Aphelion Issue 241, Volume 23
July 2019
 
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Here Be Dragon

by Dave Weaver



At last the grey skies lifted enough for Prince Cedric to catch a glimpse of the shoreline. The Red Dreki crested the wave, hung for a moment that seemed like an eternity then ploughed down into the dark trough below. In that fleeting glimpse he had seen the rough outline of the village, sheltering beneath the craggy headland like a frightened child from the storm.

"Where in hell are we?" Olaf, his Marshall, bellowed in Cedric's ear as the Gods pounded the heavens and lightning cracked the clouds with rods of steel.

"Not lost your sea-legs Olaf?" Cedric shouted back with a grim smile, clapping him on the shoulder as the deck of the longboat rose up again beneath their feet. "I doubt we're in Hell just yet, my friend."

"Wherever it is, there are beasts to be slain and sagas to be sung. I shall make a tale for your children's children, my Prince." A small wiry man with a wispy beard clung to an oar that seemed to be rowing him. His timing was against the rest of the tautly-muscled crew but their rebukes were no more than good-natured oaths.

"As you always do, Bran," Cedric yelled back at him. "My offspring will have a mighty collection of tales to tell when they finally make their presence known. Forgive me if I seek a wife first though." The rest of the crew laughed, while Bran saluted gravely and bowed his head, almost losing his oar in the process.

Eventually they managed to maneuver the craft into the calmer waters of a small gully just deep enough to take its shallow keel. A wooden-planked jetty, still rising and falling from the ship's swell, led the way to the Town. On it stood the welcoming committee.

Cedric knew his men would be in no mood for empty ceremony; the voyage had been long and exhausting. Now they sought nothing more than food, ale and their beds. Still, he was these people's Prince so he would have to listen to their tale of woe. It was, after all, why his father had sent him.

The nearest approached him, arm outstretched. "I am Harald Radmussen, Chief of the Town Council. It is a great honour to greet you, Prince Cedric. Thank you for venturing to our small part of the world."

Cedric grasped the proffered arm. "We came with much haste. My father cares for all corners of his realm; all that pay the silver shall know his protection."

"I am glad to hear it," the Leader told him, "I hope your word remains true when you see the beast." He was a large overweight man, finely dressed with a jewel-studded sword tucked into a belt hung loose around his girth. Cedric doubted it had ever been unsheathed in anger.

"My word is the King's word and that shall not change, no matter the task!"

Radmussen's doubt had angered Cedric after their wild journey. For a moment he wondered if this fool and his people were worth saving. But the task had been entrusted to him and he would not shirk it. He looked around the mist-enshrouded dwellings beyond the town's main gates. Town; it was little more than a collection of coarse hovels with a meeting hall at its centre and a shoddily constructed wall grasping it to the cliffs.

"Remind me again Council Chief Radmussen, what do you call this... place?" Cedric found it hard to keep contempt from his voice.

The big man made a sweeping bow, motioning to his Council to do likewise. "Welcome, Great Lord, to our beautiful town of Honalee."

They had just taken to their beds in the Meeting Hall when a distant roaring awoke them. They raised themselves and stared around at each other. The sound seemed to be coming nearer. Suddenly a red-faced Chief Radmussen burst in followed by some of the town's young men.

"Come; see for yourselves what we are up against. The filthy thing has breached the wall again!"

Still buckling on swords and struggling into armour, the Red Dreki's crew followed Radmussen in a rush down the hall's steps and into the tiny streets of tightly stacked dwellings. The townspeople were running past them, unheeding, towards the safety of the hall. Up ahead a fiery glow lit up the night. Flames shot through narrow gaps between the houses, then there came a bellowing roar. Not of bloodlust or anger though, Cedric thought. It sounded as if some unworldly thing was in pain.

"See, it breathes fire!" One of the townsmen shouted excitedly. "It is after the young maidens and the children; it picks off the weakest then takes them to its cave to devour them."

Cedric noticed a number of upturned braziers rolling along the street in the creature's wake, their flames lapping at the sides of the pathetic buildings. "Three of you get water and douse these fires!" he shouted back to his men. "The rest draw your swords and follow me!" He saw a row of scales rise and fall amongst the rooftops a street away and headed towards them but the beast had already gone. They found the hole in the wall smeared with a stinking slime Cedric took to be its blood. A last melancholic bellow came from beneath the cliffs then there was nothing but the crashing of the waves and the sound of the guttering flames.

"You saw it?" Radmussen wheezed as he finally caught up to him.

Cedric nodded. "We're going to need a bigger net."

####

"Is all ready?" Cedric asked Olaf as the men prepared the equipment they'd hauled ashore.

"We've made the net twice as big, my Lord. Chief Radmussen has shown us the caves where it lives. I'll put ten men on the cliff top ready to drop it when you give the signal; the rest will be either side of the cave mouth and behind the outcrop on the beach in front.

"Tell them to keep well hidden. We don't want to frighten it back inside."

"I don't think there's much that will frighten such a creature. The beach is filled with fish bones and seal carcasses; that must be what it eats."

"Not babes and young maidens then? I'd thought as much. We can't wait till nightfall; I will go inside and flush it out. Be ready."

Cedric noticed Radmussen puffing his way across the beach with a young man trailing sheepishly in his wake. 'What does he want now?' he thought.

"Greetings, my good Lord Cedric. I have brought you someone who will make your task a great deal easier. This fellow is known to have played with the creature when a child. He actually made a pet of the thing, if you can believe it. Tell him, boy!"

He pushed the young man toward Cedric who frowned at him. "I can't believe it, boy, but speak up anyway. How did you manage to tame such a monster?"

"It was no monster back then," the young man said, eyes fixed on his feet. He shuffled in the sand awkwardly. "It was little more than a baby. I found it one day inside a cave; it was starving. I caught some fish and fed it, then came back every day and did the same. It grew quickly but never harmed me. It would follow me around..."

"Yes, yes; The Prince has got the point." Radmussen pushed him aside. "You see the plan don't you? He can call to the creature; bring it out from its lair for your men to trap it. The sound of his voice will be enough. They say that's why the thing ventures into the town at night, to find the boy again."

"Is that true?" Cedric asked.

The young man shrugged. "It's embarrassing; all the girls laugh at me." He looked up at Cedric with sudden anger in his eyes. "I'll gladly help you kill it!"

In the end it was simple enough. The warriors readied themselves to drop the net, it's edges weighted down with stones. The young man stood in front of the cave and called. They'd even given him some fish to make sure. The beast peered its long neck out then on seeing him edged forward more so that its folded wings finally cleared the cave entrance. As the young man backed hurriedly away the thing gave a shrill mewling noise; almost, Cedric thought, of desperation. Then the net dropped and the axes struck home. There was a cracking as its scales splintered. A viscous mess spurted from its neck as the severed head rolled on the sand, its huge mouth yapping silently. Still reflecting their last image of the startled boy, the eyes glazed over.

"You and your men will be guests of Honour at our celebrations tonight, Prince Cedric." Radmussen told him. "Dreki meat makes a fine feast and we have more than enough now to last us through the winter, thanks to your bold efforts."

Cedric shook his head. "See that my men get as much wine and as many of women as they want but I shall stay on the boat. I find my appetite has left me." He turned and rested his hand on the man's arm. "And one more thing, Council Chief."

Radmussen found himself bending his head nearer to Cedric as the grip tightened. "My Lord...?"

"If I ever reach the opinion that myself and my men have been played for fools in this venture, we'll be back. And it won't be dreki we'll be slaying."

The fat man pulled himself away and hurried off towards the town gates without looking back. Cedric sighed and shook his head. He looked around to find Bran standing by his side.

"Have you begun your latest saga yet, Bran?" He asked the little man.

"Not yet Prince Cedric. I was waiting for your opinion."

Cedric smiled wearily. "Make it a simple child's story, Bran. If it really is to be for my children's children I would ask they be not too saddened by its conclusion. Innocence is a precious thing, not to be so easily lost. Don't you agree?" He strode away along the shoreline, not waiting for an answer.

Bran found the young man staring at the dreki's head, as if seeking something in its now dull, sightless eyes. "Hoy! What's your name, lad? A proper song should get the names right."

"John Paper," the young man replied. "They called me Jackie when I was young. And the dreki -- when he was a babe, he would try to breathe fire, but only smoke would come out, so I called him ..."

The End


© 2012 Dave Weaver

Bio: Dave Weaver is a graphic designer living in St Albans. He is a member of the Verulam Writer's Circle. Dave's 'Finding Uncle' short story was published in Hert's University's 'Visions' anthology. His most recent Aphelion appearance was Mission To Mars! (February 2012).

E-mail: Dave Weaver

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