Chapter One Year 4758
Dragons in the Mist
“Promise me.” The words echoed in his mind. “Promise me that you will leave, and only return when it is safe! Even if it means that you may never return, just stay alive. Promise me, Samuel.”
Dawn had not yet brought its light upon the misty hills of the four thousand-year-old kingdom. The nights had only begun to lengthen for the autumn, but the cold did not mind an early arrival. The chill in the air did not bode well for the elvan populace, who were already unsettled by their empty stomachs. Now that their harvest was complete, they could sleep through the dawn. Even the creatures of the woodlands were sleeping still. In the shadows, only stillness roamed.
Nothing wanted to move. It was more than hunger that brought about this stillness. In the air hung a sense of foreboding, a premonition of approaching peril. Nobody was awake to sense it. Those who were indeed awake were not of the sort to sense and fend against impending danger. They preferred things as they were at that moment; outwardly calm whilst inwardly devious. The dragon, it was said among elves, seemed most quieted just before it dove into the air to strike and claim its meal. Even though no creature wanted to be the dragon’s meal, and they hid themselves well, he had already chosen it. How keen the dragon was, to choose that which least expected the attack.
On the hills that rolled through the east of the kingdom, fog curled away from a heavy foot as it came forcefully to the ground. Long claws sank into the soil before lifting again to continue along the washed-out road. Somewhere above that clawed, scaly foot, a voice cursed. It was like thunder in both depth and temper. The man scowled and reined his beast away from the mud that slowed it down. He inspired obedience through his sharp, regal features as much as from his tone. The dragon that he rode moved easily under his command, hardly in need of urging.
“Even the road to the castle is allowed to rot.” Another rider, his beast a wingless dragon, remarked as he came up beside the first. “Yet they wonder why they have lost much of their crop.”
The other man, older and far angrier in demeanor, glanced only slightly at the long-haired rider beside him. Through thick ebon lashes, his hazel eyes shone bitterly. “That no longer matters. After today, there will be no need for roads to this castle.”
His brief words brought no response.
Without warning, the dragon that he rode stopped. Pushing a lock of coal-black hair behind his long ear, he peered down through the mist. Stone cobbles gazed back at him through the mud, jagged and uneven, threatening to render great discomfort to any foot that should come along, and to stop any wheels that turned along that road. Passing on either side of the path would not offer any improvement; it was too burdened with rocks scattered from the surrounding mountains, debris left by travelers long past, and weeds. Gathering his velvet cloak close around him, the unpleasant rider turned his beast round to face the line of soldiers who followed his lead.
“Listen to me, loyal nobles and warriors! The rains have worsened the road’s condition. I will fly ahead to the castle,” he shouted commandingly, his voice rich with regal airs. “Make what path you can, and I shall await you there.” He did not await their reply before turning to the younger man, hardly more than a boy, beside him. “You come with me. Have our squires follow us.”
“Aye, father,” came his deep, smooth voice in reply.
The dragon took to the air with great flaps of its sky-spanning wings. It flew low, gliding just above the mist whilst the other beast jumped agilely among the broken stones of the path. The fog swirled in fine tendrils as the dragons disturbed its stillness. Once the two elvan riders were sufficiently ahead of their followers, the only sounds were those of the dragon’s wings and heavy clawed feet falling onto muddy stone.