I lost all doubt about Vedelbred’s sincerity when the shields were complete in a week and twenty young soldiers stood in front of me holding them. Arrayed in the courtyard of the castle, they looked a formidable group in their plate mail, but there stood the issue. “Commander,” I said to the soldier on my right, one of those who refused this task, “they all need leather armor, loose fitting. It has to have room to shrink without cutting off their circulation.”
“That makes no sense, Aquendar,” answered the stout blond soldier.
“Ever try to boil water in a leather pot, Commander. If this meeting with the dragon gets dragon breath hot, metal armor will conduct the heat straight to their bones,” I answered.
“Yes, I suppose you are right.”
The sun had moved considerably in the sky the time we all sat astride horses, the huge shields strapped to the sides opposite long swords. As we rode out the southeastern gate of the castle I could feel the fear and nervousness but I pressed on until we had passed well beyond the city and the sun had reached zenith. “Dismount,” I called out as we reached a clearing in the already sparse trees. “Eat your rations for lunch, then we’ll review this mission,” I said.
The meal was silent, but for the chewing and noises of unwrapping dried meat and fruit from their parchment. Emotions had all twenty soldiers deep in thought. It also made them slow eaters, so I finished first and stood. “I’m guessing you all took this task for the extra pay, but that really doesn’t make you any less brave. A red dragon is formidable. It would have a hard time turning around and moving in one of the four story houses in Rambestak. Each claw is as long as my sword, nearly as tall as many of you. There are spikes on the wings and back, and horns on his head, a head that is bigger than a large cart and filled with fangs. However, all of those things pale in danger compared to his breath weapon. The flame from a red dragon’s mouth is hotter than any fire you’ve ever seen and if it touches you directly it won’t matter what material your armor is made out of. I had you change armor to protect you from the indirect heat.”
All of the soldiers had stopped eating and even the brown skinned soldiers had turned white as a sheet. “Then it’s hopeless,” said the youngest soldier, barely old enough to serve at all.
“No, it’s not hopeless. I told you all of that so you have no illusions that we’re going to walk into a dragon’s cave and in a short, simple battle, kill it. However, a red dragon can be killed by humans who can keep their courage, not flee at the dragon sight. If it goes to sweep at you with its tail, drive your sword between the scales and use your shield to survive hitting the wall. When the dragon breathes at us, get as small as you can behind your shield and hold your own breath so the hot air doesn’t burn your lungs. Focus on not getting hit by claw or tooth or tail, and not being in the direct flame, and together we can take him.”
“Sir, you sound like you’ve fought one before,” said another soldier.
“Fought? Yes. I managed to defend myself long enough that he grew tired of it and gave up. He didn’t realize how broken he had me or I’d have been food. The burns under my plate mail took weeks to heal. What I did learn is that gaps do open up between the scales as they twist and move. I also noted that the underside of their heads is soft so they can pass food through. It’s a small area, but a long blade driven up through it should finish them. If, while avoiding getting hit, you have a chance to plunge your sword between scales or into exposed soft tissue, do it and return to defending yourself. Let go of the sword handle or the dragon turning to see who stuck it will fling you around.”
“So, we’ll spread out,” said a soldier.
“Yes, quickly give him twenty one directions to worry about. We can do this, survive this, if you remember to protect yourself first at all costs while you wait for an opportunity, when it’s safest, to deal a blow,” I finished, then looked at them as they seemed to grow in courage. “Now clean up, and we’ll keep going until dark.”
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