Second Place Winner in Fiction Archive Contest #1


Of Friendship and Dragons

By Magpie


Grizwald shifted his scaly bulk over his treasure pile and snorted. He was bored and frustrated. It had been so long since any of those interesting little Humans, Elves or Dwarves had visited. He had enjoyed his encounters with them, even those who had come to steal from him had provided entertainment, but now his lair was quiet and deserted.

Then, the cure for his boredom struck him. If they would not come to him he would go to them. His reptilian face split into gave a toothy smile and he let out a throaty chuckle. The sound continued to echo through the cavern as his massive form contracted and morphed into that of a plump, homely traveller. Yes indeed, it was time for him to have some fun.

***

Grizwald strolled into Medivir, a barbarian settlement of perhaps a hundred souls. Their spearman-ship was legendry—it was rumored they could take out a butterfly’s eye at a hundred yards or more—but they were a friendly people who always greeted a traveller as friend until otherwise was proven.

The shape-shifted dragon walked slowly to the Jarhaut Hall, and he was met with nods and pleasant hellos from the populace. Jarhaut Hall was the center of village recreation, a meeting place with a warm fire, a smokey atmosphere and much laughter from the little Humans. Grizwald had forgotten how pleasing laughter was to his ancient ears.

A rich booming voice caught his attention. “Here traveller! Rest, have a mug of ale with us, and perhaps share a tale or two”.

Grizwald recognised the speaker as Draaril, the chief’s son, a likable, if wild child, always running off into mischief. Wasn’t Grizwald looking for such a man? Grizwald accepted the mug with exuberance, happy to be in the company of humanoids. As the dragon pondered, the crowd around him started to chant: “A poem for us, Maydith! Please, a poem!”

A young girl was gently pushed into the centre of the hall. She blushed deeply, her soft brown eyes lowered to the floor. “What, what should I tell of?”

Draaril’s Voice boomed above the others “Of glory and battle! Tell of our strength and our good looks!”

Maydith nodded, more to herself than to the onlookers. Then, her soft lilting voice filled the air and silenced the raucous crowd.

“When crashing blows and spears do fly the men of Medivir stay strong,

With faces set and hearts of stone,
 The hoards of death are pushed far back,

Darkness never shall I fear nor
Run from any danger
A Life time will I spend
And happy shall I toil
Remembering life and bliss
In his sweet
Loving kiss”

Grizwald watched and listened and smiled when he saw where Maydith’s gaze had rested and whose name her ditty spelt. So, the little maid loved the chief’s son. Draaril followed her with an admiring gaze as the crowd applauded and she returned to one of the many benches around the fire pit.  There was no doubt in the dragon’s mind that he cared for her, too.
 
 

 “Now stranger what of you?” Draaril’s voice boomed. “Perhaps you have heard news or a tale that we have not as yet?”

Grizwald nodded and strode to the centre of the hall. He sat down cross-legged and beckoned the assembly to draw near to hear his words. They shifted eagerly at the promise of news from the outside world. Grizwald cleared his throat and drew from a sack a large collar studded with small inexpensive stones and a crumpled map the villagers watched a little baffled. He cleared his throat again and then began his tale.

 “Long ago, there was a mighty dragon who sought the company of men to talk with, to share his vast knowledge with, and to whom he could boast of his wondrous hoard; for it was a truly a sight to behold gems and books, coins and weapons.

“Unfortunately, his existence was blighted with the weak, greedy and foolish that tormented and hounded him, for all he offered in their eyes were his thick scales for armour, claws to be honed into daggers and spear tips, and enough treasure to buy an empire. His life became an unbearable toil of betrayal and lies.

“One fated day, the ultimate betrayer struck. A mage made a collar and laced it with the dragon’s tears and bound the dragon to do his bidding. This collar.” Grizwald paused and moved the collar in his hands leisurely. He dropped his eyes to gaze at it, recalling how long it had it taken him to remove the accursed thing, and dispose of that annoying wizard.

  “The dragon eventually freed itself from the wizard, but in the process the collar was lost to him. My long quest has been to give the collar to the dragon so he will never be enslaved again. Far have I travelled and much have I learned, but still the lair of this fine creature eludes me.” Grizwald looked around those gathered and smiled “I may have grown old and frail during my travels, and perhaps a younger, stronger man would have a better chance of succeeding, but I shall continue with but this map and my sheer willpower to see me through. For who would I ask to do such a thing with me?”

Draaril stepped forward and grasped Grizwald’s shoulder in a hefty, sturdy reassuring grasp. “You may count on me, traveller, for long have I sought such a task as this. Allow me to travel with you and help in this search for none should be imprisoned by sorcery ”

Grizwald smiled at Draaril and nodded “Yes a travelling companion would be most welcome”

The assembly cheered and Draaril’s friends gathered around him and offered excited congratulations.

Maydith watched, her soft eyes aglow with a mixture of pride and fear. She then walked quietly from the hall. Grizwald was the only one that noticed her departure. He imagined she went to prepare a travelling pack for her beloved while wishing she were able to go with him

Grizwald and Draaril talked and planned, looking at the map occasionally. The hall emptied unhurriedly as the evening grew old. Eventually they too settled down for the night. Draaril’s dreams were filled with visions of meeting a dragon for the first time.

Maydith was the only one who saw them off in the cold misty morning. The pack she gave him was light but packed with thoughtfulness and love. It contained an extra warm pelt of fur, a flint and steel, dried meat and a few herbs and spices to add to their meals a pot with two spoons, fishing hooks, rabbit net, and a ball of strong twine. She also gave Grizwald a small pack containing similar items.

“Safe travels and return soon, Draaril” She stood on tiptoes and brushed his cheek with her lips then ran back to her dwelling.

Draaril lifted his hand to his cheek, a rosy hue tingeing his tanned skin, gruffly he grunted, “Best get moving” He shouldered his pack and spear and the two men strode out of the village, forward to adventure.

Grizwald enjoyed the young barbarian’s company as they travelled talking of many things but many times sharing a simple companionable silence.

In the night Grizwald awakened. He sniffed the air and smiled laying back down quietly. Something was close. What would follow?, he wondered.

Draaril heard the noise too. His whole body tensed. Grabbing his spear he raised his arm to take aim in the direction of the noise, “Come out foul intruder for we know you are there!”

The grass rustled and parted two large luminous eyes looked into the clearing at Draaril “ni wik ni wik ni wik” Draaril gazed at the strange creature it was unlike any he had ever seen before yet it looked so harmless, “nix nok ni wik” the little creature rested back on it’s hind paws, head on one side it’s silver pelt shining pale and ghostly yet it didn’t seem scared of him.

“Grizwald,” the barbarian said sharply, taking half a step back and nudging the other man with a foot. “Grizwald  wake up you have to see this!”

Grizwald grunted, lifted his head, and gasped. “Well I’ll be! It’s a Grak!” The little creature hopped forward excitedly. It scratched at its pelt and gazed at Grizwald and hopped closer again. Grizwald sat up and Draaril lowered his spear “Do you know what it is, my boy?”

Draaril shook his head “No sir. I know many creatures but this I have never seen”

Grizwald watched the creature with fascination as it hopped closer and closer then jumped into his lap with a low rasping almost purring sound and curled up contentedly and slept. He spoke quietly to Draaril not wishing this little creature to awaken and leave, “Grak’s are all but extinct now, hunted for their pelts and eyes, did you see how its eyes glowed? Many wizards used them to make continual glow lamps the darker it grows the more their eyes shine” He stroked a soft silken ear and felt a contentment and joy he had not known for so long. Draaril nodded and gazed at the creature for a while and returned to his bedroll to sleep a little longer glad he had not loosed his spear at the little beast. Grizwald also slept with the soft pelt of the Grak nestled against his hand.

Grizwald knew the time had come for them to head towards his home, for Draaril to meet him as a dragon. How would the lad react would he truly talk and wish to set the creature free or be dazzled by the thought of wealth and personal gain? The little Grak snuffled around the clearing and followed as they restarted their journey.

“Look,” exclaimed Draaril “See there ahead the twin hills with the stream and the old twisted tree we are close!” Draaril was a little puzzled at Grizwald’s lack of enthusiasm “What is wrong? We have found the dragon’s lair! Why so sad?”

Grizwald sat on a big rock and patted it beside him. “Sit here a moment my friend, I have something to say and it is not easy for me. I will not enter the cave. I cannot. You must go alone.”

Draaril frowned. Then his face grew soft with sympathy. “You truly are too old, aren’t you?

Grizwald returned the smile as the Grak climbed on his lap and up against his chest and batted his nose with his paws. He handed Draaril the collar and map and gave him a pat on the back. “Good luck, my boy. We will wait for you here.”

Draaril held his spear tightlly and proceeded towards where the map showed the entrance to the cave. He found it easily—a large gap in the rocks opening before him into darkness. As he entered lights glimmered and shone, a soft burnished light flickering and dancing. The tunnel wended its way into the very heart of the hills opening into a small valley dotted here and there with goats and sheep. He sat for a moment just gazing at this peaceful scene. He felt the shadow fall across him as he saw a mighty flash of Brass, and a magnificent beast swooped from the sky and plucked one of the goats from the pasture, not tearing and ripping more a merciful and quick culling. The Dragon lifted its head and looked at him carefully and snorted slightly.

 “What do you wish here human?” its voice was cultured and rich.

Draaril coughed slightly. Draaril felt the sweat beading down his back, his thoughts jumbled and twisted as he gazed at the dragon. He finally found his voice. “I came to return this.” He held out the collar.

A small silver spot slid from from the dragon’s pate and onto his long snout, between his huge eyes. IT was the Grak.

 ”Little one,” the dragon said. “Stop it, you will spoil things playing like that.”

The Grak balanced on his snout and stated in a irritated little squeaks “Nix Nix Nio”

The Dragon nodded slightly “You are right, the time for truth is needed. Draaril, it is I Grizwald. I am the Dragon we travelled to see. Please don’t be angry I was lonely and wished companionship I found you and Grak and count myself blessed.”

Draaril swallowed hard and gazed at the large Dragon with the small furry bundle perched so trustingly on his snout and chuckled. Grizwald let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding at the sound of Draaril’s chuckle. “Come, my boy, we shall go somewhere a little more comfortable and talk?”

Draaril followed him as he changed into the more familiar form of Grizwald.

The cave they entered was a large area. The floor was covered with coins and gems of every imaginable shape and composition. Bookshelves lined the walls, straining under the weight of tomes of all ages and sizes. Draaril stared open-mouthed at the variety of weapons and armour in various racks all exceptionally clean and well oiled.

Draaril quietly placed the collar and map on a shelf and turned to Grizwald, who was scurrying around   preparing a meal for him. ““I don’t understand. You merely wished companionship? Why not stay in the village and tell tales?”

Grizwald looked at him “We travelled, we talked, we met Grak, and we had fun. Did you feel no excitement, no apprehension, and no joy at completing this quest? Yes I set it up and there was no real danger but look around you think what you have accomplished and the joy you have given an old tired dragon.”

Draaril did think as they ate. He thought of the journey, of sleeping under the stars, of seeing the Grizwald’s true appearance for the first time. He felt no anger, only a slow dawning of what true friendship and caring had meant to Grizwald. He clasped Grizwald’s hand in his and smiled broadly. “Thank you it was wonderful to travel and see new places and hear you talk of far off places and adventures. I am proud to call you friend.”

Grak tumbled across the floor squeaking happily and returned to cuddle close to Grizwald. “It seems I have acquired a new friend besides you,” the dragon mused, petting a furry ear with a smile. “I cast to find a familiar so very, very long ago I had given up hope and now I have a rare and wonderful familiar!”

Draaril spent many days with Grizwald, who spent little time in his humanoid form, instead allowing Draaril to grow used to the natural majestic aura of a dragon. The young man learned much from the dragon, mastering philosophy even as they cleaned the weapons and armour. The conversation occasionally turned to Maydith and the village. Draaril slowly realised he loved her and wished her to be his bride. He blurted it out in a mad rush as it dawned startling himself with the words he found to describe her beauty and cleverness.

Grizwald smiled. “Now, my friend, let us return to your home so all may see how you have grown”

Grizwald urged Draaril to climb onto his back where a large pack and a small pouch for Grak were already secured firmly. Draaril revelled in the flight the large powerful wings beating the cool night air the fields so far below rivers and lakes hills and valleys till he saw a landmark he recognised, Migarink’s Tor, a huge rocky crag that over looked the village. He was returning and Maydith would be there her soft eyes lowered and her lip trembling. He felt such joy he almost sang.

Grizwald landed in a small pasture just outside the village so he would not startle the good folk of Medivir. Draaril alighted and helped remove the pack. After Grizwald changed his shape into that othe traveller, they strode into the Jarhaut Hall.

Maydith forgot her shyness and rushed into Draaril arms and hugged him tightly tears shining in her eyes, Draaril smiled back and moved a stray strand of burnished gold hair from her face and kissed her soft lips. “Maydith my sweetest I have thought much of you and I wish to ask your father for your hand in marriage. Will you agree to this?” Maydith buried her face in his strong, muscled chest and nodded, crying tears of joy.

The villagers crowded round as Draaril told his tale, with Maydith on his knee and a jug of ale in hand he told of the travel of the visit to the dragon and how the dragon was now very happy, Draaril raised his jug in salute to Grizwald and nodded.

The night before the wedding Draaril paced and refused to drink the many tankards of ale thrust at him He wished to make Maydith proud of him, to respect him and love him, not be ashamed as he staggered and fumbled around.

His eyes opened slowly in the dawn light his head was unclouded yet he had no knowledge of leaving the drinking hall. A faint knocking at the door and Grizwald entered smiling carrying his pack with him, “A wedding gift my friend” he drew from the pack a helm embedded with dragon teeth, a suit of dragon scale armour and the most magnificent spear Draaril had ever seen, its head carved from the claw of a dragon. “Blessings on this day!” He left Draaril to change into his new finery for the ceremony, as he hurried to knock on Maydith’s door. The door opened and Maydith smiled at him “Grizwald what are you doing here I have to change and be ready soon.

Chuckling Grizwald pulled out his gifts for Maydith, an intricate headdress of jewelled simple elegance and matching earrings “Blessings on this day!”

The ceremony was short but meaningful and soon the party began the cheers and laughter filling the air and ribald jokes occasionally making the young newly weds blush

“The surprise! Tell them, Grizwald, tell them.” The happy crowd united in the cheer.

Grizwald seemed a little embarrassed but stepped forward “I am to take you to a quiet area for your honeymoon, I am to be your transport if you will allow it” He was submerged by the joint hugs from Draaril and Maydith “Oh Grizwald thank you so much “Draaril clasped his shoulder and they organised when they would set forth.

The whole village waved to them as the mounted the large Dragon who was know a welcome and trusted friend, Maydith clung to Draaril a little uncertain but he sat proud and tall, a true heir to the throne of chieftain but knowing in his heart nothing but the precious creature in his arms mattered. Grizwald beat his wings and lifted effortless into the sky then circled over the villagers slowly rose petals scattering from small bags he had held in his claws. He gave a cry of utter happiness and turned into the sunset carrying the newly weds to privacy and quiet.

The Beginning.


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