As I execute my new plan, I hope the dragon still underestimated me. I made sure the town saw twenty one men on horseback ride out the morning after our tavern meeting, dressed head to toe in plate mail. For a part of the treasure a dragon hoarded there were always citizens willing to spy on their neighbors, even when the lizard was making some of them into meals. Heading out of town in a direction just north of northeast, we ride hard into the sparse forest across low hills that got higher as we travelled.
Satisfied that we had passed completely out of view and would not be seen by a hard charging spy headed to the dragon, I let out a shrill whistle. All riders pulled their horses back to a walk and rope ends were passed to the front rider, now no longer me. As soon as twenty ropes had been secured to the lead rider’s saddle, I lead the others in dropping off the moving horse onto the hard packed ground as gently as my huge size would allow. The soldier chosen by straws to fool the spy galloped off leading the empty steeds into the distance.
I led the sprint into a dense copse on a nearby hill and we immediately began stripping off the plate mail to get down to the loose leather. “Take a bit to cool off. We’ll watch for the spy to go by and then the cart with the shields should be close behind.”
“Yes, Commander,” came the quiet replies. The more time that passed since my encouragement on the road to town and fighting the dragon, the more the fear would build in them. I know I need to get them to the dragon.
As a breeze rustles the dry but still green leaves of the trees around us, I spot him. Two hills over, on a path where he would never have caught us, a hooded rider on a hot day kicks up dirt. He’s too far away to see us at that speed, and I smile at the damage his speed is doing to the dirt, leaving a clear trail for us to follow. In moments he passes behind more hills and I stand. “Time to move. The shield cart will be following that spy’s hoof marks, and it’s some distance south.”
“What about all this armor?” asked one of the soldiers.
“We’ll come back for it. For now, take a swig of your water and follow me,” I answer as I start jogging towards the hilltop I first saw the spy on.
With only canteens, longswords and leather armor, we cross the few hills between us just as the cart comes into view from the west. “Angin, go watch for that spy to double back far enough that he won’t see us before he sees you. Hide and take him off his horse when he comes by, but don’t kill him.” A lanky blond soldier nods at me and sprints off down the clear trail in even this hard soil. The grass under our feet has struggled to get halfway to our knees in the summer heat and a galloping horse leaves a lot of it crushed. The spy was sprinting his horse, trying to beat us there.
“Take a seat and rest. We need to save what energy we can for the fight ahead. We’ll join the shields on the cart for as long as it makes sense,” I said.
As the sun hits zenith the cart, carrying nineteen of us, arrives at Angin standing over the spy, the spy’s dagger in Angin’s hand. I jump down from my seat next to the cart driver and squat in front of the seated man. “What did you tell the dragon?”
“It won’t matter, you’ll all be dead soon. I told him you were on your way, wearing plate mail. Clearly that was a ruse,” said the brown haired, very pale man. His loose fitting cotton garments hid a well fed, but dirty body, from the smell of him.
“Maybe we’ll be dead, maybe not. But whether you survive the day depends on your answer to this next question. Where is the dragon’s back door entrance?” I asked.
“Back door? What back door?” the man stammered.
“Every dragon cave has two entrances. The main one for them to go in and out in dragon form, and a smaller one for, let’s say, other passage. Surely he’s sent you out the back door to avoid detection, probably at your request. You’ll take us to that entrance, or you’ll be the first target of his flame,” I said with a snarl.
“Ah, you don’t scare me Aquendar of Concrof. You would never kill me. You can threaten me all you like but I’ve heard about you,” said the spy.
“Or maybe it is that none of the traitorous, greedy men like you ever live to tell anybody how far I will go.” I stood and turned to Angin. “Get him up and we’ll lash him to the front of a shield. May take two of you to force him forward, but he’ll be that much more protection against the dragon’s first breath attack.”
“Yes, Commander,” replied Angin, with all the excitement I’d hoped he would muster.
As Angin hoisted the still doubting spy up by his collar, I turned to the others. “Just remember the last time we did this men. Some of you forgot to hold your breath the smell of the burning traitor cost you lunch!” Catching on to the ruse, the men started to laugh, fake retching and hold their noses.
“I’ll show you! I’ll show you!” shouted the spy. “Ghorin did have me go in and out the back entrance to try to protect our secret.”
“Ah, so you even know his name. Put him up there next to me on the driver’s seat and we’ll go see if he’s telling the truth.” Angin tied his hands behind his back and forced him onto the seat. The driver cursed slightly and quietly at the crowded bench, but held his tongue knowing he had the option of waiting here between the hills for a cart he didn’t think would return.
Want more Aquendar? He’s in my trilogy available at my author page at my author page on Amazon.