the walls and the floor. I guess he was looking for places where we could hide stuff. When he was through he flapped his wings and flew up over the house and set fire to it by breathing fire down on it. Our house burned up with Mama in it.” Drizzle stopped talking for a minute. She looked up at the stars. The sky was getting darker and more stars were coming out. The light from the campfire reflected off a tear that was forming in the corner of her eye. She wiped her eyes on her sleeve and continued, “I saw Abraxas land in the town square and put all of the stuff he wanted into a big box and then the box just disappeared. I watched him fly away before I climbed down off the chimney. Me and the other kids found each other that night and we helped each other as much as we could. We never did find any grown-ups until Ozur showed up.”

“How did you survive on your own?” asked Trevan.

“We looked through all of the houses and found some food that hadn’t all burned up, and we got some stuff out of a garden we found.”

“That’s enough,” said Ozur. “No more questions. She has been through enough. Come Drizzle, lay down now and get some sleep. We’ll start out early tomorrow.”

Trevan and Gimble wished them all a good night and returned to the cabin where Yeark was still hiding. When they got up the next morning, Yeark told them that the wagon and all of its occupants had left before sunup, “And it’s a good thing too. I wasn’t able to get anything done last night from having to keep an eye on them.”