(Page 1 of 7)
by Ron Wiltrout
AKA Emmitt Hugh
The faces appeared somber, the thin lines of age made thicker by the shifting shadows thrown out by the flames. Around the fire they stared as one at the young man, one of the last in their village. The first spoke and raised a hand for the young warrior to stop as he began to don the heavy plate armor.
"Do not," he ordered. "You'll be roasted alive. It matters not how well the hardest metals turn a blade or shatter a bolt. The armor may deflect the flames, but it will also absorb the heat and you'll wish you were without it in the end. It would turn into an oven with you inside. A most miserable death. Wear only the leathers."
"Aye, but use the iron shield," another interjected. "Wood will do you no good. Heavy the iron is, yes, but it will take much to crack it. The wood bracing will act as a good barrier between the shield and your arm. When the time comes, you make yourself as small as can be behind the shield and you'll be glad for the extra weight then."
"And take the highest point you can find," a third instructed. "Make him come up to you. It is always better to attack with downhill momentum; easier to defend if your foes must make the long journey uphill. A blow falling from higher above always lands that much heavier."
"Aye, and strike quickly. If he deigns speak with you, close your mind to what words would be uttered and silence his tongue. He is the last and may implore you to accept an offering of peace. This cannot be," the fourth asserted.
"Aye, lad, his words will be honeyed as the sweetest mead, but what you get in the end is old wine that has gone to vinegar. For all the pleasantness of the bees' humming, they will still sting," the fifth observed.
The sixth man around the fire, the young man's grandfather, stood mute.
Thus the old warriors discussed at some length on how to meet a dragon; not that they had ever done so themselves, dragons were that rare. But the centuries of warfare carried in their scarred old bodies should count for something. Hawkil nodded at each new instruction hoping these minute movements of his head enough to hide his nervousness. Each warrior that went before him had departed thus, laden with these good advices.
And not one had ever returned.
And the dragon was not satisfied. Still it came on frigid nights lighting the sky with red fire, destroying the villagers' homes, devouring the livestock, and carrying away the unwary as they fled the destruction.
Hawkil stood on the mountainside enjoying the last heat of the dwindling fire, the old warriors surrounding him. Their eyes flickered with as much doubt as faith.
"Use this to call him." His ancient grandfather's voice was grim. "It is not much, but it is all that we have left, just as you are all the hope we have left. It will be enough."
Hawkil accepted the large sword, wondering at the faint sheen of the golden blade; the last wealth of his people.
"Let the gold carry your voice and he will come. And when he does, you give him this gold where it will do the most damage." The old man's lips curled into a vague smile, an expression without mirth.
Hawkil slung the blade on his back where it clattered against the iron shield draped across a shoulder.