This was written in high school, incorporating elements from the world of my novels—many of which have actually changed since. This story has always been my favourite.
The sky drew on all its power to conceal the fact that it was morning. Thick clouds rolled against the mountainside and murmured of impending rain, bellowing on occasion. Not a drop fell, however, and the ground was yet dry and parched. What sun that could penetrate the cloud cast a grey shadow upon the town of Arnington, nestled close against the dark mountain to the east, whose dull form brought into question its placement among the Silver Mountains. But the hearts of the town's denizens were still more grey than the day.
Across the sparse yellow grass that did surround the town, a lone figure strode. On most days, the sun would dance upon his armour and play about the sword that hung at his side. On this day, there was nothing but a distant grey shape trudging upon the dry grey ground. But this lack of elemental benevolence was of no concern to him, nor to the people of Arnington. Their saviour had come.
As soon as they sighted him, the people of the town began to congregate in the street, and before he was within one hundred yards of it, all the town’s members awaited him. The head Consul stood at the head of the crowd. He spread wide his arms as the figure arrived, the visitor's glory not at all diminished by the foul day. His shield and armour were dazzlingly clean despite the dusty journey, and what light that did exist seemed to pool within its polished facets. Though his shine had been veiled, he still retained a marvellous sheen. As he approached, his pace gradually slowed until he came to a stop two yards from the Consul.
There was much interest as the figure removed his white-plumed helmet to reveal a stern yet kind, clean-shaven face and conservatively-cut brown hair. The depths of his eyes told of years of service, though not a single scar blemished his fair visage. In an ostentatious flash, his sword rose into the air. Its runes seemed to draw the light from all the world as it sparkled with mesmerizing radiance. In a single motion he drove the gleaming blade an inch into the ground and knelt head bowed with his right hand upon its golden hilt. He then gazed at the head Consul.
"Many fair greetings, my noble Lord," the man said in a clear, cordial tone.
"I welcome you, my humble knight," the head Consul responded with a low bow. "May your time within our town be both pleasant and well-spent."
The standard cordialities complete, the knight rose, removed his remarkably unsoiled sword from the ground and sheathed it. He approached the head Consul and placed an armoured hand upon his shoulder.
“Now," he said with a wry smile, "what is this I hear of your trouble with a dragon?"
The festivities of that day wore long into the night, and were to last all week. In the evening, a banquet was held at the consulate. The town council and important town members were invited to attend. Outside, the merry-making of the rest of the townspeople continued, though they were dismayed at their exclusion from this event. They had not yet had their fill of this knight, though his speeches and appearances had been many. A large gathering formed outside the doors of the consulate in anticipation of the knight's reappearance.
Inside, the main course was served upon platters of engraved silver and the wine in crystal goblets—the best that the town possessed. Candles rested in gleaming golden candelabras upon every available fixture and every inch of table space, the light reflecting around the room as it leapt from candelabra to platter to goblet. The Consul‘s effluence of gratitude was so great, in fact, that those at the table were often blinded by the reflecting light and were compelled to take guarded care of the direction in which they looked.
The meal had begun with formalities and a toast to the knight, who had responded with a toast to all present and to the town itself. But now they were all quite prepared to get down to business.
"Good Consul," the knight calmly said between sips from his goblet, "what might you be able to tell me about this troublesome serpent of yours?"
The gathering grew quiet at the mention of the creature. Eyes darted around the table until all fell upon the head Consul.
"Well," the Consul began, unsure of what pertinent information the knight desired. He drew in a breath. “Well, it takes abode within the mountain that lies directly east of Arnington, Tharn’s Peak by name, though now known more commonly as Serpent's Roost. We suspect that the… creature… resides within a cave somewhere upon the mountain."
"Er. . . though we know not where, " another council member admitted meekly.
"I see," said the knight.
"You see," the head Consul picked up, "we have attempted to learn of its precise location, but after the first group… disappeared… none have been willing to seek it out." The Consul’s words trailed off.
"I am amazed that anyone chooses to remain in Arnington at all," said the miller.
"People tend to avoid change where they can," said a council member. "They have simply been living on in the hope that the beast will be dealt with."
"For what time has the serpent plagued this town'?" the knight asked.
The head Consul looked meekly at the knight. "Fifty years… "
"How many have risen to challenge it in that time?"
"Er… three," replied the Consul. "As you can see, they have been… less than successful."
"What type of dragon is it?" asked the knight.
The Consul responded in irritation. "What do you mean, ‘What type of dragon’? It is the dragon type of dragon! The black-hearted, scaly-winged…"
" Fire-breathing," added one .
"Sharp-toothed," added another.
"Wheat-burning," added the miller.
"Earth-shaking, town-destroying, evil type of dragon!" finished the Consul, emphatically rising from his seat and glaring at the knight.
The knight sat unmoving in his seat. He spoke calmly. "You have already told me all that I need. My thanks to you. Now please, my good hosts, seat yourselves and be calm." Many of the others present had risen as well. "You have nothing more to fear." Cautiously, awkwardly aware of their positions, they resumed their seats.
"Then you will dispatch the dragon, Sir Pendric?" said the Consul, more imploring than asking.
"Yes, of course, my good Alcarl,” he replied. "Would I have come if I had had any other intention?"
"Many have come and left in the past without lifting a finger," Alcarl responded. "We had to be certain."
"But can you do it?" inquired the scribe.
Sir Pendric suddenly rose and drew his sword, slamming it down upon the table. It caught the candlelight and shone with such bright blue and white brilliance that the knight appeared to be engulfed in the mysterious aura that emanated from the blade. To look upon him became blinding. He stood firm and bold, but not enraged. When at last he spoke to the others his voice was calm and as steadfast as the surrounding mountains.
"Fifty trolls have fallen to Ethalras while I did wield her. Add to that one serpent of the waters, two dark wizards, sixteen corrupt knights—including Carcaban the Invincible—two giants, one nearly a hundred feet tall, and more trogs than can be counted. To that list," he said emphatically, "add one impenetrably-armoured, man-eating, icy-breathed dragon of the frost." The entire table was in silent awe. "I do not believe that my ability needs to be questioned."
The stunned silence endured until Alcarl, rising meekly, stuttered their collective sorrow at having wronged the knight. "I ask you, merciful knight," he added, "do not think harshly of us. The matter simply is that the beast now no longer plagues us merely by devouring our people and burning our dwellings, but it shackles the elements to its foul will as well."
"It has been sixteen months and nine days since our last fall of rain," the Consul's scribe noted.
"Now the creature blots out the very sky, stealing the sun from our eyes with this black-hearted cloud," concluded the Consul.
Sir Pendric thoughtfully absorbed this information as he sheathed Ethalras and assumed his seat.
"It is an interesting predicament that you present to me," the knight said at last, speaking more to himself than to any other. "Never before have I been told of such a creature. Is all the strength in the world not enough for these beasts, that now they usurp control of the very elements as well?" With conviction, he raised his head and stared evenly at those seated at the table. "I’ll have no more of it. I'll not sit idly by and allow this mockery to continue. Upon the morning after the morrow's eve I shall set out to slay the dragon!" He paused to allow the absorption of this fact. "Tomorrow I shall discover all that I may about this dragon and his abode. Is there any who is aware of the path taken by those who sought its lair?"
"I believe that it is contained within the records, " Alcarl responded. "I shall have the scribe seek out its location. But, may I ask, why do you wish to know of it?"
"If it led those brave men of time past to the dragon, it may do the same for me."
A mortified silence ensued, followed by murmured agreement.
"Excellent," said Sir Pendric. "You shall be liberated in two days’ time." The banquet was swiftly concluded.
Upon the morning of his departure, Sir Pendric stood fully adorned in armour as he watched the rising sun attempt to lighten the black clouds in the east. They now bellowed frequently, ominous foreshocks of the tumultuous battle to come.
"If the trek is not far," he said to the crowd that waited to see him off, "I hope to return by sundown . I shall see you then, my friends." With that, he strode off. The crowd, warned to suppress their desire to cheer, managed many joyful wavings, which did not cease until their saviour was out of sight.
By mid-day, there had been no sign of confrontation. Still the townsfolk stood and waited. The hours passed terribly slowly. It was early evening before any signal appeared.
A tremendous boom, ten times louder than the greatest crack of thunder, rent the air, causing people to stumble, clouds to swirl, and the mountain itself to shudder ever so slightly. Orange flame erupted over the southerly side of Tharn's Peak, appearing minute in its distance but tremendous in its intensity. Another blast followed just as those who had stumbled began to regain their footing. Again, an orange plume rose above the south side of the mountain, and flaming fingers spread over the grey stone as if to crush the mountain itself with their power.
And then there was nothing. The townsfolk stood staring at the mountain, unsure of what to make of what they had witnessed.
Sir Pendric did not return by the setting of the sun. Nor did he return by midnight. Still the townsfolk waited, none daring to stir. They waited through the night.
Sir Pendric had not returned by the next morning. Fear began to grow in the minds of the people. By late afternoon, there was still no sign of the noble knight.
Then, at the second setting of the sun, a lone figure was seen striding across the sparse yellow grass that surrounded the town. His armour had lost much of its sheen, and where it had once gleamed silver, it was now black, scorched and blood-stained. The breastplate and pauldron were dented, and the shield bore a large gash. These marks of battle, however, were of no concern to the townsfolk. All that mattered was that Sir Pendric had returned.
The townspeople broke into merriment, ignoring their exhaustion and hunger. As he approached, they could see that the knight's helmet was now gone, and that his face, though blackened, remained remarkably unscarred. Over his shoulder was slung a heavily-laden sack.
"The deed is done," he said as he arrived. "You will be plagued no more."
The crowd cheered, and requested to know the contents of the sack.
“Is it the head?" asked one.
"No,” Sir Pendric replied. "Dragons are so old and wicked that, without life to sustain them, their bodies quickly turn to dust. But I have something better." With that, he revealed the contents of the sack. It was swollen with rubies, pearls and ancient golden coins—the richest treasures that the town had ever seen.
"This,” declared the knight, "was the dragon's horde. I believe it to be appropriate payment for the damage the serpent has caused you."
There was much revelry that night. Sir Pendric explained at the banquet held in his honour that the dragon, when he slew it, had crashed down upon the mouth of its cave, sealing the cavern off completely. They had no need to concern themselves about dragons from that time forth. That night, the sky was rent open and torrents of rain fell upon the land.
After a week of feasting, there followed the sad time of departure. Now that he could be certain of Arnington‘s safety, Sir Pendric needed to attend to other matters. Again the town gathered to see him off.
"Farewell, my humble knight," said the head Consul.
"Until we meet again, my good host," said the knight as he knelt with his head bowed, hand on the hilt of his sword.
At that, Sir Pendric took his leave of the people of Arnington. The joyful cheers of the townsfolk echoed from peak to valley. Never again would Arnington suffer the wrath of a dragon.
As soon as he was out of sight, the knight stole around the town and returned to the dragon-path. He clambered up the ancient trail, maintaining a low posture to avoid detection. He ascended up and around the mountain, until, at last, he stood at the mouth of the dragon's lair. The knight entered. After removing his armour and placing his sword among a small pile of similar items, he raised a hand to his ear and began to tear.
He peeled off his human guise, as a snake shedding its skin, and assumed his natural form. He tossed the armour away, its useless husk nearly hitting a charred, beheaded corpse that leaned precariously against the wall of the cavern. He then laid his serpentine body down upon an immense bed of jewels and gold. The few trinkets he had given up were well worth the price of undisturbed existence. Arnington would send no more knights. The dragon patted his full belly and sank into a peaceful slumber.
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