Authors: C.E. Swain
Tags: #Fantasy, #Epic, #Contemporary, #Fiction
Book 1 of "The Return of the Great Dragon
By C. E. Swain
© 2010 by C. E. Swain
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine or journal.
All characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
PublishAmerica has allowed this work to remain exactly as the author intended, verbatim, without editorial input.
PUBLISHED BY PUBLISHAMERICA, LLLP
Printed in the United States of America
To my wife Sandi; thank you for your complete support. Without you I would have never succeeded.
The ground was wet with dew, and the air seemed still, and thick with mist, when the man awoke and rekindled the small fire. The sun was not yet up, but there was a sense of urgency that he could not shake. Something was drawing him, calling him. It started out as just a feeling, but it grew stronger as he moved farther from the known lands of the White Kingdoms, and into the untamed, Wilderlands. It had become like a voice in the back of his mind, driving him on, farther and farther from all he had ever known.
Menimeth (Men-im-eth) had lived a normal life in the green and fertile Southland of the kingdom of Wayborn, until the day marauders had murdered his sister, and his parents. He was out hunting when it happened, returning only to find the bodies of his parents, and a smoldering ruin where his house once stood. His sister, when he found her, had been brutally beaten and abused. She was only fourteen years old, and the look of horror on her face as she died in his arms, would stay with him for the rest of his life. After burying them all on the hill beside the ruins of his home, near the town of Glendale, he gathered what he could salvage, and bundled it into a pack. He was only seventeen at the time, but he hunted down the men that were involved, and killed them all, all but one, Chidren.
Chidren was the leader of the men who had killed his family, but he had abandoned his men and taken the spoils, leaving in the night while they slept. Menimeth only knew his name and nothing else, but that was enough he thought, to track him down, and end his evil life. That had been twelve years ago, and he had traveled through all of the White Kingdoms, hunting down killers and thieves, looking always for Chidren. He would arrive in the next town only to hear that his enemy had been there, and was responsible for the deaths of several families in the area, but had vanished with the loot, leaving others to pay for his crimes.
Then the feeling had come over him slowly, growing as he traveled east out of Lorant and into Greater Danier, in search of his enemy. By the time he arrived in the city of Dansig where the great court was held, and after many months in search of the murderer of his family, he finely gave into the voice, and headed east.
Menimeth would not forget about Chidren, they would face each other one day he was sure of that, however, for now he would keep going east, following the voice in his mind.
He decided to make a small breakfast, and then be on his way. Though he had no idea where he was, much less where he was going, he knew he had to go. He had to follow the calling, if that was what it was. Follow the feeling he had that there was something or someone reaching out to him, calling him somehow. He did not know why it pulled him so, or from where it came, but it grew stronger as he moved farther east.
He had been told the stories as a child of an ancient race of men, and how long ago they had come to the west and formed the White Kingdoms. How they had traveled so very far from their homelands, in an effort to escape the lesser wars of the Great Dragon Empire. He was told that he belonged to that great race of warriors, and how they had helped to defeat the evil mage king Arnoran in the Great War. He was banished to his island fortress of Kath, which was in the lake of Kathirem off the coast of the ruined lands. It was said that in the times before the Great War for the empire, a few of the men of his race had followed what was known as, the calling. Leaving their towns and families behind when they did, they were never seen again, by either. It was rumored that they became dragon riders, and protected the empire from its foes. At least five hundred years had passed since then, and many of the stories had been lost to time. Some of them changed with each new generation to fit the present, but enough of them remained to become legends.
Menimeth strapped on his armor, weapons, and bow, and after putting out the fire, tied his bundle of supplies to Donner, his war horse. After removing all traces of his small camp to the best of his ability, he mounted his horse, and turned east. Donner picked his way through the scrub and bracken, which grew in the Wilderlands, as the morning sun chased away the shadows of night, which masked a broken and harsh landscape. There were rifts in the land where the rocks were loose and broken, like giant knives had carved them in the landscape in some ancient battle. They were hard to cross, and it was taking its toll on horse and rider alike, but they pushed on, day after grueling day. Often he would have to ride for miles along the rifts before he could cross them, only to find another, just beyond the last.
It was nine weeks before Menimeth crossed the broken land, and eight months since he had left Graylan and the White Kingdoms behind. No one that he knew of had ever been this far into the Wilderlands, and there were no maps of the lands east of the kingdom of Graylan, in any of the libraries of the White Kingdoms. Everyone knew of the elves and their great kingdoms in the north, as well as the dwarf lords of the Purple Mountains to the south. Many tales were told, but no one in the White Kingdoms had ever been to either land. Sometimes a dwarf would pass through the realm, or an elf, but it was not often, and they did not say much, keeping to themselves and out of sight whenever possible.
It was getting late in the afternoon when the broken lands abruptly ended, and a forest of tall golden trees began. The sight of them brightened his mood, and gave him hope. There had been very little game in the broken lands that he could find, and even fewer tracks. He could only manage to find the occasional rabbit, and he hoped that would soon change. Supplies were running low, and he needed to rest Donner and himself, before moving on into the unknown land before him.
With enough grass for the horse among the trees, he soon found what he was looking for. No more than a mile or two into the forest, a stream appeared with shallow banks where they could make camp for a few days. Donner had eaten very little the last few weeks, and he needed to regain some of the weight he had lost. A few days without a saddle strapped to his back would do him some good, and the water here was clear, and tasted sweet, after the brackish pools they had been forced to drink from in the broken lands. Untying his pack, and placing it by a tree, Menimeth removed the saddle, tack, and blankets, from his horse. He rubbed him down with handfuls of grass, and hobbled him in a clearing that was close to the water.
Taking up his bow, and walking along the stream, he looked for any game that might be at the waters edge, or close enough to it to get a shot at. It was all but dark when he returned to the clearing, retrieved his pack, and set about gathering wood and starting a fire. There was a large tree at the waters edge, with roots that stood up from the ground like the knees of great legs, which had grown together in ancient times. The horseshoe that they formed, would conceal his fire, and protect him on three sides if the need were to arise.
After the fire was started, and the two fish that he had managed to shoot with his bow, when no other game presented itself, were cleaned and cooked, Menimeth set up his groundsheets and bedroll for the night. Tomorrow he would have to conceal the camp, if he was going to stay here for any length of time. There had been no sign of people for a long time, and even the desperate and wanted men who hid out in the Wilderlands, had been left behind months ago. The land here was wild and untamed, and only vague game trails led to the stream that flowed nearby. In fact, he had not seen a road of any kind in more than six months, but he learned a long time ago not to leave anything to chance.
Menimeth ate his meal slowly, enjoying the flavor of the herbs he picked along the stream where he hunted. It was rare to find them this late in the year, and they were mostly dry, but he was not complaining. After all, it made the fish he had, the best he had eaten in a long time. Tomorrow he would scout the woods around the camp, and do some hunting, but for now he would rest and try to shake off the affects of the long journey.
He thought about the years he had spent searching for Chidren, and of the time he had spent with Captain Brandt. Captain Brandt was the leader of the White guard, and protector of the people of the five lesser realms that made up the White kingdoms. Captain Brandt had taught him to use the weapons he now carried, and was the only friend that he had. Captain Brandt had often talked about the day he first saw Menimeth, and how Menimeth had attacked, and killed, the four men who tried to ambush him on the road. It was the wild and untamed style of fighting that had caught the Captain's eye, and they soon became friends.
They had fought together over the years, against bandits and thieves, and had saved each other's life on more than one occasion. When Menimeth reached his twenty-fifth year, Captain Brandt had given him his armor and war-horse Donner. The armor was made of polished silver, with a golden dragon on the breastplate. That was the symbol of the old dragon empire, and according to Captain Brandt, what he resembled, in a fight. Captain Brandt tried to recruit him into the white guard many times the last ten years, but Menimeth was only interested in catching his man, and turned him down each time. Captain Brandt had taught him how to use his wits in a fight, and how to track his prey and not be seen, but mostly he taught him how to stay alive. He taught him how to live off the land, and how to turn a bad situation to his advantage. Here in this unknown land, his skills would be put to the test, he was sure of that. He had always known when trouble was coming before it happened, and was ready for it each time, and trouble was coming.
The dragon empire of the old world was said to have been in the east, so there must be some sign of it somewhere ahead he thought. He did not know if the old stories were just stories, but he suspected there to be at least some truth to them. Five hundred years or more may have passed since then, but he was sure that all this land could not be empty. Some remnant of those people must remain, or at least some ruins to show they had been here. It was possible that the voice in his mind came from them, or maybe some other people who came here later in search of a home. These were his thoughts as he drifted off to sleep beside his fire, at the edge of the Golden Wood.
When Menimeth awoke the next morning, the sun was already well up. He had not slept this late since he was a boy, in the comfort and safety of his home in Glendale. He listened to the sounds around him, and as deep into the forest as he could. Menimeth picked out the songs of the birds he knew, and made a mental record of the ones that were new to him. He listened to the sound of the water as it flowed along its banks, and over the rocks of its bed. He heard the leaves of the trees rustling high overhead, and the creak of the branches, as the morning breeze passed through them. As far as he could tell, there was nothing out of the ordinary near his camp, and he felt much better after the nights sleep. He set about hiding the camp with brush and limbs, making it look as natural as possible. When the task was done, and he was satisfied with his efforts, he gathered up his bow, and strapped on his swords. He would leave his armor behind today, so he could move faster, and with less noise, giving him a better chance for a kill. He would look for a big buck if possible, but any deer would do at this stage of his journey. He needed to smoke and dry some venison for the times ahead, when there would be no game, or no way to hunt for his supper.
After several hours of tracking and searching the woods for sign, he spotted a herd of red deer in a clearing not far away. Picking out a fat buck, and working his way closer to his target and around the others, he took the shot. As the arrow struck home, the buck leapt into the air and over the brush he stood next to, took a couple of strides, and fell to the ground dead. When Menimeth reached the spot where the animal had fallen, he retrieved his arrow, and replaced it in his quiver. Then he saw the road. It was wide enough for four men to ride abreast without using more than half of the road, and it was clear of grass like it had just been made. It started at the clearing in which the deer had been grazing, and led off to the east in the straightest line he had ever seen. He would be back in a couple of days when Donner was rested and ready to travel, and investigate it further, but for now he had a deer to take care of. When he arrived back in his camp, he skinned and butchered the deer with skill and ease. Menimeth hung the meat from a branch overhead, to keep it out of the reach of scavengers, and staked the hide out to dry. He would smoke the venison tomorrow, and dry it to make it last longer.
The road was the first sign of civilization he had seen in a long time, and he was glad to see it, though he would have to be more alert from this point on. He had enough supplies for the journey again, and the three days of rest by the stream, allowed Donner to recover his strength and stamina. At sunrise of the fourth day after leaving the broken lands behind, Menimeth rode away from the stream and his campsite, and headed for the road he had found while hunting.
He was six foot tall, and close to two hundred thirty pounds. He had a bright smile, with kind blue eyes, and was considered very handsome by the ladies of the White Kingdoms. His light brown hair hung below his shoulders, and was tied in the back with a strip of rawhide leather. His armor was polished, and in the morning sunlight, the dragon on his breastplate seemed almost alive. He sat astride his horse at the edge of the tree line, and studied the road for any signs of recent use. Anyone who happened to be passing by, and saw him, would have believed him to be the ghost of a dragon warrior of the old empire.
He did not see anything that would lead him to believe anyone had used this road in a long time, and he wondered about its builders. Who had constructed this road, and why. The way it ended abruptly was a mystery he could only guess at. There were no scuffmarks on the stone from shod horses, or wagon wheels, and no tracks in the dust. He could tell that the road was very old, and from the looks of it, abandoned long ago. The stones had been shaped and fit so close together that the grass could not grow between them, and they were flat and smooth on top. After a short time, Menimeth turned Donner from the trees, and urged him down onto the road. He started down the long gray line as it led away to the east among the golden woods, and the journey through the old dragon empire had begun.