|The Dragon: Chapter I|
Many of the villagers said that the dragon had always been insane, feeding upon them and their livestock, burning fields in anger, and the Sacrifice being the only thing that would quell it’s wrath. But a few of the older folks, those of more wisdom and less superstition told another story. That once long before, back in their old grandfather’s days, when they were but younglings themselves the dragon did not ask for sacrifices. That it dwelt in peace taking it’s own council and having nothing to do with the villages that surrounded it’s mountain lair.
But since that long ago time, things had changed. Whether the dragon had gone insane or was simply toying with those lesser then it, only the seer can fathom. And the bitter truth of today still stands. When the dragon lights the fires the on the mountain top, the village elders know that a sacrifice must be made. The people of the three villages, Gesper, Hammond, and Lyre come together and lots are cast upon all unmarried females. Needless to say these are busy weeks indeed for the clerics of all villages as young maidens rush to marry able bodied boys and hence perhaps save their own lives. For to be unmarried and without children, virgin or no, one is still entered into the lots, with only widows and old maids excluded.
When a month had passed, the lots were drawn in the center gardens of Gesper. It was upon that day that Hypaelia, daughter of the good farmer Mattor, was shown her own death when her name was drawn forth on a tile. Her family said tearful goodbyes, her mother fainting in despair, and she was sundered from them, never to see them again in this world. The council guards put her into the cage of doom and that afternoon she was wheeled before the entrance to the ancient mountain lair. There they left her for the dragon to do with her what it would.
The cage was made of wood and quite sturdy, and had been repaired many times, once being completely rebuilt when the dragon destroyed it in it’s haste to get at the contents of the cage. The bodies of the victims were never found, nor traces of blood and death, so the cage was removed from the mountain once it’s purpose was fulfilled and carpenters repaired it until the next time the fires of the mountain burned.
Hypaelia fainted dead away when the dragon emerged from its lair. So she never saw the large knuckled claw that cast a spell that rent the front of the cage door completely off. Her own body rising from magic out of the cage and lightly settling into the beasts hand. She was then whisked away into the beasts lair. The mountain shook and rocks crumbled. The cold damp night stood as the only witness of the monster.
She awoke some time later, waking from a dream that to her was a nightmare. But then she never had expected to ever wake again. As her eyes adjusted to the glowing light, the first thing she noticed was the heat. It was very hot here inside the mountain itself, where she assumed she was now. And she was inside another cage of some kind, that even though a prison, was magnificently carved of iron with scrolling vines and tiny dragons intermingled up and down it’s impregnable bars. A bench, a bed, and a hole in the floor covered by a circle of wood and an iron ring served as latrine. The quarters were far from spartan however as one must imagine with a fine carpet on the floor and the bed covered in sheets of silk and embroidery.
It was then she noticed that she herself was unclothed. Her nakedness scared her in this place. She was trapped and alone, but somehow also feeling like something that is on display. Hastily, she pulled the silk sheet from the bed and covered herself as best she could. Time passed slowly, and she could do little but look about her at the misty darkness that surrounded her prison.
‘Good eve’, came the sound of a childlike voice out of the darkness, that startled her so much so that she screamed in terror. She pulled the sheets about her and peering into the darkness found that her eyes could just make out the small shape of a woman.
‘Uh, hello? Who is there?!’, she said her voice rattling with fear.
The figure moved closer to the cage and she could see now that it was indeed a woman. Her hair of the finest golden curls falling about her face and shoulders in long ringlets, her eyes of the brightest blue, even if demurely downcast. She opened a small wooden box and light streamed from it. Hypaelia could then see that she was clothed in a blue dress richly sewn. She pulled from the box a globe of light, a crystal ball about the size of a melon. Lifting the globe with her hands and laying the box aside she slipped it between the bars. Next as Hypaelia watched she took a small wooden stand from the box and lay that between the bars beside the ball.
‘This is for you. So you can see. I am sorry I had forgotten it when I dressed your ‘quarters’. I will be returning soon with your meal. My name is Suzanne. In the old tongue I was told that it means trustworthy.’ The ball rolled onto the carpet and its light shown around the cell. Color came to the cage and Hypaelia did notice that the cage was not so drab as the dull light had made her think. Pillows on the floor around the edge of the cage, a wash basin in the far corner she had not even noticed before. Then she noticed the light crackling sound that came from the ball and she stared at it, knowing with absolute certainty that it was a magical thing. She was lost for a moment in her own thoughts. She looked up to speak to Suzanne and then noticed that she was no longer there.
‘Suzanne?!’, she cried into the darkness hearing her own voice echo into the vast chamber she suddenly realized she was in.
Out of the darkness, she heard, ‘My lady, rest and sleep, I will return soon’, in such a light whisper that she was unsure if she heard the voice in her head or with her ears; then silence.
She reach down and lifted the ball, laying it over her hands and finding that it was cold to the touch, about the only thing that was cold within this stifling heat. She placed it on the bench in the wooden stand. Climbing back into the bed she hid under the sheets and cried and cried until sleep found her at last.