And then he saw it, a faint red-orange glow coming from one of the large corridors that lead away from the cavern. Beddigan’s mind raced, his fight or flight instinct kicking in. Do I try and get down and out, or should I hide, he thought, mind scrambling for a solution as the rumbling and light got closer to the cavern.
The lack of time available made up his mind and he stayed low on his stomach, creeping back into the shadows of the smaller cave. He watched as the Dragon lumbered into the cavern, and felt his heart clench at the sight of it. He drew his gaze from its giant feet with deadly claws, up its body and up its long neck to its scaly face, eyes burning amber in the dark. And then he saw the flicker of gold on its back and felt his stomach roll with fear. A much smaller Dragon was riding atop the larger one’s back, with scales the colour of the ones a few feet behind him.
“Come now little one, back to bed.” The Dragon’s voice was a rumble that rolled and echoed through the chamber. The little golden Dragon hopped up and off the larger Dragon, floating down to the cavern floor on its leathery wings.
“Yes, Mother.” Its voice was much higher in pitch and as it began to move across the cavern towards him, Beddigan felt panic begin to grip him. There was nowhere to run; nowhere to hide. With little choice, he flung himself over the edge of the cave and down to the cavern floor, wincing at the jolt of pain that raced through his leg, radiating up to his hip, at his harsh landing.
“I mean you no harm.” Was all he could gasp out, before the little Dragon squeaked in surprise and the Mother Dragon stepped forward, sweeping its young back with her giant wing. Beddigan scampered back along the cavern wall, putting as much distance as he could between the Dragons and himself, while surreptitiously moving towards the small corridor that had lead him there.
“Who are you?” growled the Dragon. “Why are you in our nest?” It was only when the Dragon’s giant head turned to look at the latticework of caves that Beddigan noticed the Shining, scaly faces of a number of young Dragons, ranging in size and age to nearly full grown along the top. “You will all stay put as you are. Not. One. Movement.” The Mother Dragon growled at the youths, and he saw a few of the younger ones duck back out of sight. He noted that the older Dragon’s, especially a silver and blue one along the top row leaned out further and seemed to glare down at them all. The Mother Dragon returned its attention to Beddigan. He cleared his throat,
“I am Beddigan T. Mouze, and I came in search of the Dragons who once made an oath with the Lions of this land. It is of great importance that I speak with them.” The Mother Dragon shifted back a bit, narrowing her eyes at him.
“You come alone, Mister Mouze?” He nodded and the Dragon’s mouth stretched open in what appeared to be a smile as it laughed; a silky, thick sound that echoed through the cavern. Quieter laughs tittered from the caves. Well, this is where I die, he thought, eying the escape corridor, and wondering if he would have a chance to make it there before the Dragon unleashed its fire on him. Or eats me. Or crushes me beneath its giant razor-sharp claws. Or sicks its pack of yearlings on me. The Mother Dragon spoke again, laughter still lacing its low voice. “You are either very brave or very stupid, Mister Mouze.” A shivery voice came from above them and Beddigan looked up to see the silver and blue, nearly-full-grown Dragon climbing down the lattice of caves.
“I vote stupid. We could use a snack, Mother.” The Mother Dragon rounded on the youth.
“I said to remain in your nest, Lisenfer!” she snarled. It ignored her and Beddigan used the momentary distraction to edge closer to the corridor. The silver and blue Dragon was truly gorgeous, its scales shimmering with a luminescence from within.
“My father taught me to listen only when it makes sense. And It doesn’t make sense for us to not eat this intruder. Mother.” Beddigan felt intense fear when the silver and blue Dragon turned to face him. But it lasted only a moment, before the Mother Dragon stepped forward to intercept the youth, towering over it, smoke blooming from its nostrils.
“You dare disrespect me?” she hissed. “You will get back to your nest, now. Prince.” She bit out. For a moment, Beddigan thought of running while the two Dragons were engaged, but this Mother Dragon had not killed him yet and he did come to see them with a purpose. He willed his feet to stay put, and watched as Lisenfer sulkily obeyed the Mother Dragon, climbing back up to its nest. “You too, little one, back to your nest.” She added to the little gold Dragon who had been cowering behind her. She swept it forward with her wing and it scampered and climbed into its cave.
“It smells funny in here.” It squeaked and Beddigan stifled a laugh, despite the precarious situation he knew that he was in. The Mother Dragon ignored that comment and turned her full attention back to him.
“Come along, Mister Mouze. I will escort you to our King.” Beddigan swallowed a lump of fear and nodded, paw never leaving the hilt of his sword. He followed the great, lumbering Dragon out through the larger corridor it had entered from. He felt great relief to be away from the dozens of younger Dragons, yet anxious to be heading to see even more, larger Dragons. This is what you signed up for, he thought with a quiet sigh to himself. He was trying not to get consumed with the pressure of the situation. Aside from trying not to get eaten, he also had to convince a Dragon to do something with little to offer as a bargain. Dragons were not known for them altruism, and this could be a very tough sell.
The corridor widened and they came to a central chamber with multiple pathways leading in various directions. We must be in the heart of the mountain, Beddigan thought as he continued to follow the Mother Dragon through a corridor that had great, sweeping carvings, ornate and tinged in melted gold all around the archway. It was only a short walk until the flickering of fire and the bright amber light that came from the light of flame shining on gold began to fill the passageway.
They stepped out into a large, round chamber, littered with golden and jeweled treasures. Fires burned in four spots around the perimeter of the room, and on a huge raised slab in the centre, lay a completely silver Dragon, with eyes as green as emeralds. The Mother dragon bowed, and Beddigan followed suit awkwardly.
“My liege, we have come upon an intruder. He was found in the nests when I took Cully back to bed. He claims to mean us no harm.” The King of the Dragons shifted a bit, lifting his head to look at Beddigan.
“A Mouse. You are far from home, small one.” The Dragon’s gravelly voice boomed. Beddigan gulped and cleared his throat.
“Yes, my liege.” He said, copying the Mother Dragon’s appellation for the King. “I have come north from my homelands to seek help in a war.” The silver Dragon looked at him for a moment.
“We have no interest in your war, Mouse.” He growled. Beddigan took an insistent step forward which earned him a growl from the Mother Dragon. Hastily he stepped back.
“We do not wish you to intervene; we would not ask that of you.” He began, searching for the right words; the words that would be compelling enough for the Dragon to listen to him further. “We wish only that you break the oath and the binding magic that was once made with the Lions of these lands, so that they may assist us in our war effort, and save a great many from suffering.” Sharp interest sparkled in the great King Dragon’s eyes, and slowly it lumbered into a sitting position. Addressing the Mother Dragon, it spoke,
“You may leave us.” Without question, the Mother Dragon turned and left the chamber. Then, the King of the Dragons turned its attention back to Beddigan. “Please, sit, Beddigan. It has been quite long since I have had the opportunity to speak to a creature that is not a Dragon.” Beddigan stepped forward, boots slipping on the cold coins, heart stuck in his throat as he approached, and sat on the ledge of the raised slab of stone.
“Forgive me, my liege, but you do not seem like any Dragon that I have met before…” he blurted out. A low rumble of laughter escaped the silver Dragon.
“Have you met so many of us that you could make that judgement?” the Dragon asked. Beddigan thought a moment and then realized that much of his perceptions of Dragons were based around lore, that could quite possibly fiction. His encounter with Galantus had served to strengthen that perception, but even the Lions knew the Dragons to have been, at least at one point, productive members of the lands, and not wanton creatures of destruction. Even he himself had met the Dragon-born, who were not violent or merciless as Galantus had been.
“My apologies.” He said softly, “By rights I should have no negative ideas about Dragons, having met only one, who was indeed cruel and ruthless. I apologize for allowing that to cloud my judgment of what you and your people would be like.” The Dragon waved a claw in the air dismissively.
“It is of no matter.” His voice rumbled, still tinged with laughter. “Tell me, Mouse, how did you come to find us here?” the Dragon asked. Beddigan shrugged. “The Lions, whom I had been staying with, knew of the general area that you once inhabited. The rest was just following the water, and blind, dumb luck.” He said. The Dragon considered this a moment.
“You are smart, Beddigan.” His voice rumbled through the cavern. “Which means you should understand why the binding was placed on the peoples of this land to begin with.” Beddigan hesitated before answer.
“Indeed, I understand the theory, and I believe it a good one, my liege.” The Dragon interrupted then,
“You needn’t call me that. You may call me Tulvirr. I am the last of the Dragons that made the oath with the Lions.” Beddigan nodded,
“Thank you Tulvirr. I believe that at the time, the binding oath you made with the Lions was a very good move. It has led to a land ripe with peace and prosperity, unlike my homeland which has been embroiled in war and subjugation for generations.” He paused a moment. “But now…” he began, “The Wolves that have been battling my people, and who had held the Foxes in subjugation for many turnings, seek to control the largest of the countries in our lands; a country that has always stood as a free republic. They already work to overthrow the peaceful governance of the Republic. They hunger to rule all.” The Dragon eyed him carefully, with watchful eyes.
“And the Lions have offered you their assistance, to fight back this enemy?” Beddigan nodded,
“The Lions, and the Rams as well, have agreed to help us, if only we can find a way to break the binding magic. This is what lead me here. I must find a way to save the peoples of my homelands. And my only hope to do that is with their troops, and with your assistance in lifting the barrier.” The Dragon considered this for quite some time, and Beddigan sat in silence, waiting and hoping for the answer he desired.
“You do not know much of the war between the Tigers and the Lions, do you Beddigan?” he asked, finally. Beddigan felt his heart sink.
“Not much, other than that they were embroiled in a war over territory and that eventually they desired peace more than land, and the Tigers yielded to the Lions. Many other nations followed suit, and thus came the peace and prosperity that the Empire still enjoys.” The Dragon looked at him then, his great, glittering green eyes searching his own.
“And why is it that the oath with the Lion’s was made?” Beddigan was puzzled.
“My understanding was that at one point you and your brethren ruled the lands, and when the wars began amongst the Felines, you stepped back and allowed them to work through such things on their own, provided they not step outside their lands into yours, or try and go south to conquer what lay there.”
“There is one piece to this puzzle that you are missing, Beddigan. And it is a most important piece.” The Dragon said. “You see, dear Mouse, we gifted magic then, to the lands, and we strengthened the strain in the Lions, with their agreement to rule peacefully. They made a bargain with us to use that magic to unify, and as a result, they would stay confined to these lands.” Beddigan nodded his understanding, though shocked by this revelation. But a question nagged at him,
“Why then did Magic get gifted to my own lands in such a different manner?” he asked. The great Dragon sighed then, and the puff of warm air, nearly knocked Beddigan off the ledge he was sitting upon.
“We learned from our error with the Lynx, which is why we were much more careful with our gift to the people of these lands. I have felt sorry about that for a very long time.” Beddigan nodded then, seeing an opportunity.
“Well, Tulvirr, there is a way that you may help us now, and we would greatly appreciate it. The Lions I have met seem different now than they were all those turnings ago when the oath was struck. They do not desire to conquer any longer.” He felt a twinge of guilt for lying to the Dragon. Not really a lie, he thought, more a careful misstep of the truth, avoiding telling him why the Lions were willing to help and their plans and desires for what lay beyond the Trelill Sea.
The great Dragon was deep in thought again, and after some time, Beddigan added his last and final plea to the table of their discussion. “It is a real fear that with the barrier being one way, that once the Wolves have conquered us all, they will head north.” This caused Tulvirr’s head to snap up, eyes narrowing at this thought. Beddigan continued, “You and your people are great and strong, but you have not been present in our landss for generations. The Wolves should not be underestimated. They have a streak of cruelty that is unmatched, even by the Dragon that nearly killed me.”
The King of the Dragon’s stood then, and Beddigan jumped down from the ledge to match him. He scampered out of the way as the Dragon began a slow, careful descent from the raised slab, onto the piles of gold coins.
“We will help you.” Tulvirr said simply, as he made his way to the corridor. “Follow me.” Beddigan followed, as elation swept through him. He had done it. They were going to war with the Wolves, and this time they would win.
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