I could see the dragon’s deep red scales on his tail in the small portion of the opening visible from this spot in the back passage. Two other leather clad soldiers crouched behind me and I could feel their fear. The spy lay gagged and tied not far back towards the distant entrance, which bales of hay from the wagon now covered. No breeze would pass through the tunnel and carry our scent.
A racket of metal shields as the remaining eighteen soldiers moved steadily down the main entrance into the cavern preceded the dragon, with a deep belly laugh, saying, “yes, come to me my snacks! I will eat for weeks!”
“Remember,” I say so only the other two soldiers could hear, “don’t let your shields touch the walls or each other or anything that will cause them to ring out.” Carefully I move forward and silently lift the tall piece of metal horizontal to the ground and pad forward softly. The others come too slowly for my liking, but it was better than banging the huge pieces of steel on the rock walls.
The huge red dragon, his body alone the size of a two story city house, steps a little closer to entrance then lifts a head with a dog’s snout and two horns protruding from a flat forehead. An organ where his neck met the body glows bright enough to change the scales, hard as steel at that junction, to a bright tomato red from that of nearly dried blood. He prepares to breathe fire on the approaching men.
All this signals our turn to slip into the cave behind the dragon as undetected as possible, and I take the opportunity to see how the other soldiers fare. By now they should be overlapping shields, ten across the bottom and eight over their heads to resist the blast as a group. There is a saying that is true, I’m sure, on almost any world, that battle plans only last until the first blade is swung. As I watch six of the soldiers flee in fear, three more die from it and another four stand petrified, I realize the remaining five have little chance.
In the remaining incredibly small amount of time I have before the full heat of the dragon hit the chaotic scene I drive my blade, as long as my leg, in between the scales where the right rear leg met the body and don’t stop until the scales trap the handle and nearly my hand. As Ghorin roars in pain and breathes fire on the ceiling and walls to his right, I sprint across loose coin, chunks of precious metals and other stolen goods behind his legs and under his massive tail. I see the two other soldiers with me, just feet from the back entrance, properly crouch behind their padded shields.
Ghorin continues to swing around to see who had stuck him. I hope the scales stop some feeling, especially with a huge longsword jammed into his body, as I lift my feet off the ground and let the force of the turn carry me against where the tail emerges. As I let the movement push me through the air, I see it. A two-handed blade, as tall as any of the other soldiers, yet only to my breasts, is exposed by the dragon’s movement. Seven soldiers now spread around the room as the dragon comes to a stop facing the entrance again.
“You will all burn!” bellows Ghorin. He once again breathes and sweeps left to right without moving his body. The four soldiers standing motionless in the entrance, paralyzed with fear, burn up like bundles of kindling, the stench of burning leather and flesh immediately filling the air. Their screams don’t last long and I proudly watch the other soldiers crouch behind their shields. As the flame moves away from them, each one charges and tries to stick blades between the scales, with varying success. The dragon whips back against them with his head, sending two flying into the wall, the impact probably fatal.
One thing Ghorin and most other dragons have is incredible intelligence, and he predicts the soldiers on his right would now try to come from that side. Two soldiers did just as I trained, lifting their shields and jumping just as the tail crashes into them. They turn in the air and use the same padded shields to lessen an impact that still stuns them.
The dragon starts to turn his head to the right and his tail back to his left and I make my next move. Dropping my shield, I sprint along the dragon’s left side to the now close two-handed blade. As Ghorin prepares to burn the four now helpless bodies, two of them probably dead already, I drop to my knees so my calves straddle the blade, its handle now pressed into the middle of my back. “Stop, Ghorin!” I shout.
The huge red head turns to look at me, fangs as long my leg on either side of razor sharp teeth as long as my arm. “There you are, Aquendar. Do you think to sacrifice yourself to save the rest of your men? I will eat you, and these in here and then go hunt down the ones that fled!” he bellows, the hot breath nearly unbearable.
“Just tell me who asked you to lure me here and destroy me. You were so coy about it earlier,” I say loudly, keeping my voice as calm as possible otherwise.
“Come now, Aquendar, you know the answer to that. Only one is mightier than a red,” answers Ghorin. As he ended saying this, the red whipped with his tail at the remaining soldiers and snapped his head towards me, jaws spreading. He must not have expected a man as big as me to move like I do. The only thing that stops the huge blade from exiting the top of the dragon’s head are the scales there. Standing on treasure with my feet between the front top and bottom teeth, I dive over the giant fang as the head falls to my left.
“Is he dead?” asks Angin, now standing next to me.
“Yes, that sword is through his brain,” I answer.
“What now?” asks the soldier, a light burn on his exposed skin making it a light shade of red.
“Go tell the wagon driver, if he’s still here, to bring the wagon in. If the wounded are stable we’ll load up treasure. If not we’ll get them loaded and race them back to town.”
“Yes, Commander,” says Angin, as the two soldiers knocked across the room by the tail begin to stir.
I walk over to the stunned soldiers, now holding their heads, while their shields and swords lay on the ground. “Give yourselves time to recover. You very likely have concussions,” I say to them as I reach them.
“I have no doubt, sir,” croaks one. “But it’s better than being roasted alive.”
“Yes it is,” I say over my shoulder as I walk over to the two soldiers flung off their swords into the wall. Seeing their heads are at impossible angles to their bodies, I close all four eyes. The wagon finishes its loud journey to the cavern and stops as I step up next to the driver’s bench. “Nine dead driver, though only two have anything left to take back. We’ll wrap the bodies and load as much of this treasure as we can, the part of it most useful to the townsfolk. I and the soldiers will take what’s useful to us and load that up to,” I say, as I turn back to the bodies.
While rolling one body up in white linen brought along just for this need, my spirits are buoyed by one thought: If Rangdor is sending red dragons to kill me, my wandering and waiting to prepare for the child of prophesy is over. Fifteen years, half my life, has been spent cultivating my intelligence network all over Li. It is time to use it to make sure I am found.
Want more Aquendar? He’s in my trilogy available at my author page at my author page on Amazon.