I rarely enjoy meeting with the kings. If it wasn’t so necessary to my cover job and my secret work, I would avoid it like I avoid riding into low tree branches at high speed. So here I am, the sun beating on my face as I tower over every other person on the crowded street, making my way to the castle. I don’t usually have to weave through the people as they see me coming and give me room, as is the case today. I’m built like I could scoop any two of them up, one under each arm, and carry them with me. The handle of my two handed sword shows up above my left shoulder and daggers nearly as long as butcher’s knives hang around my belt. All this is why I wear only leather armor in the city. I get enough stares without wearing my plate mail.

“Perhaps you could shorten your stride just a little, Sir,” said the soldier walking next to me. He comes up to my shoulders and is being a bit more jostled by the crowd than I ever am.

“Sorry, soldier, I almost forgot you were there.” I slow my steps a bit, and notice everybody going about their business also suddenly seems calmer. They know me, I think. How can they fear a man who’s served so visibly in Rambestar for two years now? The breeze picked up and the canvas that makes up most of the walls on Rambestak’s two to four story homes and shops flaps even more loudly.

I slow even more as the cobblestones on the street grow noticeably in quality, much more even under the soles of my boots. Moments later we’re passing by the guards at the entrance of a sprawling castle. Standing only two stories tall at its highest point, Rambestar’s castle covers an entire city block, with open courtyards and gardens between buildings linked by covered stone walkways. Interior walls are almost entirely fabric or canvas, taking advantage of the constant breeze in the warm climate.

Striding straight south from the front gate I quickly reach a large square structure that peaks in the center and is covered with wooden shingles. Three wooden stairs lead up to the wooden floor standing a few feet off the ground. Otherwise, only the supports for the roof are wood, but the canvas is extra thick and held with steel cables that can be quickly tightened against colder weather.

This morning nobles and soldiers mill around the throne room in this unique castle, entirely different in design than in the twelve other human kingdoms. King Vedelbred stands from his cushioned throne when I enter, slightly raised on a dais and covered in gold fabric striped with gray. “Ah, Aquendar! Don’t bother bowing,” His Majesty begins as he makes his way to me, “I need you to follow me.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” I answer as I follow the otherwise ordinary looking man with his pale skin and slightly graying hair. The soldier that fetched me has vanished as the king and I reach another small building.

As he sits at the head of the small conference table, Vedelbred gestures I should do the same. My curiosity is definitely piqued. “Aquendar, I’m ashamed to admit it, but my other commanders in Rambestak have refused to take on the task I’m about to assign you,” Vedelbred shook his head but I waited for more. “Oh, perhaps Commander Xin would but he’s on the coast and there’s no time to recall him.” Another pause, but I wait again. “We have a dragon problem. It has been reported that a very large red dragon is causing trouble southeast of here, attacking towns and stealing children away.”

“You know I don’t come here to serve in your military, Your Majesty. I am friendlier with you than most kings of Li, so I have told you I will only fight with a gray army. What is it that you are asking?” I answered.

“I want you to go take care of this dragon problem, Aquendar. Yes, I realize you will only do training, of both horses and men, when you work for kingdoms, but I am asking for an exception. I know of no more capable warrior in all of Li for a problem such as this.”

I pause in thought for a moment before saying, “Yes, dragons are a unique problem, Your Majesty. Besides the fear they induce, their breath weapon and huge size make them quite formidable. Part of the reason I’m alive is I’ve never challenged one.”

Vedelbred sighed. “Dragons usually do no more than steal livestock either. It’s rare to even see one, but it happens often enough for everybody to know they’re real. Do you think they can be negotiated with?”

“I’ve heard legends of people talking with them. There were stories of a magician training with a gold dragon long ago,” I answered.

“Then, I ask you, no, I’m at the point of begging you, to go see the situation, see if this dragon can be reasoned with, and if not, try to kill it if you can,” said Vedelbred. “I can’t have that kind of terror in the kingdom. It’s bad enough that evil infested forest covers my southern border.”

“See if you can get twenty soldiers to sign up at quadruple pay to join me and have twenty one shields made of steel. The shields should completely cover a crouched man and have cushioning between the metal and straps to protect from heat. Once that is done, I will lead them to go find out what this lizard is up to,” I said.

“Thank you, Aquendar, I will get the smiths working.” King Vedelbred stood. “We will be forever in your debt.”

Read more about Aquendar and help me out at my author page on Amazon 🙂

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