Samuel the Gamekeeper watched from his hiding place as several deer trotted delicately into the sunlit meadow; an eight point buck, four does and three fawns. Seeing the healthy, bright eyed creatures always filled him with satisfaction knowing his efforts on their behalf were successful. Placing food and salt licks about in the winter, clearing brush and discouraging poaching had enabled the herds to prosper unmolested; all in anticipation of a hunt by the royalty in Castle Vard.
All at once the ground behind the herd heaved and churned and a hideous thing emerged. It's flattened head was easily the size of an oxcart with unblinking black eyes and a fanged mouth from which a forked tongue lashed the air.
The deer did not flee, but stood like statues as a yellow and orange scaled body followed the head from the ground until it neared the animals, then it struck as quick as thought and there was one less deer, then another was snapped up, then another until the creature had consumed them all. Soundlessly, it disappeared into the turned ground from whence it came.
Samuel walked unbelievingly into the meadow. He had seen it, yet he wondered if there was magic afoot. What else could it have been?
"Sorcery most foul," he said aloud, taking his longbow from his back and notching an arrow. He moved closer to where the thing had arisen and jumped back when the creatures head emerged, looking at him with glittering eyes, and then began a slow weaving to and fro.
He drew the bowstring as tight as he could, aiming the barbed arrow at the creatures left eye. "Die spawn of darkness," he muttered and let fly. The creature's head moved slightly as the arrow struck between it's eyes and caromed away. He tried another shot, then another with the same result. It was almost as if the thing was playing with him. His mind raced. Surely this was a spawn of deviltry.
It was his last thought as a second creature emerged behind him, engulfed him in it's massive jaws and both disappeared into the ground. The sun dappled meadow was silent once more.
Nightshade and Sage were relaxing in the shade of an oak tree, watching Karl, Merry and Eldritch engage in mock combat with men from the palace guard using blunt swords and padded armor.
"Humans never fail to interest me," Sage said, in the subsonic tongue of the dragons. "They can never seem to be still for long, always about something or another." "It is their nature," Nightshade replied. "I think it has to do with those active brains of theirs." "It amazes me how they can hold so many thoughts in their minds at once," Sage continued, "They always seem to be one step ahead of events." "It's compensation for their weakness and fragility," Nightshade said, "Speed and cunning over brute strength. I am proud to fight beside them." "The four legged creatures are quite tasty. We will seek more when we hunger." "Who just spoke?" Sage asked.
"It sounded like the ancient tongue," Nightshade replied. "I could barely understand it." "The two legged ones have almost no meat on them and are too bony. I want no more of them." "There it is again. It seems to be coming from the northeast." "I am curious. Let us go over there and see who is speaking." "Agreed, I need to stretch my wings a bit." Merry parried a blow from a guardsman when she heard the booming flap of wings. Her counter thrust made her opponent dodge as she saw the dragons pass overhead and wondered where they were going. A return thrust at her sword arm caused her to jump back and the thought was lost in the heat of mock battle.
The dragons reached the area where they thought the voices had come from and were surprised to see two creatures with yellow and orange scales curled together in a meadow.
"What sort of beings are those?" Sage said.
"They look oddly familiar," Nightshade replied. "Let us see who they are." They swooped down and landed near the creatures who stared at them and did not speak.
"Welcome, strangers," Sage said in Dragon. "From whence have you come?" Silence.
"I am Nightshade and this is Sage. What brings you to our land?" Silence.
"Do they not understand us?" "I will try the old tongue "Welcome to our land." You speak well young one," the larger snake said.
"I am called Zalkis and my mate Kolera. We come from caverns deep in the earth where our ancestors fled centuries ago during the Time of Great Cold. We have prospered there for generations, now the molten rock has come and it drives us to the surface again. We have returned to reclaim our lands." "Are you aware that now other creatures occupy this land?" Sage said.
"What creatures would these be? The four legged ones are a source of food. Are there others?" "Humans occupy the lands as well, the two legged creatures you have seen," Nightshade replied.
"I ate one of those two legged ones," Kolera said, "They are entirely too bony. I did not like it. They also seem weak and helpless. No fangs or scales as we have or teeth and claws as you two have. How can they continue to occupy this land now that we have returned? They will be easily overcome." "Humans possess many skills that we do not," Sage replied. "We co-exist with them in peace and they are our friends and companions." "Long ago humans and dragons united against a foe that threatened all of us and it was defeated," Nightshade continued. "Today we routinely battle together against common enemies and are victorious. You and others of your kind are welcome here, but we must live in harmony." "Our ancestors were here before all of you," Kolera hissed. "We are the rightful rulers of this land and we share with no one. The humans must flee before our wrath or they shall die." "Are you saying that we are not welcome in your lands either?" Nightshade growled.
"You may stay, as we are of common ancestry," Zalkis replied.
"Thank you for your benevolence," Sage said wryly. "I suppose it makes no difference that we enjoy human company and are comrades in battle?" "None at all," Kolera said. "I fail to understand why you two would ally yourselves with the weak humans. We are your kind, not they. Together we can rule these lands and reclaim them from the two legged vermin of which you are so fond." "We are no longer 'your kind', Kolera," Nightshade said, his tail twitching. "You are of the old world; we and the humans are of the new. Your time has come and gone. Either live with us in peace or return to the caverns from whence you came." "Our caverns are gone, our people are gone," Zalkis said, weaving to and fro, eyes glittering. "Only we and our brood survived the molten rock that burst in upon us. In an instant, all was lost. We must reclaim the lands of our ancestors. If you do not stand with us against the humans, prepare to die with them." "You have others with you?" Sage said. "Where are they?" "All around us," Kolera said, exultantly. "Arise my children and gaze upon your enemies." At her call, twelve more snakes appeared from the ground, weaving about. They were less than half the size of their parents, with pale yellow scales, baring their fangs and hissing menacingly.
Sage and Nightshade stood up, folded their wings against their bodies and glared at the young snakes.
"We do not fight children," Nightshade snorted. "Would you send them against us?" In answer, the parents' hissed a command and the young snakes threw themselves at the dragons. Nightshade and Sage were enveloped in twisting coils as fangs slashed at their scales. Seizing one wriggling foe in each of his jaws, Nightshade bit down hard and flung them to the ground. Two others squirmed under his claws as he crushed them.
Sage rolled on the ground, flattening three of his attackers and clamped his jaws on another. Seeing their children being mauled by the dragons, Zalkis and Kolera attacked.
Luke, son of Samuel the Gamekeeper had been searching for his father since he hadn't returned home from his duties. Hearing hisses and roars, he crept to the edge of the forest and saw the dragons' battling against huge snakes. Terrified, he turned and ran for the castle.
Karl, Merry and Eldritch were relaxing after their workout and enjoying mugs of ale with the guardsmen discussing battle tactics. Hearing cries they turned to see Luke running towards them, his face pale.