Excerpt: Alain the Dragon Slayer

His stomach clenched in anticipation. It always did. He also felt the creeping cold of apprehension on the back of his neck. It was a fragile hope, scared to take fruition, though it was this fragile hope that brought him here. A hope that brought him to every dragon within the Kingdom of Maerrland.

The hope for true love.

Alain looked down the slopes, as if he was examining his route one more time. He wasn’t thinking about the wind whipping up the damp rocks, or the waves battling each other below. He was thinking about Lady Deirdre Stockwell, an innocent maiden known to be trapped there nearly four months ago. Alain had never met her, though her father Lord Niallan Stockwell was known to frequent the court. When she had been so cruelly captured while on holiday in the charming town just a few miles from here, her description and demeanor quickly spread throughout the Capitol.

The fairest hair, lighter than gold, though it glimmered just as much as sunlight. Pale skin like the first snowfall of the year and large eyes of purest topaz. Her laughter could charm songbirds and her smile could dazzle even the hardest of hearts.

Alain knew that these descriptions were typical for maidens taken by dragons. Their lustrous appearance could be just as tempting as gold or jewels to a dragon. That as well as their calm, mild personality and small delicate features would make them an easy target for any greedy dragon.

However, Alain didn’t want to think of dear Lady Deirdre as some perfect dragon bait. He thought only of how she would look, rushing into his arms after he defeated the dragon. How she would feel at his side as they entered the Capitol together. Her eyes would only be for him as she would lean close and whisper those perfect words to him…

“Master Alain? Do you feel well?”

Alain shook his head, reminding himself that he had yet to even meet Deirdre, let alone rescued her yet. He nodded to Wyndham. “Just meditating on my strategy,” he replied.

“Then perhaps, if you do decide to make an attempt today, that you set off now, while the light is good.”

Alain smiled, taking Wyndham’s elbow. “I shall then. Keep the torches lit and the fire warm for my return.”

“You are sure that you don’t require assistance? Shacklett or Benson could certainly accompany—?”

“Not this time.” Alain turned back to the sea, breathing in deeply. The bitter air only made him feel stronger, more powerful. The path to the hoard was narrow and dangerous. Bringing another would only make things more complicated.

Wyndham nodded, not saying anymore. He was an excellent manservant. He might question Alain at times, but always with good reason. He never pressed too hard, knowing his place

Alain began to make his way down the steep trail alone. It really wasn’t much of a trail, more of a random, jagged line of rocks that jutted out from the cliff enough that Alain could walk carefully down them. He knew eventually he would have to climb to reach the hoard, but he took his time.

Even so far up, some waves seemed to have enough power that their white spray could shower Alain’s feet. Whenever he approached a new dragon hoard, he wondered what the songs would say about him. If he were to die here, the songs would probably say he was cast down by the sea gods. Naturally, they would be jealous of Alain’s true spirit and pure heart. A divine ocean current would take Alain to the bottom of the Flotnar Sea, where his soul would be trapped until he could pass a series of trials that would test his every limit and weakness. Then, because he was so noble in spirit, he would succeed and be taken up by angels into paradise. It would be a very long song and undoubtedly very epic in nature. All to make up for the fact that Alain had died by slipping on some wet rocks.

Alain didn’t think of himself as morbid; he was just pragmatic. He hunted dragons for a living, which was a very dangerous hobby. To not be constantly aware of his own mortality would be the height of arrogance.

The path began to dip too far towards the waves, so Alain took the moment to adjust the sword on his back and his cloak around his shoulders. He removed his gloves, dreading the cold, but he needed to be able to feel the rocks. He would take off his boots, but he knew that, once he reached the hoard, the dragon was very likely to attack and Alain did not want to fight a dragon barefoot. Dragon hoards tended to have sharp objects lying around and Alain didn’t want to die from tripping over a forgotten spearhead. That would be undignified.

Instead, Alain attempted to use his boots to an advantage, thrusting them into crevices violently, hoping for a stable foothold as his numb fingers slipped against the rocks. He only had a dozen or so yards to climb before stable ground just before the hoard, but the cliff was unpredictable. Alain found himself having to climb down much farther than he intended, causing a wave to drench his cloak and back, instantly freezing him. Then he had to climb nearly vertically back up, just to continue forth.

The hoard was a cave nestled between two overhanging cliffs that seemed to be jostling for space. He had considered climbing directly from the top, but they were even more steep and treacherous than the path he was on.

However, approaching the hoard, tucked up and away in the cliffs, he found himself in a much more hospitable place. The waves could not reach here, rocks at the shoreline breaking them far below. The wind was cut off by the surrounding cliffs. The cave might seem a narrow spot for a dragon to fly into, but Alain was confident that this was a Green Dragon. A slim breed, more snake-like in shape and adept at climbing. Their wingspan was not very long, not like the glorious wingspan of an Ocean Dragon, who could shroud entire towns in their shadow.

A Green Dragon would find this hoard very comforting. One might easily climb into such a small crevice and be quick enough to hunt for fish in the harsh waves below. As Alain’s feet hit the stable path that led straight to a narrow opening, he felt his heart beat heavy in his chest, blood rushing to his cold hands and to warm his cheeks. Green Dragons were not terribly hard to defeat, much easier than the brute strength of a Great Dragon or the poisons of Dread or Forest Dragons.

Still, Alain approached the hoard with care. The songs might be great if a dragon were to defeat him, but Alain didn’t fight dragons for glory. He fought them for love, and he couldn’t enjoy such a love if he was dead.

From afar, the cave seemed narrow, barely large enough for any moderately sized Green Dragon to slip inside. Upon closer inspection, the cave broadened, the cliffs to either side suddenly giving way to a vast entrance. Alain glanced around the entrance, up the cliffs and back towards the sea. There was no dragon perched above, ready to pounce. At least, not that he could see.

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