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Excerpt from 'The Yellow Dragon'

Chapter One..Erun

Erun Oncant was on the run. Well not from the law or anything like that, but from his mum. He had been given a simple task to carry out, but other things had got in the way. It had been close, but he had managed to escape with his life or more correctly his backside, intact. So his only problem now, was the difficulty he always found in judging when it was safe to go back. The last twice had been a disaster, and sitting down in comfort had been a problem for days after that. This time he would wait for a little longer.

He was fifteen, coming on sixteen, and felt that he was a bit old to be taking such punishment from his mother, but sooner her than his dad. So he put up with it, making loads of shouting noises as it took place, and then pretending that the damage inflicted was much greater that it really was.

Living in a Castle was alright, even if it was only a couple of rooms in the lowest reaches which he shared with his mum and dad. His mum was a Castle skivvy, and his dad a stable man. Pretty lowly jobs, both of them, but they took a pride in them which is all that mattered.

The Kingdom, even though it was the smallest of all those known, was reasonably well off in that more money came in than went out most of the time. The castle had been built in the times when it had been pretty dangerous out there. It was large, spacious, very heavily built, and to all of the Kings of Cardoney better than a palace any day. It may have looked large and foreboding from the outside, but on the inside no money had been spared to make it fit to be the home of the King.

Erun had never felt the need to lower his head before any man, except for the King of course, and the King’s Mage, and the Swordmaster, oh and a couple of the Castle guards who took a delight in clouting him round the head if he didn’t. But absolutely no one else, well maybe a little nod to the scholars who tutored the Kings sons, but that was only because they tutored him as well, and it did not pay to show them disrespect.

He was almost six years old when the King had summoned his mother and Father into his presence. He had explained to them that even if they were the lowest of his servants, he appreciated their diligence, and as a reward for their long years of complaint free service, their son would be tutored along with his own.

He is actually a pretty good King, all things considered, thought Erun, he certainly looks after his subjects.

The King’s two sons were not bad either, though Darthbold did tend to strut a bit and was not as studious as his brother Nordlight. Both were good to him, even spending time to help him with things that he found difficult to understand. They gave up in despair when it came to swords though, declaring for all to hear that he was pathetic, and should stick to books. The laugh in their words belied the sting of the truth in them.

He sauntered through the trees, idly swinging a stick at the undergrowth as he went. He imagined that this stick was a sword, made of the shiny new metal. Double edged, he reckoned, so that he could decapitate his foe on the backstroke if he happened to miss with the first swing. He did reflect though, that even if it had ten edges it would probably make little difference, and it would be his head lying on the ground within seconds of any confrontation.

So to make any difference, it would have to be a magic one, because he had begun to accept the reports from his Swordmaster which said, quote: “Erun will be an expert swordsman when he’s about ninety” unquote. This acceptance was reinforced by the numerous bruises he received in embarrassing places, from the wooden practice sword wielded by the Swordmaster. The first time, he had entangled himself in the scabbard as he tried to draw the sword, and fell flat on his face. He would never forget that one. That day there had been dozens of people in the practice hall, and the laughter didn’t die down for half an hour.

Let’s face it Erun, he said to himself, you are rubbish with a blade.

Magic had always fascinated him though, and he read everything that he could find on the subject. He spent hours watching and trying to emulate the Mage, but had given up many years ago when nothing he ever did worked. Not only did it not work, there was no discernible reaction to anything he chanted. So to be in possession of a magic sword, would probably mean that it would stop working the moment it was in his hand. He shrugged his shoulders, and went back to swinging his stick.

The woods he was in, had been cut back from the Castle so that it was further than an arrows flight away, and thinned out towards the edges so that an invading army would have difficulty in remaining concealed. Undergrowth had not been allowed to develop in these areas, but did thicken considerably as he moved further into the denser part of the forest.

He knew he would have to start back in an hour. He could avoid his mother, but his tutors were another thing altogether. He checked the sun’s height, made a mental calculation of where it should be in an hour, and pressed on through the trees. It would not be wise to go too far though or their denseness would interfere with his view.

He was about to turn back when something touched his mind, and a thought made him look to his right. A glint in the undergrowth caught his eye, and being curious he angled his approach toward it, using his stick to clear the thicker tangle that he came up against.

He stopped dead. The glint was gone, but in its place were two massive fiery eyes, and a mouth only slightly smaller than he was, full of rather large and very sharp teeth. He was about to start walking very quietly backwards when he noticed that the eyes, though red and balefully glaring at him, seemed to be without that spark which would have told him that they were alive.

He moved forward quietly, taking each step carefully to make sure he didn’t step on any dead twigs, in an effort to reduce the noise that he was making. As he got closer he gasped as its full majesty came into view,

“Dragon!” he shouted involuntarily and then clapped his hand over his mouth, hoping to silence the words that had already left it.

He sighed with relief. He could see now that it was dead, so he moved forward more boldly. It was a giant creature bronze in colour, and at least thirty foot long with a wingspan that must have been a good sixty feet, tip to tip. It was elegant and beautiful, even in death.

Lying in front of it was a man’s body minus head, but his hand had obviously just fallen away from the hilt of a sword that was buried, right up to that hilt, in the dragon’s chest just below the breast bone. The crushed head was still in the creature’s mouth, and must have been its final act before it died.

Erun could not even start to imagine, the power that it must have taken to make that sword thrust. He could see that it had split one of the dragon’s scales, and despite the strength of those, it had still penetrated to its hilt.

He walked slowly around the dragon, noticing that there were no harness or saddle marks. This one was a free dragon. He had not heard of one of these for years, the last time must have been when he was eight. They were very rare and getting rarer all the time, being hunted down in the way that they were. He thought it was a shame, particularly when their only crime was to take a few sheep now and then, and they had stopped being a threat to men years ago if they were left alone.

He looked back at the body of the man, and thought that here was one dragon slayer who would not be killing any more of these magnificent beasts. He walked on past the legs, which were entangled in a large net, and the immense danger in those was clear to see, given the fifteen to twenty centimetre claws which adorned each toe.

Shuddering, and feeling intensely relieved that he had not been here during its last few minutes of life, he moved on past the crumpled wings, noting where each was bent downwards in the middle as an aid to folding, and in fact for balance when the dragon was on the ground. A thirty to forty centimetre claw was evident at the leading edge of each joint. The wings were not feathered, but more a membrane stretched over bone and muscle, making them more like the wings of a bat than a bird.

When he got to the back of the beast, he could see that it had made one final effort before it had died, and an egg had been half laid. It was large, being about the size of a sheep, and green/white in colour. It looked just like nothing other than what it was, but somehow he knew it was alive. It would have to be removed from the dragon if it was to survive, and if it took all that he had, it would surely do just that. He began to cast about for a suitable branch to use as a lever to free it, but there was nothing close by. He noticed a suitable piece of wood, which had obviously broken off when the dragon landed, or it may even have been during its struggles to free itself, on the other side of the clearing.

He was just making his mind up to go round the dragon and retrieve it, when the mighty dragon shuddered and the egg slipped fully free, almost knocking him over as it rolled to rest.

He stepped back hastily. It was still alive!

“You need not fear me. I am Corella, and I brought you here. The sword is holding my life in its hands,” a voice whispered into his mind, “Take the egg and hide it in a warm place. I am free, but my daughter must bond if she is to survive.”

“What?” he thought.

“Don’t think, listen and act, my time is short.”

“ookaay,” he stuttered aloud.

“Take the egg. Hold it to you and a bond will form. Not quite love in the way that you understand it. It’s much deeper than that. Her life will be yours and yours hers. You will be her rider.”

The dragon took a shuddering breath,

“Then take the sword. It will be difficult, but I can see that you are strongly made. You will be able to do it. When you take it, you will take my life in the most literal sense of the word. What is left of me will be in that sword, and none but your hand may wield it. It will be what you want it to be.”

There was another breath, another pause.

“Now do as I say human, then go to your fate, and leave me to mine.”

Erun went to the egg, glancing up at the sun as he did so. There was little time left, and he would have to start back soon. He hunkered down beside it, and wrapped his arms around it as much as he was able. He had expected sparks, fireworks, and lightning in his mind, but there was nothing apart from a feeling of physical warmth from the egg.

With a considerable amount of effort he managed to lift the egg, and staggered towards a stand of closely packed trees, whose bases were obscured by tight and tangled undergrowth. He found a space large enough between roots to force the egg inside, and crawled in beside it. Raking at the humus he made a hollow, and rolled the egg into it, then dragged the humus around and over it. Satisfied that it was well concealed, and would stay warm, he made his way back to the stricken dragon.

“Now the sword human, quickly,”

He walked around to the front of the Dragon and placed both hands on the hilt of the sword. A shock ran up his arms that was, almost painful in its intensity, causing him to snatch his hands away.

“Do not be afraid, the shock will not harm you.”

He took hold of the sword, again gritting his teeth against the shock, and was about to abandon the effort because of the pain, when it just suddenly stopped. He tightened his grip and heaved on the sword, but it did not move.

“Place your feet on each side of the sword, use the strength in your legs.”

Holding on to the hilt he lifted his legs, pushed them against the scales of the dragon, and heaved backwards horizontally. At first there was nothing, and then suddenly the sword came free and he rocketed backwards into a pocket of thornbrush. The dragon gave a shuddering sigh, and he knew that its life was finally over. He lay quiet for a moment, knowing as he did from his childhood, that moving in thornbrush was not recommended. Even lying still, the thorns managed to find sensitive places. Finally though, he gritted his teeth and lurched to his feet, stepped clear and wiped the involuntary tears from his eyes at the pain of dozens of thorns that were still stuck in him.

He looked down at the sword in his hands. It was made of the new shiny metal, that the Mastersmith called ‘steel’. As he watched, the dragon’s blood rolled down the sword to its tip and then dripped, in one large single drop, on to the ground leaving a wisp of steam, before it disappeared. The blade was clean and shiny, with an inner glow that seemed to ripple backwards and forwards along its length. It was faint, and could be put down to tricks of the light, so no one would probably notice.

He began to explore his body and remove the thorns. Each was a good seven centimetres long and strongly made, so they tended not to break off unless knocked violently sideways. So he hoped that he could remove all of them with no more than a blood spot. He would have to visit a healer later for antiseptic cream to prevent infection, but otherwise no real harm was done. After about ten minutes, he was satisfied that he had removed them all, and turned his attention to the sword.

Gathering it up, he looked for and found the assassin's scabbard and being mindful of the time that had passed, turned away and made his way at a brisk walking pace for the Castle. Several times he looked at the glittering sword. Questions were going to be asked, questions that he had no answers for. If only the sword had been made of wood? That he could explain away.

He dropped the sword on the ground in shock. It was dull and lifeless. In the light streaming through the trees, he could clearly see the grain of the wood that it was made of. It looked like the darkest of mahoganies. It was a work of art, and would make the finest of practice swords, leaving those in the Castle armoury as strictly second class.

Oh my god, he thought, magic is at work here.

Erun looked from the wooden sword to the ornate scabbard and back again. Then he shrugged and thrust the sword into it. Before his eyes, he saw the scabbard change until it became plain, simple and obviously homemade. A fine piece of craftsmanship that had taken a lot of work to achieve it was true, but still homemade nevertheless.

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