dragon challenge header

not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment

A Treatise on the Habits of the Greater Blue Horned Dragon

by Patchworkdragon

When he first heard rumors that a dragon had gone to live on the mountain, Joseph laughed and ordered another ale. After all, who believed in dragons these days? But the barmaid was frightened at the tales, and clung to him, and he promised he would make sure no scaly beast could carry her away in the night.

The next morning as he stumbled home from the barmaid's bed, he could not stop thinking of the dragon. If he squinted just right he could see a bit of glow that should not be, almost at the top of the mountain.

As he fired up his forge and began to bend horseshoes, his eyes strayed often to his grandfather's sword, hanging in pride of place opposite the door. His grandfather had slain a dragon, one of the last. Only a small one, he'd always say, but Granny would pull his hair and call him modest. She said it had managed to lift her from the ground, how small could it have been? Then they would look at each other and Joseph would have to look away, because they were too old for such looks and him far too young to see them.

That very sword had killed one dragon, and it could kill another. And if the dragon did not currently have any beautiful maidens captured, what of it? He would be protecting all the beautiful women, and many of them were sure to be even more grateful for his deeds than the barmaid was for his words last night.


The dragon was not merely a tale to Chris and his family. They barely scratched out a living as it was, grazing their few sheep up on the rocky hillside. His mother needed wool to spin to make the yarn they sold at market, and so every time they gathered the flock and counted one less ewe it was a blow to their livelihood. He would not let the girls out to bring in the sheep, because everyone knew dragons liked pretty girls and Chris did not want to lose a sister.

The other thing everyone knew about dragons was that they slept on beds of gold. Chris thought of the gold, saw it in his dreams. Gold that would be a dowry for his sisters. Gold that he could use to buy a house in town for his mother. Gold he could then use to go somewhere, anywhere that did not smell like sheep.

Maybe he couldn't slay a dragon as easily as he could bring down a rabbit with his sling, but he could climb a mountain, and he could sneak.

After all, everyone knew dragons slept through the day.


When Justin heard about the dragon, he could not believe his luck. Finally, a challenge to prove his manhood, a deed to bring him the fame and glory he so richly deserved. He'd been training all his life for this moment, for this quest. Well, a quest anyway. Something real, something purposeful, something... Anything other than another damn tournament.

His mother looked worried and bit her lip, but she tried to smile as she helped him don his armor. She tried to convince him to bring a few men, but he knew he would not need their help. Heroes faced dragons alone, did they not?

Besides, probably it was only a small dragon.


Lance was very lucky to have such indulgent and well educated parents. After he'd read every book in their library about dragons, his mother had written to other scholars and begged for copies of any more they might see. When he'd proclaimed at the advanced age of six—that he would go by his second name, because it sounded more... dragonish, his father had only laughed and said it would be less confusing than having both of them answer to James.

Lance was also very lucky that his sister had married a man from across the sea, a man who was happy to share tales of the dragons of the North. Tales of the men who rode the dragons, soaring above the world and controlling all that power with but a word. He'd even given Lance an old worn book of spells for dragon speech, and Lance had managed some rather boring conversations with lizards. All they ever spoke of was bugs and the weather.

But the real luck was when he saw the tendril of smoke rising from around the curve of the mountain. And he knew that a dragon, his dragon, was finally here.


Joshua wanted to be anywhere other than where he was. Well, maybe not anywhere, a gallows might be worse, or standing in the muck of a pig sty. Anything involving needles was right out, too.

But really, the cave was dark and dank and smelt of smoke, and he was so tired of eating nothing but half raw, half burnt... mutton. If it wasn't mutton, he would pretend it was anyway. And he'd been wearing the same clothes for months. If it weren't so cold at night, up here on the mountain, he'd burn them just to be quit of the rags.

In all the songs, dragons carried away beautiful maidens, who then languished until rescued by brave knights. He was no maiden, he was not beautiful, and the knight was far behind schedule. And he was pretty sure he was getting the languishing bit all wrong.

The dragon shifted then, scraping something sharp across the rock, and Joshua huddled further into his little crevice.


It was twilight when the three men finally reached the mouth of the dragon's cave. They had worried much on the journey that they would have trouble knowing the cave assuming it did live in a cave when they found it, but there was no doubt that this was it. Bones lay strewn about the mouth of the cave, broken and burnt and picked clean of all flesh; sheep bones by Christopher's guess, and neither of the others wished to disagree. The smell was foul, like a thousand pig pens had been filled with the refuse of a hundred butcher shops, and then set on fire.

"If the cave is no taller than me," Justin said as they peered from behind the only bit of vegetation that had not been charred to cinders or trampled flat, "then the dragon must be rather small."

"But large enough to lift a full grown ewe," Chris said.

"Have you no optimism?"

"None whatsoever."

"What’s that moving over there?" Joseph asked.

"It’s a man. Someone else hunting the dragon?"

Christopher snorted. "He’s poking dragon shit with a stick, I hardly call that hunting."

"Why is he just out there in the open, doesn’t he know there’s a dragon?"

"Maybe he already killed it," Justin said glumly. "He’s not worried because he already killed it."

"And he’s looking for the treasure in the shit?" Joseph smacked Justin’s head. "He’s just insane."

Christopher silently agreed that the man certainly did not look sane. He was wandering around the desolate ground with a lantern, poking at the noxious piles with a long staff, peering closely at them. As he worked his way closer to their bushes, Joseph could see that he had a cloth tied over his face, presumably to block the smell.

"What are you all hiding from?" the man asked them, and they all winced at the cheerfully loud shout.

"The dragon," hissed Justin.

"She's asleep, no need to worry until sunrise unless you go into her cave." He pulled down his face cloth and held up his lantern, revealing a perfectly shaven face. Christopher found himself rubbing at the weeks of untrimmed growth on his own face, and quickly pulled his hand away from his face before he could continue teasing out his usual horns.

The man continued to walk towards their hiding place. "Do you really think that a dragon would miss you cowering out here? They hunt mostly by scent you know, and by sensing the heat of your body."

"Cowering?" Justin said hotly, and Christopher had to grab him by the back of his belt to keep him from leaping at the newcomer. The man was close enough that it was obvious his lantern shone with a cold green light, and whether he was a mage himself or merely using the works of one Christopher knew enough to be cautious.

In the sickly green light of the lantern the stranger's eyes gleamed golden with amusement. "A broody female can go up to month without leaving her cave except to relieve herself and to soak up the heat of the sun. Unless she feels that her clutch is threatened, she will not stir herself until tomorrow when the rocks are warm."

"The beast is broody?" Christopher asked with horror. He thought of his sheep, half of them already lost, and wondered just how much meat a baby dragon might eat.

"Aye. But I am worried, by her spoor she seems unwell."

Now Christopher had to stop himself from rushing to attack the man. "Worried? This beast has taken nearly a dozen full grown sheep from me this month, and tried to take my sister as well! How can you worry about a monster like that?"

"Only a dozen? When was the last one? And have you heard of anyone missing that could have been taken?"

"None missing, not for lack of the beast trying." Joseph answered, a calming hand on Christopher's arm. "It has tried for at least two maidens of the village but they escaped, and then there's Christopher's sister."

"So she might be alone in there." For the first time, the man looked uncertain. "Perhaps I should go in."

"The only thing you should do is stand aside while we slay the beast," Justin said, "since you seem disinclined to help."

"Slay her? You can't! She's the only blue horned dragon seen on this continent in the last century! I can't imagine where she even found a mate, but I've been tracking her for months just to be here for the hatching."

Having had enough, Christopher did jump forward now, standing directly in front of the stranger with his hands on his hips. "You are going to tell us who you are, why you are here, and everything you know about dragons."

"My name is no business of yours, I've already told you I'm here to witness the hatching and gather more information, and since it took me more than ten years to learn all I know about dragons I doubt you have either have the patience or the intellectual capacity to understand."

Definitely a mage they were the only ones so touchy about sharing their names. Christopher was too angry to be very wary. "Look, Mage," he snarled, letting all his resentment of the power wizards held over normal men color his tone. "You face three experienced fighters here, and you have naught but a lantern. We are going to ensure that that creature does not pillage our flock or steal any of our maidens, and we will not let you stop us."

The man raised an eyebrow, and then suddenly grinned. "You are brave, I'll give you that, little man." Christopher scowled, the mage was only taller than him by perhaps two fingers' width. "Let us sit and talk, and try to come to some agreement."

Christopher was wary, and would have continued the argument but Joseph was suddenly there, introducing himself and Justin. He sulked all through the meal, refusing to acknowledge that the mage's stores of fresh vegetables made the meal the best he'd had since they set out on this journey.

After the meal, the mage started to ask them each why they were hunting the dragon. Christopher only half listened, instead staring through the black night towards the faint glow of the dragon's cave. The mage was not foolish enough to address him directly, and soon the conversation turned towards the habits of dragons.

"Why do they steal maidens?" Joseph asked. "I know why I would snatch a pretty girl, but what would a monster like that do with her?"

"It's because she's broody. Yon shepherd could tell you that beasts sometimes have trouble with birthing, and dragons too need some assistance. They are so much larger than their own young that it is hard for the mother to help the eggs to open, or to care for the hatchlings without damaging them. They bring young people to stay through the brooding period so that they can have hands to aid them."

"Why would the girls ever help them? How would they know what to do," Joseph asked, while at the same time Justin asked "Why do they only take the pretty ones?"

The mage settled back, and began to speak as if reciting from memory. "The blue horned dragon, while not the largest, is the most magically powerful of all dragons. It is especially practiced at controlling the minds of others, though it can only affect one target at a time. A blue horned dragon will cause a cow or sheep to remain still and wait to be slaughtered, or an attacking lion to back away and never return. They have little interest in men unless provoked, other than the usual draconic fascination with gold and other shining things. The one exception is that the brooding female dragon will choose a person to assist in the hatching and raising of the young dragonets. Those who survive the experience do not remember the time while they are under the control of the dragon, only the times when the dragon releases them to sleep or hunt. Frequently they come to care about the dragonets almost as pets, and continue caring for them while the mother is away from the lair. However, should the nurse remain long enough for the dragonets to grow too large, they will surely devour their erstwhile caretaker. When the nurse has either escaped or been eaten, the mother dragon considers the dragonets to be capable of survival on their own and abandons them to make their way in the world."

He looked around at them, and Christopher spoke for the first time since before dinner. "So basically the dragon snatches someone to use as a wet-nurse for her little monsters, and then at the end they eat their own nanny?"

"Yes, though I am worried in this case. If she hasn't caught a nurse yet the young are doomed, and if she even if she has a captive in there, her lack of hunting in these last weeks means that person may have starved or met some other end."

"When do you think the eggs will hatch?"

"Usually dragons hatch right at the end of summer, so I would guess it could be soon. I will know better after I go in to check."

"No one is going in there except to slay the dragon, destroy the eggs, and set free the captive if there is one."

The mage was about to reply, a scowl on his face and green eyes flashing, when Justin interrupted.

"What I want to know is, why they choose only pretty girls to be the nurse? Are they easier for the dragon to control?"

"They don't choose just girls, they choose young men and women in good health, which often means beautiful," the mage replied, distracted from Christopher by the opportunity to lecture. "Men are more likely to escape, being stronger, and if they are taken they are mostly believed to have died fighting the dragon. When a dragon is desperate enough to attempt a capture in front of other people, they will choose the smallest suitable target, which is likely to be a young woman."

"That explains it," said Joseph. "No one could understand why the dragon tried to take Helga, she's not even passing fair but she's as healthy as a horse." He grinned, "looks a lot like one, too, and I won't say which end."

Justin laughed, but Christopher and the mage were back to glaring at one another.


It took them several hours, by which time Justin and Joseph had both fallen asleep, but Christopher and the mage had finally reached a compromise. They would venture into the cave together, both unarmed, just to see what was what. The mage seemed very sure that they could do so safely if they went cautiously, and it was close enough to Christopher's original plan to steal from the dragon's horde to make up the cost of his lost sheep.

They woke Joseph and told him their plan, and he obviously disapproved but said little. The mage left his cloak behind, saying it would only be in the way, and Christopher followed suit, but did empty his pack and bring it along. Just in case. They walked along the edge of the cleared space in front of the cave, picking their way by the dull green mage light until they reached to warm glowing opening. It was indeed low; though both men could step through easily, the two taller men they'd left behind would have had to duck.

The chill of the night was behind them and a faint warmth before them, when the mage said, "We need to be silent from here on. Keep your back to the wall as much as you can, and move slowly." Christopher nodded, and followed him in.

The cave was no higher inside than out, and after cracking his head twice Christopher quickly learned to keep one hand on the ceiling above to feel for sudden bumps in the rock. The circle of green light was broken by the silhouette of the mage who seemed to duck without needing to feel for the bumps. He never stumbled either, but placed each step as surely as if the floor were the flat polished marble of a palace rather than broken stone. Christopher hated mages.

They walked quite a long way, keeping to the right side of the eerily straight passage, before the ground began to drop. Soon Christopher was able to walk without fearing for his skull, and all the while the air grew warmer and the smell more foul. The faint glow visible from outside never seemed to get nearer, until suddenly the passage veered sharply left and opened up below them.

The cavern seemed large, though Christopher could not say for sure how far back it reached. The mage had darkened his lantern and the only source of light was the reddish glow of the dragon itself. From this angle, Chris could not be sure of its size or how far away it was. It lay curled on one side, well away from any wall and he could see the vague shapes of objects strewn about all around.

"She is beautiful," the mage whispered, and Christopher tried to glare at him in the dark. But he could not find any words to deny the beauty of the beast as it lay here in its rightful place.

The mage pulled at his arm, leading him around another twist to where they could see only the very edge of the dragon's glow. Thus shielded, the mage relit his lantern and began to rummage in his pack. He pulled out something, and Christopher's eyes widened as he realized that the bundle was at least twice the size of the pack itself. With a quick shake the bundle was revealed to be a sort of net, only an arm span wide, which the mage began to lower from their ledge down towards the cavern below. He fussed for some time, and having nothing to do, Chris crept back around to look again at the dragon.

She It lay very still. The glow seemed to come from inside the dragon, as if it were filled with fire that shone through its skin. He thought that some of the objects on the floor shone a little, reflecting the light, and was glad he had brought his pack.

A sudden hissing sound made him turn back, and he could see the mage beckoning him. One end of the rope net lay on the floor, the rest trailing off the edge and out of sight. There was nothing visibly stopping the rope from falling, by all rights it should have fallen already under it's own weight. But the mage was pointing down, clearly expecting Christopher to use it as a makeshift ladder.

He shook his head. No.

The mage looked disgusted, but nodded once before darkening the lantern again. The ropes themselves glowed the same green, just enough to be seen but not enough to light anything else. Christopher watched as the dark shadow of the mage's body first blocked out the visible part of the rope and then was gone over the edge. He was alone in the dark with a glowing rope ladder and a distant dragon.


Lance had been angry as he started down the ladder, angry at the shepherd who insisted on coming with him but didn't trust his magic enough to climb down the ladder. Angry at all men who slaughtered dragons and other magnificent creatures out of fear and ignorance. But it was hard to hold onto anger while concentrating on climbing quickly but carefully down.

Instead his mind turned towards the dragon. She must be ill, all the signs were there, but he did not have the knowledge to be sure of what sort of illness it might be. At this stage she should be more active, should have noticed the intruders and be guarding her clutch. But the glow he could see reflected on the cavern wall was steady and unmoving, as if she slept too deeply to hear them scuffling about.

He was nearing the bottom here the last few yards of the ladder pooled on the floor when he felt the rope shake from the weight of another. So the shepherd had finally gathered his courage. No matter, Lance could keep him from harming the dragon should he try.

Dismissing the other man from his mind, Lance stepped off of the ladder and shook his arms to loosen tired muscles. He was not looking forward to the return trip.

When he stepped carefully into the main cavern, his worry deepened. This close he could see that her skin was almost translucent, the heat in her burning so bright that even a dragon could not contain it. Of course, he'd never seen one of the greater dragons alive before, they were far too rare and he'd only seen the smaller breeds. But from his studies he thought this was unusual.

He went very slowly, creeping up until he reached the first scattered debris on the floor. By the dragon's light he could see that is was the expected mix of old bones and battered metal. Now he crept even more quietly, dragging his feet to avoid stumbling over anything. He readied his spells in his mind.

Behind him heard the slight scuffling of Christopher, gaining on him. Then he heard a similar movement somewhere off to one side, and he froze. With a whispered word he lit up a small glow in that direction.


"What do you mean they went in together? They were ready to kill each other last night!" Justin hurriedly pulled his mail shirt on.

Joseph shook his head. "They disagreed on what to do about the dragon, but there will be no killing. Christopher could kill I think, but only to save himself or someone helpless, not in anger. And the mage seems more interested in knowledge than in killing those who disagree with him."

"But I was supposed to slay the dragon. What if they kill it, and I never even get to see it?" Justin said, his voice getting higher with each word. He grabbed up his sword, looked around the camp a moment, and started up the slope towards the cave.

Joseph sighed and covered up the fire, though it felt a little pointless when they were surrounded on all sides by charred rock. He packed up Justin's bedroll, and stacked it with Christopher's pack. The mage had left nothing behind save his cloak. He hefted his own pack and strapped his grandfather's sword behind it, and then lit one of the torches he'd prepared the night before. Then he trudged up to the cave.

He did not really need the torch at first, he found. The tunnel was straight and light penetrated quite a ways. The ceiling was uncomfortably low, he could not stand straight, and so he was relieved when the floor finally began to dip after he'd walked nearly half an hour. Then the way turned sharply and he found himself on a high ledge, looking down over a cavern. His torch did nothing to light the enormous space, though it did show Justin standing close to the edge, peering down.

When Joseph joined him, he could see the dragon glowing softly far below. Off to one side was the green glow of the mage's lantern, with some movement going on. The dragon did not seem to notice that at all, so it probably would not react to his smaller torch.

They watched a while, but had to admit they could not tell what was happening. Sure that the others had found a way down, they began to investigate around the ledge. It was Justin who saw a green glow off to one side away from the cavern, which turned out to be a rope ladder. It appeared to be just laying across the rock, but when Joseph crawled on hands and knees to look over the edge he saw that it hung down for a long distance.

He tugged at the ropes a little and found that they appeared to be securely fastened to the rock. Justin was already crouching over the edge, fitting his feet to the ladder, and so Joseph shrugged and extinguished his torch. He decided to leave it here at the top, since it was too hot to put back in his pack. They would need it on the way out at any rate.

The climb was long and dull, and Joseph had to stop himself from singing to while away the time. Below him Justin went so slowly that he was in constant danger of stepping on the young knight's head, so he made a game of trying to stay three levels above the boy. The fact that he could only see Justin by looking for the dark patches where he couldn't see the ropes just made the game more challenging.

But eventually they did reach bottom, and they stood a moment so that Justin could catch his breath. That chain mail did look very heavy.

They first approached the patch of green light, keeping it between them and the dragon. Justin kept glancing towards the beast, but Joseph for the moment was more interested in where the other two men had gone and peered ahead trying to make sense of the movement in the dim green light. He stumbled over something and choked back a curse, looking over to the dragon to make sure it hadn't moved. It lay still, glowing softly. It was like iron that had been heated in the forge, a red glow shining through blue skin that flowed like molten metal. It was beautiful.

He tore his gaze away, and took a chance on lighting another torch. Now he could see that he had tripped over what appeared to be half of a helmet, rusted and dented. Ahead of him Justin too was stumbling, and Joseph quickly caught up with him so they could share the light.

All around them was more debris: part of a plow, at least four washbasins, and what looked like an oversized baby's rattle. The mage had said something about dragons liking shiny things, and this seemed a bit... drab for a dragon's hoard.

The light itself moved then, as someone picked it up and moved it a few yards further away before setting it down. Joseph and Justin began moving faster. Eventually they were close enough to hear muttering, and then to see Christopher walking back and forth, peering at the ground and picking things up. Some of them he put in his pack, but most he threw back down.

"A dozen sheep I lost, and not a gold coin to be found. Ooo, Molly would like this bit. And what the hell is this? Idiot mage and his damned rope net ladder contraption. I climbed down to the bowels of the earth to find old rusted cooking pots? Where are the jewels?”

"Where is the mage?" Justin hissed to him, and he glanced up and then towards the dragon.

"Over there somewhere, I don't know. It hasn't moved since we got here, so I'm trying to find something to make it worth the trip. Do either of you have any water?"

Joseph unslung his pack and pulled out a flask, stretching it out to Christopher.

"Not for me, for him," he said, pointing to one side of the dragon. In the glow of the beast Joseph noticed for the first time something that might be a man slumped on the ground. He walked that way, carefully stepping over the bits of metal strewn thicker and thicker this close to the dragon. From the corner of his eye he could see Justin stalking the unmoving bulk of the dragon.

The man was ragged and filthy, and as thin as a scarecrow. His hair and beard grew wildly in all directions, like Christopher's but somehow more. The man clutched gratefully at the offered water, drinking it quickly at first but slowing down when he choked a little.

"Thank you," he croaked hoarsely. "I've been licking water off a rock for ages."

"You're welcome," Joseph replied, utterly confused but going along. No one but Justin seemed concerned about the dragon, though he had yet to see where the mage was in all this strangeness.

"I wish there were enough to bathe in, I must look a fright."

"How long have you been here?"

"Lance said it is late August, so it must be going on four months since the dragon grabbed me, though this is not our first cave. We've been here a long time, and it hasn't brought any more food for quite a while.

"I have some bread and cheese here," Joseph said, digging into his pack again.

"You do?" When the man smiled, his eyes crinkled up until they disappeared. "Anything but half raw burnt mutton would be a dream come true."

Dazedly Joseph watched at least three men's dinner disappear into the skinny man. When he seemed to be finished, Joseph asked him, "Who is Lance?"

"The mage that's talking to the dragon. Did he not journey here with you?"

"We met him right outside the cave, and he did not give his name."

"Ah. My name is Joshua, by the way. Are you the knight that's come to rescue me?"

"Nay, just the blacksmith come for an adventure; my name is Joseph. The man over there shining in chain mail, Justin, is your... is the knight." They watched as Justin tripped over something, both of them wincing as he skidded several feet before scrambling upright again.

"I think I prefer the mage," Joshua said. He stood up with but a little help from Joseph, and then began to walk towards the dragon himself. He walked in a curious shuffling fashion, and Joseph realized that he was keeping his feet on the ground and sliding, stopping when he brushed against something. If he had been in here for months then he must know how to move about in the dark, and so Joseph imitated his strange gait as he followed.


Justin stood before the dragon, sword held limply in his hand. The beast looked... wrong. It lay so still, though its head was as tall as Justin its flank had moved barely a hair's breadth in all the time he had watched it. It lay on a tangled mass of metal that could not possibly be comfortable, curled on one side with wings furled tightly.

Beside it knelt the mage. Perhaps he was working a spell, perhaps he had used magic to quiet the beast. But somehow Justin thought not.

For there were tears streaming down the mage's cheeks, shining in the red-blue glow of the dragon. The great faceted eye blinked once, and the mage spoke softly, his hand on the muzzle just above a tooth the size of Justin's sword. As he watched the eye closed slowly, and did not open again.

He heard dragging footsteps behind him, and turned to see Joseph and a strange ragged man. "This is not how it was supposed to be," he complained to Joseph, who only nodded once.

The mage turned, seeming surprised to find them standing there. He walked past Justin to the ragged man and took his hands speaking softly. The man nodded, and then the mage said to them. "If you wish to claim a trophy, you'd best do so soon. Within a few hours she will burn up, and there will be naught but bones. But first I need your help to remove a wing."

"Why a wing?" asked Justin, hoping that something would make sense.

"For a spell so we don't have to climb back out. I think Christopher will be too laden for my poor rope, and Joshua is far too weak to carry himself so far. I hear tail tips are a popular trophy, or one of the smaller fore claws. Though such an appendage is often taken without killing the dragon, so if you wish for true acclaim you should take a horn."

He walked out of sight around the dragon, and Justin looked helplessly at Joseph, silently begging for an explanation.

"I think it's dead, Justin."

"I should not be sad," said the ragged man. Joshua. "This thing carried me away from my home, such as it was, and kept me in dark wet caves for months, fed me on burnt and rotting meat, and probably would have killed me in the end. But it was beautiful, and I am sad to see it die before the eggs could hatch." His eyes closed, and his face behind the matted beard glowed in the light of the dying dragon. "I used to dream of the babies, of pulling them free of the shells, of keeping them here in the warm nest when they would stray."

His eyes opened, and there was a darkness in them "And then I dreamed of them tearing me to pieces while I wept for their beauty."

Justin took a step back, away from Joshua, and then turned towards the dragon. "Right. Hack off a wing. Well. I suppose this one would be easier, we would have to climb up to get at the other."


Joshua knew he had frightened the young knight, but he was past caring. He had eyes only for Lance, who had pulled three of the eggs out of the nest and was fussing about with them, green fire dripping from his hands. Only three, when Joshua had watched as the dragon laid at least a dozen more than that. Only three.

The mage was beautiful in his grief, his strong features lit in blue and red and green. He worked with a deep concentration, as if the two men cursing over the work of butchering the dragon did not exist. He had loved the beast, or the least the idea of it, and its death was a personal loss to him.

The other man, the angry one who wanted treasure, came up to Lance. He shouted, waving his arms about, pointing at the dead dragon and at the eggs, but the mage never lifted his eyes from his work. Finally the man gave up and began poking about the nest. He pulled out the other eggs one by one, smashing them on the ground. Joshua looked away, back to where Lance worked magic.

Joshua fell asleep for a while, perhaps unsurprisingly after his first real meal for months. When he woke it was to Lance bent closely over him, his face still streaked with soot and tears. "You may wish to see this," he said softly as he helped Joshua to sit up.

Together they watched as the dragon burned. A few yards away the other three men sat watching, and even further away lay the dark cold bulk that must be the dismembered wing. The dragon burned from within, like a log in the back of a fireplace. No flames were visible, but the inner glow was brighter than Joshua had ever seen it and soon they had to move further away, dragging the heavy wing with them out of the heat. The burning dragon ran through many colors, too quickly to name them, and Joshua felt the edge of a song and wished that his lute had not been lost. He found himself leaning on Lance, who had one arm around him and one around something to his side. He could not stay awake any more, and drifted off to dreams of fire and green eyes.

When he woke again he found he had missed the last of the burning, and the cave was now lit only new a few torches and Lance's magical lantern. Once again Lance's face was his first sight upon waking, this time with a glad smile.

"The wing is ready, it is time to go."

Joshua allowed them to help him onto the leather wing, which was cupped like a small boat. It felt so cold without the dragon's internal fire, and he sat gingerly to avoid touching the wing as much as he could. They were crowded, with three large sacks and a huge urn and four men. Four?

"Where is Justin?"

"He wanted to climb. He's upset he didn't get to slay a dragon." Joseph said with a wry smile. Joshua nodded.

Lance spoke a word, and the wing-boat began to drift, swaying a little like a boat on the sea. They rose slowly to the little ledge where Joshua had first seen the men's lights, and then followed the tunnel out into the world.


When Joseph returned from his dragon slaying adventure, he had no miraculous tales to tell. He brought with him a heavy sack that sparked much debate, but finally Kelly, the miller's daughter, who was spending quite a bit of time in the smithy, told everyone that it was nothing but a sack of old scrap metal for the melting.

Of course she would say that, the gossips argued, what with marrying him and a babe already on the way. If there were any treasure she'd want to keep it secret same as him.


The treasure that Christopher had so carefully chosen was enough to buy his mother a small house in the town, and to provide dowries for his sisters. That was the extent of it though, since he'd only had one sack and not much good to pick from. So with the last of his coin he fitted out a covered wagon with a bed and some small stores of food, and bought a pair of horses and set out to see the world. He'd heard there were few sheep to the south.


Justin returned home not much older but possibly much wiser. He carried a sack but from it produced just one ruby necklace for his mother. The rest he kept hidden, for he could not bring himself to display the blue horns as if they were a trophy.

After all, he could get plenty of trophies in the tournaments. At least then he knew he had won.


The sunlight was fading outside the high window, and Lance started to speak a word to light the room, but then thought the better of it. He set aside his quill and stood, walking to the barred door. Inside the three dragons, no bigger than large dogs, turned to look at him. They glowed softly in the darkness.

He went over to the cages along the wall and picked one with several chickens. He spoke a word to stun them, and then brought them to the pen. As always, he could not watch. The dragonets had to be fed, but Lance had no stomach for blood. Instead he climbed the long stairs up out of the basement.


Joshua lounged on the terrace watching the sun set as he strummed his lute. He bent forward to adjust the tuning, and his hair fell over his eyes.

Before he could push it back, a hand brushed his hair gently aside. Green eyes stared into his, and Joshua smiled, sitting forward to allow Lance to slip in behind him.

"The little ones have fed?"

"Yes. Soon chickens won't be enough."

Joshua set his lute down. "So we'll buy sheep," he said, looking up into Lance's face. They smiled at one another and shared a kiss as the last rays of the sun died away.


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