The Mark of the Dragon (Ch1) by Craig Daniels

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SUMMARY: This is the start of my story. Dhaen is a courier for the King, on a mission and stumbles on a gypsy camp. Still a bit rough, but the general concept is what I was aiming for.

The sun had just set, but the warm glow of dusk still seeped over the horizon. In the valley below was a semi-circle of gypsy wagons drawn up against a sheer rock face. A slightly chilled wind blew across the camp making the fires jump and the wind chimes on the wagons sing. Although not full fall yet, the summer warmth had faded and was quickly becoming replaced with the cooler temperatures of autumn. Children's voices vied with the clanging metal of cookware as the camp made ready for the evening meal. Although the children laughed and played with typical reckless abandon, they were careful to stay within the confines of the camp.

Dhaen sat shivering astride a dappled grey stallion on top of the hill overlooking the camp and cursed himself again for choosing the light riding grays instead of the heavier winter uniform of the Kings courier service. When he had ridden out from the capital it had been high summer in the south, and unfortunately he hadn't realized how long and how far north this journey had taken him. He pulled the cloak tighter around his shoulders, but the shivering did not stop and the sheathed sword and a half above his shoulder seemed to rattle in agreement.

But the chill night breeze also brought with it a scent of cooking venison. He took in the camp spread out below him and noted how precisely the wagons were drawn together. There were 5 wagons, drawn together to form a semi-circle with the open part agains the sheer rock face. It was a perfectly defensible position; to Dhaen's practiced eyes, it looked more like a military encampment than a simple gypsy gathering. He ruefully shook his head, times must be tough for gypsies if they are forced to circle their wagons and post armed guards. He could still remember the brightly colored silks and exotic trinkets of the traveling bands that would come to his village once a year during festival in his youth. Their non-aggressive and carefree demeanors from those times would not have led him to ever conceive of the sight he beheld below. Times certainly do change he thought to himself.

Dhaen tried to recall the last warm meal he'd had, could not remember when that had been, and made a decision. While secrecy and stealth were not requirements of his profession, it helped to be able to move quickly and at a moments notice while out on the Kings business. He could put that aside for one night he figured, especially when it was with the nomadic gypsy people. He started down the hill, but made sure to approach directly at the lead wagon so he would not be mistaken for a bandit. A gypsy he had not marked from his vantage point on the hill came out from the shadows of a wagon with a cocked crossbow leveled at his chest.

"Who goes there?" The man demanded, his crossbow not wavering. Dhaen shifted in the saddle, "I come for a hot meal and the warmth of the fire. I can pay for my food". As he spoke he allowed the dragon clasp holding his cloak together to catch the dancing firelight within the camp.

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