The First Dragon Slayer

An Epic Fantasy Short Story by Michael Sherrin

The First Dragon Slayer

by Michael Sherrin

 

King Ogun watched over his kingdom with concern. He commanded lands as far east as the Trident Sea and as far west as the Velcorn Mountains. His lands were known for their splendor and beauty. But he was growing old and worried his son cared more for adventuring than ruling.

I will host a festival and invite all the neighboring kingdoms to find you a wife who can help you rule when I’m gone,” King Ogun said to his son, Ee-own.

The most splendid and valuable part of Ogun’s kingdom were the lakes surrounding his castle, which were warmed by the ground underneath and sought for their rejuvenating powers. Lords and ladies traveled far to sample the unique waters, bringing wealth and prosperity to the kingdom.

But within his borders dwelled the Vohdoor, gigantic beasts with skin that sparkled like the surface of the crystal sea. Their whiskers grew as long as galleons and their beards hung low enough to plow the fields. On their backs were two mast-like wings that spread wide as the moon eclipsing the sun.

The Vohdoor also enjoyed the lakes. They loved the heat, for their bodies lacked feather or fur. Their magic would leave them shivering and pale when they cast even the simplest spell. When the Vohdoor bathed, which was often, the water could be used for nothing else.

###

The festival was to be the grandest event, with feasts and jousts and baths to refresh the body and spirit. Invitations were sent to every kingdom, carried by experienced messengers riding the fastest horses. Yet with the festival days away, Ogun had not heard a single reply.

Father, maybe it’s for the best,” Ee-own said. “I do not wish to marry, as there is still much adventuring to be done.”

The time for adventuring is past,” Ogun said. “It is time you learned to rule.”

The day of the festival arrived, and while thousands of nobles and their retinues were expected, fewer than a hundred were in attendance, and none brought maidens eligible to marry a prince.

In his council chambers, Ogun complained to the general of his army. “These Vohdoor have ruined our festival. They feed on our livestock, destroy our forests, and scare away traders. My son remains unmarried for no maiden will cross our borders for fear of these terrible beasts.”

Ee-own rose from his seat beside his father. “Let me fight them, and I will win glory for our kingdom.”

The general stepped forward and bowed. “I fear there is no army here or beyond the mountains that can defeat creatures such as these. Their might is too strong.”

That would mean more glory for he who triumphs,” Ee-own said, grasping the hilt of his sword.

The general bowed deeper. “My king, you are wise and gracious. Surely you can negotiate a peaceful arrangement with these beasts, such that war can be avoided.”

Ogun stroked his long, white beard. He believed his general spoke the truth.

###

The next day, the king rode to the largest lake, followed by a fleet of bannermen carrying flags, gifts, and other symbols of peace.

There rested the most majestic of the Vohdoor, one with scales as reflective and colorful as the crisp water she bathed in. Her eyes flickered as the king approached.

Your Grace,” King Ogun called from the bank.

Your Majesty.” Eve-eth the Vohdoor bowed her ox-sized head, dipping her whiskers into the water. Her voice sounded like a chorus of flutes. “It has been a long time since last you visited.”

Are you enjoying the comfort of my waters?” Ogun extended his hand, a speck before the creature.

No better way to spend an afternoon.” Eve-eth stretched her body side to side, splashing gallons of valuable liquid onto the grass. The king cringed.

You honor us with your visits,” he said, “though I worry what the people must think.”

The people? Do they not love us?” Eve-eth gazed toward the village, raising her neck high above the trees surrounding them.

That they do, your grace.” Ogun fumbled his lips, hoping his words didn’t anger her. “You are so grand and deserve so much, but the people spend their time admiring you instead of focusing on their work.”

Your Majesty, I had no idea our presence caused such vexation.” Eve-eth scratched her chin with talons of diamond-shaped boulders. “Your waters are so warm and pleasing. Your people have been so welcoming, sharing their livestock with us. Such good people. You will see a change tomorrow, so I swear it.”

King Ogun bowed to the leader of the Vohdoor and returned to his castle, proud at how easily he’d found agreement.

###

The following morning, Ogun woke to cries of panic. He rushed to his window overlooking the forest, but saw no forest. Instead, a mound of trees, with leaves and branches and roots intact, were piled as high as a temple’s steeple, blocking the road to the lakes.

Ogun hurried down the tower steps, pulling a tunic over his head. He stopped a villager running toward the makeshift barricade.

Twas one of the Vohdoor, sire. They plucked the trunks from the ground as if they were weeds, then carried them onto the road. We’ve not enough axes to chop our way through before the next caravan.”

If they could not clear the road, there would be no trade and his subjects would suffer.

King Ogun found Eve-eth in the same lake as before. She was smiling in the warm pool, her eyes shut, though her ears would not be ignorant of his arrival.

You’ve blocked the road,” the king yelled to the beast.

Eve-eth lifted her head and blinked in surprise. “You said your people spent too much time admiring us. We made it so our presence would not be such a distraction.”

Our town cannot survive if we are cut off from the road.”

She paused. “I did not realize.”

We need to carry food from our farms and water for our wells.”

Our intention was but to help your people with their work.”

The king raised his finger at the Vohdoor, though even in his anger, he thought this a poor decision. “You must move the trees blocking the road. And my people need water from the lakes to prepare for the harvest.”

Eve-eth lowered her talons into the crystal blue water and scooped a barrelful within her palm. “It is your springs that warm and soothe us.”

I only ask that you let my people use the water they need.”

Your Majesty, I never meant to hurt the townspeople we care so deeply for.” Eve-eth lifted her wings high and wide in a prideful display. “We treasure your springs, and remember a time when warmth was fleeting and rare. You will see a change tomorrow, so I swear it.”

###

The following morning, Ogun woke to screams from the villagers. He rushed to his window overlooking the croplands. People were pulling stalks from the ground, though the harvest was months away. Others carried buckets to and fro.

Ogun sped down the tower steps still wearing his nightgown. He stopped a guardsman running out of the castle.

Twas one of the Vohdoor, sire. They flew over and dropped buckets on the crops. Saltwater. It’ll kill the grain, sire. We’re trying to save what we can.”

The entire crop. How would they last the winter?

King Ogun found Eve-eth in the same lake. She watched him arrive and bowed as he approached.

You’ve ruined our crops,” the king yelled to the beast.

Eve-eth kept her head low. “You said you needed water.”

That was saltwater. My people will starve.”

She paused. “That was not our intention.”

These are my lakes. My kingdom needs this water to survive.”

We need it for warmth.”

This is my kingdom.” The king stamped his foot in the mud, sinking to his ankle.

Eve-eth raised her claw and scratched her chin, then yawned, stretching her jaw wide enough to fit the king inside. “We can carry trees to block our view. We can bring you water as you need it. But there is no alternative with which to warm ourselves.”

There must be another way for you to get warm. Other springs, anything?”

If such a spring exists, then yes, we would leave.”

###

Ogun called the wisest minds in his village to his council chamber.

These creatures must go,” King Ogun said from his throne. “They destroyed our forest; now they’ve destroyed our crops. They will kill us slowly and not care.”

Ee-own raised his sword. “Let me lead the army against them. I will rid the land of our enemies.”

We can’t force them to go,” the general said, bowing to the prince and the king. “Our army wouldn’t stand a chance.”

There are no other lakes or springs that offer the heat and healing of our waters,” said the mapmaker.

No furnace could be built to warm them, nor could I shovel enough coal to power it,” said the armorer.

Is there no hope for a solution?” the king asked, his face pressed into his hand.

I may have something, my king,” said the innkeeper. “But it comes with great risk and peril should it fail.” She was one of the oldest villagers and had watched the kingdom grow and expand from the days of Ogun’s father. She knew all the tales told by travelers and traders.

Fail? I know not what you mean. If you have some solution to our plight, then speak.”

Word has mentioned a spring set deep in the Velcorn Mountains, a pool enchanted by ancient magics.”

Dear woman, how have we only now heard about this?”

The innkeeper widened her gray eyes. “The pools only appear when the night is streaked with the white brush.”

These pools, how long must we wait?” the king begged.

She pointed her finger toward the pale sky. “The streaks shall appear tonight.”

###

There is another spring,” Ogun said when he returned to the lake. “Off in the mountains. There, at the highest peak, you’ll find a pool of steaming heat and bright colors beyond any my lands can offer.”

Another spring?” Eve-eth twirled her whiskers around her talon. “I have never seen such a thing there.”

It is the most heat you’ll find north of the Sand Dune Sea, a grand mountain with rich aromas and clouds of gray. The pool is red and thick and warmer than these blue waters.” He recited the words as the innkeeper had conveyed them. He worried it sounded too good to be true, but he had no choice.

How came you by this knowledge?”

There was skepticism in the creature’s dark eyes. Ogun wondered how far her gaze could reach. “Travelers from foreign lands, from across the mountain ranges. They mentioned this pool opens only when the sky streaks white, as will happen when the sun sets. This is a rare occasion, a privilege, one you may not have for years onward.” The beast’s eyes flickered with a longing he never failed to recognize – the moment when a deal was struck.

I’m intrigued. Your pools are warm, but not hot enough to scald the skin.” Eve-eth stared into the mountains.

You should go while the pool lasts. The heat may be intense.”

I assure you, we are capable of withstanding great heat, and should enjoy something more rousing than your teasing springs.” Eve-eth bowed graciously to the king, who bowed in return.

From his tower, Ogun watched Eve-eth and the dozen Vohdoor fly toward the mountains.

###

The Vohdoor flew beyond Ogun’s sight, shrouded by smoke and ash, assured that the spring would be worth the trouble. The journey was cold, the air thin, and their power waning. Only the increasing warmth enticed them to continue, until they finally reached their destination.

The crater was wider than any lake and as pungent as rotting livestock. Eve-eth felt the scalding temperature even while hovering high above. She could sense the eagerness of her brethren, cold from their flight and yearning to replenish themselves.

Eve-eth gave the signal, and the Vohdoor dived with unbridled eagerness, plunging into the pool of red.

But the sounds she heard were not of joy or calm. They howled and shrieked as their bodies were consumed within the crater. The molten rock was thick and held them in place—the more they writhed, the deeper they sank.

Eve-eth gasped, horrified to see her brood suffering. She flew close to the surface, extending her hind legs, hoping to rescue whomever she could. But she underestimated their panic. Claws grabbed her legs, pulling her down as they tried to hoist themselves out.

She touched the boiling rock, first with her taloned feet. She emitted a screech heard across the Trident Sea. Then her hindquarters, followed by her entire body. She screamed, but there was no one left for it to matter.

The magma coated her. It tore her wings and scalded her skin. As she drowned, her screams grew wilder, and the molten rock found its way into her mouth and stomach.

Before the heat could consume her, Eve-eth used the temperature to power a spell never before attempted by her kind. It was a spell of protection and required more heat than she’d ever commanded. Here, she had an unending source.

The Vohdoor continued to sink within the volcano’s heart, and though they were tortured by the fire, they were not defeated: Eve-eth’s spell took hold.

Her skin peeled away. The scalding subsided, hot yet distant, as if separated by stone. Her muscles pulsed, and her arms learned to swim through the red pool, dragging her to the rock’s edge where she pulled herself out.

Atop the crater, she watched her fellow Vohdoor free themselves. Their skin no longer reflected rainbows. They were dark and hideous, blackened and fearsome.

Smoke trailed from her nostrils. It felt as if a belch demanded its release. She opened her mouth and a torrent of flame spurted out.

Her spell had saved them and destroyed them. She could no longer feel the heat.

She had been tricked by the king, and he would feel her revenge.

###

King Ogun heard the Vohdoor’s screams from his tower. The sounds shook the village, stone and all. As the white streaked across the sky, a red glow erupted in the distance, the red glow of myth announcing the end. It was the end of the Vohdoor.

The screams stopped, and the king said a prayer for the fallen creatures. The volcano had worked as promised, but he would take no pleasure in his triumph.

Then the screams returned, but they were no longer in anguish. What he heard now were calls for battle. Black specks grew against the red clouds.

The bells rang, warning of an attack. The plan had failed. Ogun cursed the same gods he had just prayed to. Villagers hurried into the keep and the temple. Knights armed the catapults and notched arrows, but there was no defense for what was coming.

The king raced down his tower to find Ee-own already clad in his armor. “I’m ready to fight, father.”

No, you must flee,” the king said. He put his hand on his son’s shoulder, seeing the boy become a man within seconds: from prince to king, should the night end as Ogun feared. “You will be the last defense. Take your horse and ride to the sea so you can reclaim our lands.”

He gave his son a kiss on the forehead, then pulled him toward the stables where his horse waited. The prince obeyed and rode out the back gate before it was sealed shut.

Then the king saw the innkeeper standing outside her inn, staring at the darkened sky.

Your plan failed,” he screamed. “They are returning to destroy the village.”

The innkeeper turned to him, pale faced and unmoved. “I warned you this came with great risk.”

What do I do now?”

You are the king,” she said. “I am but an old innkeeper.”

The creatures surrounded the village, fire-breathing demons certain to destroy his kingdom.

You did this, Ogun,” bellowed Eve-eth. “You must pay.” Her voice burned the air, dissonant and piercing. She stared down with fire-filled eyes.

Her wings generated a storm of dirt and smoke, tearing his eyes and clogging his throat.

You tricked us. You took away our beauty,” she wailed. “We can’t feel the heat anymore.”

I didn’t know that would happen,” Ogun said. “I was told it would be better than my springs.” He pointed to where the innkeeper had stood, but she was no longer there.

You wanted to be rid of us.”

I wanted to protect my people.”

Eve-eth landed. Her tail crushed the outer wall, and her wings sliced the two highest towers. Stone rained down, but the crashes were covered by her roars. “You took something beautiful and ruined it.”

You never asked,” Ogun yelled, raising his fist in the air. “You came and you took and you ruined our water. You gave me no choice.”

I will savor burning your flesh and picking off your limbs one at a time.” Eve-eth licked her lips. Even her tongue had grayed.

Ogun heard the sound of hooves galloping, then a clang of metal against granite.

Prince Ee-own rode through the opening in the wall, circling the creature and clashing his sword against her hide. But her tail was fast and spun around, knocking him from his horse. The demon hovered over the fallen prince, her jaw gaping wide.

Wait,” King Ogun cried. “Please, spare my son. Whatever you want, but spare my son.”

Eve-eth smiled. “You have nothing to offer me.”

All my riches. My gold and jewels.”

Mine regardless.”

Torture me. Burn me like I did you. Anything, I will accept, just spare my son. Spare my people.”

You beg this of me?”

Please, I beg of you.” The king dropped to his knees.

Then I shall do to you as you have done to us.” Eve-eth brushed the prince aside, sliding him across the dirt. The king wanted to run to his son, but Eve-eth blocked his path. She raised her head, her neck stretched until the smoke clouded it from view.

Eve-eth channeled her magic, powered by the furnace inside her, a nigh unlimited supply of heat. A green glow swelled from her lips.

Ogun closed his eyes. As long as his son and people were safe, he could live with the consequences. Torture, pain, these were trials of the flesh and could not last forever. He rose to his feet, extended his hands to his sides, and let the green fire consume him.

He expected his skin to blister and boil, but there was little pain. His body tingled as if it were being stretched and molded like a sword. He could smell the lakes and hear the animals in the forests. He opened his eyes and could see almost to the ocean. He was flying. He looked down, imagining he had been dreaming and woke in his tower. But this was not his tower. He saw taloned feet below; black scales where his wool garments used to be.

She had transformed him, the same as he had done to her.

But she wasn’t finished.

I will spare your little hamlet,” Eve-eth said. “But you will not fare so well. Though you look like us, you lack our magics. You are vulnerable to steel, to the weapons of man. Your son will not recognize you, and he will hunt you down. He will blame you for the death of his father, until he kills you…or you kill him. So I swear it.”

King Ogun tried to speak, but only snarls and growls emerged.

Goodbye, your Majesty. May you suffer as we have.” Eve-eth took off with a hurricane gust, followed by her horde.

Ogun spun around, his tail knocking into homes and walls. His wings flailed outward and smashed what remained of his tower. The remnants of his cloak and crown were crushed beneath his own claws.

Ee-own rubbed his head and looked up, his eyes stricken with fear and anger at the sight of the beast standing over his father’s garments.

I curse you, demon. I curse you for the death of my father,” he screamed, rising to his feet with his sword above his head. “I will hunt you to the world’s end and beyond. You may fly, but I will find you, and you will feel my steel.”

Ogun opened his enormous jaw, unable to shape it into words. His cries made Ee-own back away, but he never lost his fighting stance. Ogun dropped his head, willing the battle to be over before it began. He could never fight his son.

But his wings had a mind of their own. They carried him to the sky, on the run from the family and kingdom he loved and only wanted to protect.

Ee-own watched the beast flee with no trace left of his father.

###

Ee-own was now king. His general warned that the kingdom was vulnerable, and that a marriage would provide security and support while they rebuilt. The mapmaker suggested moving the village where monsters could not find them. The armorer claimed he could create new weapons of awesome power. But the voice Ee-own wanted to hear from remained silent. The innkeeper listened to all the suggestions and nodded with politeness, but never with approval for she knew as well as he that a pledge had been made and a pledge must be kept.

Thus, King Ee-own became the first Dragon Slayer, a title worn by many, but none as brave and determined as he to rid the land of the fire-breathing beasts that cost him his father’s life.

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