by David S. Wells
Copyright 2012 David S. Wells
Cover Art by Rebecca M. Wells and David S. Wells
Special thanks to the Georges, the best in-laws a man could ask for.
Thanks also, Kyle Clarke and Josh Wear for believing in this work.
Perhaps Donigan’s consort, Lady Riana of Landolstadt, foresaw disaster awaiting her lord, when she once again voiced her stern disapproval of meddling with dragons. “My lord, do you wish to be the bellows to the fire by which the whole of Beledon shall be burned to cinders and ash?” was her final desperate plea. “I cannot bear the thought that vile dragons might come to rule this island in your stead.”
Lord Donigan took in his wife’s loveliness, carefully considering his reply to her
condemning question. Her shimmering black hair was long and straight, reaching down to her tiny waist. Within the frame of that shiny mane was a pale-skinned face of fair features. He avoided making contact with the big blue eyes set therein, for he feared their spellbinding power would draw him in and alter his decision beyond his control. High-set cheekbones guarded her crystalline orbs from below, whilst above them, a firm brow lined with thin, black lashes protected them. Directly between them was a narrow nose, bent ever so subtly from a childhood mishap that had also left a faint scar on her rosy upper lip. Donigan barely noticed those trivial blemishes on what he viewed as a perfect face.
The lord tried to win over his lady with his charismatic smile, for exhibition of his finely tuned persuasive techniques was essential to achieving his way. He shared his beloved Riana’s fears, but he clung to the faint glow of hope that beckoned him on to the lair of Faethlenkandur.
If that call was not strong enough to move the young nobleman toward danger, then the prodding spurs of Sturgeon “Storm-Hand” certainly were. The Storm-Hand was Lady Riana’s lord father.
Sturgeon and Donigan had forged their alliance based on fiery passion and steely devotion between the younger man and his wife. Not only did Donigan feel an obligation to pay heed to his spouse father’s advice concerning every matter of import, but also, this idea belonged to Lord Sturgeon of Landolstadt. There was nothing left to debate.
“Riana, my love,” Donigan informed her, “I must meet with this beast, for both his wisdom and his knowledge, without fear of the reputation his kind holds for cruelty and mischief. Only through dealings with this dragon can I obtain the things of legend that we so desperately need to secure our places as King and Queen of Beledon.”
“My lord,” Riana wailed, as though mourning him dead, “this beast will betray you to your doom! Your hope for a united kingdom and great glory will perish with you.”
“Silence!” Donigan’s voice boomed in the terraced hall of Skytower Castle.
Riana wept bitterly.
Donigan reached out to touch Riana, to offer her comfort. The lady’s pride would not allow it. She recoiled from him and snapped, “Unhand me!” Then, in an exceedingly cruel misuse of words, she told him, “The cold stiff fingers of a dead man prickle my skin and seize at my life’s breath.”
The Lord of Highland Home nearly ground his molars to rubble holding back his fury. Riana seemed not to notice as she went on, “If you wish to be a husband to me again, you will tell me that you have canceled the foolish mission on which my father has set you, and you will keep your honor by keeping your word to remain at home.”
Donigan had hurt his beloved badly for her to abuse him so, but he had been over his present circumstances with her a thousand times. He had discussed his plight with his loyal knights and lord councilors. Desperate times called for bold action. Anything less than an act of pure bravery would serve as an admission of defeat capable of sending whole armies running to the high seat of a new lord. Some were already teetering on the brink of bending knees in new courts. This move was almost certain cause for some defections, but to take no action whatsoever would cause him to lose every banner in his service. Then there was Lord Sturgeon. The man was as patient as Donigan could expect from one so advanced in his years, which was to say he was not at all forgiving of delay. If legends spoke truly, the entire island would fall in order beneath one sovereign once he made his peace with dragons. With the integrity of the Highlands-Landolstadt alliance in mind, Lord Donigan felt as though he had little choice but to set aside his trusted wife’s misgivings and carry out his plan to meet with Faethlenkandur. His response to Riana closed all discussion on the matter. Said he, “I have heard your concerns before, my lady, and I have shared them in common with you. However, the time of decision has passed, and the time for action has come. I go now to seek the dragon’s aid. Fare thee well.”
Riana collapsed against a marble pillar. Donigan coiled strong arms about her against her will. She threw half-hearted elbows, but she was unable to fight free of her husband’s hold. She was helpless against his stubbornness. She could not remain aloof from his gaze or his charms.
Riana spoke of herself as one of the lucky ladies who had been joined to a man she could truly love. “Unmerciful Fates,” she cursed her luck as she turned her tear-streaked face toward Donigan to surrender to his embrace.
Riana drew apart from Donigan and looked into his green eyes. They were like two pieces of jade set into an equally smooth and hard face. Thick brown brows, rather resembling leafless shrubs, hung low over those unyielding eyes, which were themselves spaced an even distance apart from his straight, overlong nose. A thick, bristly beard concealed the mouth positioned in the shadows of that olfactory organ and it likewise hid bulging cheeks along each side of it. In the absence of facial hair, his firm jaw and jutting chin would have been fully visible, but Donigan still held to one old family tradition, simply told:
A man’s life will be as full as his
beard, and his years will be as long in count.
As stubbornly as Donigan clung to that old belief, so he showed Riana that he would hold to his course of action. She made no apology for what she had said in anger. Donigan did not believe in apologies, and Riana believed that you said what you meant. Besides, he knew she would have to lie to offer him concession and lies were the greatest enemy of any leader. Her response was submissive out of respect for her lord husband’s wishes, “I trust your judgment, my lord. Be swift in your return, for your people need you.” She hesitated, and then she added, “I need you most of all.”
Faethlenkandur, or the
in Highland dialect, liked the arrangement, for the opportunity to eat without risk of human arrows piercing him. Faethlenkandur readily consented to assist the bold lord of men on the condition that Beledon worship him and his reptilian kindred as patron deities. Lord Donigan agreed to the terms, so the dragon told him, “Show your good faith by returning to me with another offering when the moon is once again full. Then I will present you with a tome to instruct you in your worship to me. I will also give you the greatest shield in all the land. With it, you shall defend your faith as well as your kingdom. Every king needs a shield with which he might protect his boundaries.”
Lord Donigan concealed his smile as he answered, “I shall return when the moon is at the full, even as you say.”
Faethlenkandur presented the Lord of Highland Home with the items he had promised:
Great Tome of Dragon’s Law
, of which temple scribes made many copies, and the Shield of the Dragon’s Eye, which the finest smiths in the land could not duplicate. The dragon instructed Lord Donigan in the use of the shield’s magical properties, and afterward commanded him,
“Begin practicing my laws at once, and then return to me with another offering of sheep when the moon is once again full. If you obey me, I will present you with my final contribution to your kingdom: a sword unlike any other. Men will flock to the banner of the man who bears this weapon. With it, you will carve out your kingdom. I say unto you, Donigan, future King of Beledon, every able ruler needs a sword with which he might extend his landholdings.”
Lord Donigan answered, “I shall enforce the practice of your laws upon my return home. As a man of my word, I swear it upon my kingdom.”
The dragon smiled.
With Lord Sturgeon supporting his cause, the Shield of the Dragon’s Eye on his left arm and the Sword of the Dragon’s Eye in his right hand, Lord Donigan felt that the kingdom would soon be his to rule. Yet, there was still the matter of the dragons, and particularly Faethlenkandur’s deception. When the Lord of Highland Home finally told Lady Riana of his folly, and the oath he had made concerning Dragon’s Law, she cried out, “What devilry is this? The dragon has deceived you! Did I not warn you to be careful when entering into an agreement with
Faethlenkandur?” When her temper cooled somewhat, she demanded, “Husband, tell me that you are not going to follow through with the offering of human sacrifices to this fiend and its kindred.”
Donigan paused, groping blindly for the right words to share his intentions.
When Riana saw by the expression on his face that Lord Donigan was going to remain true to his word in spite of his regret, she said, “Solari help you, and Luminus help us all! This will certainly bring about the ruin of humankind.” She then lashed out once more before she stormed out of the hall, shrieking, “How does it feel,
Donigan, to have purchased a kingdom at the cost of your soul?”
Donigan felt the weight of his burden most when Riana left him alone with his doubts. What the dragon required of him, and his people with him, was for them to open the pathway to the Black Pools. Donigan knew Riana was right. He had purchased his kingdom, but he had forfeited his soul in the bargain. His silence in the face of his ladylove’s accusations had been neither denial, nor defense, but rather, loud testament to his guilt.
Dare I drag down the whole of
Beledon for my folly?
he wondered in his helplessness.
My noble title begs me to resolve this
matter nobly, by accepting my just punishment for breaking my oath to this servant of treachery,