Here be Dragons

In celebration of St. George’s Day, I thought I’d share a story I started some time ago, that like many others, is now on the perpetual back burner as other projects take priority. It’s titled “Here be Dragons”. It is set in the Mediterranean, just after the time of the Buccaneers, and as its name suggests, it hints of when sea maps were marked with ominous warnings of maritime monsters.

When I write my creatures, I always try to fit biology and behaviour to the mythology. For instance, we all know dragons love their gold. But why? It’s not like they spend it. However, we also know that dragons breathe fire, and presuming they are reptiles, are likely to be egg layers. Gold is one of the greatest heat-retaining metals there is – so what better to line the nest of an iron-hided reptile?!

There is a small chance that the clash between St. George and the dragon took place – but actually may have been an out-of-place crocodilian of some kind. However, if it did happen, the legend leads to what is modern Libya, or Central Eastern Turkey rather than dear old England.

There will be two dragons in the story, Firefang and Swordtail. The prologue introduces you to the former.

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Here be Dragons

The cave was dark. The rocks were hot to the touch and the air was dry, creating a strange and eerie atmosphere given they could still hear the crash of waves at the entrance. But there was no moisture here. The cave was arid and scorched. Its inner sanctum was hotter than the baking Mediterranean sun on a still day at sea, or at least it seemed so.

As they crept closer, the rasping sound of venting steam echoed in the darkness. The rocky path was narrow and steep, and they chose their footing carefully. Only a few of them carried torches, in an effort to keep their insurgence secret from what they feared and hoped lurked within the cave’s depths.

A foul stench reached them, stinging their nostrils in warning before their eyes found the graveyard of carcasses in the dim light. A fresh, fleshy island pony was strewn upon the heap close to them. Blazing embers still glowed in the few patches that remained of its hide. They passed in silence, most holding their breath. None uttered their contempt or distress of the stink.

The sound of thunder echoed around them. The youngest amongst them thought it the noise of the sea. Only the oldest knew better, and the sound shook them to their very bones. Perhaps it was the venting steam they had seen above the hill, a few questioned in silence.

Steam vented indeed, from two nostrils billowing carbon from lungs larger than the holds of their ship. Wrapped in wings greater than their grandest sails, she watched them approach. She cared not if it was the gold, her eggs, or she herself they came for, they would not leave. She began to uncoil, slithering towards them and emitting only a barely audible hiss. As her clawed feet found purchase and her entirety was unveiled, she sent loose stones clacking down the slope. She let a guttural snarl echo and reverb around the cave. It had the desired effect, stopping the men in their tracks.

The least conditioned of them turned tail and ran, but with one almighty clap of her wings, she knocked them to the ground with the hurricane that followed. She laughed at their foolishness, or so it seemed from the thunderous, mocking snarls she sent in their direction. The men let a volley of arrows loose towards her. She snapped her tail across her body, letting the steel-headed projectiles clatter harmlessly from her iron-like hide. She hissed as she straightened out, letting out one final damning roar of threat. The message was clear: leave or die. The sailors knew it wasn’t a warning, but a choice they were being left with.

The men who had already tried to leave picked themselves up off the floor and ran for their lives. One of the older members of the crew heard the hiss of an intake of breath and the clack of jaws. He turned and slipped away, knowing what came next.

The men that remained crept forward and a torch caught the hint of gold. The rumours had been true, and they found new courage in their greed. It was short-lived, as were they themselves. The darkness of the cavern was illuminated in a dazzling lick of fire. It seemed to hunt them out as if it were a living thing. The strike came from above, the dragon landing behind them on silent wings of black and crimson. They were now cut off from the only way out of the cave. Her talons reached for them, crushing a number of them into mangled clumps of flesh and bone. Another lick of fire roasted several more in their boots. Her eyes found the last, cowering against the stock of gold that gave and held heat for her eggs. She lowered her head, her forked tongue tasting his fear. Blue flame filled her jaws and flickered over her protruding front teeth. Her meal screamed, then was silenced forever with a single bite. She roared with triumph.

As the roar echoed out of the cave and rippled across the water to the small rowboat, the old man looked back towards the small island.

“What was that?” one of the young crew asked.

“Firefang. A she dragon. Count your lucky stars you saw fit to turn back lads.”

As another roar echoed out, none in the boat doubted the fate of those who had stayed back in the cave.

 

National Poetry Day – Heads Down

In celebration of National Poetry Day, here’s one I wrote earlier, whilst still carrying out a daily commute on the train, inspired by the ‘poems on the underground’ series.

Heads Down

We slow, with jerks as the station approaches.

The carriage creeks, a baby cries.

The doors shriek their opening.

Into our faces cold wind flies.

Maybe that’s why our heads shift downwards.

Eyes seek out the path of our feet.

Fingers grope for screens and phones.

No one shares warm words or smiles that greet.

If only courage took us rather than indifference.

We’d talk to people and laugh as we commute.

Find comfort and warmth in classless groups.

And make time fly along the route.

So now I pledge, when I travel by train.

To talk and laugh, to smile and share.

To listen to buskers…comfort silent sufferers.

And end each journey with a new friend there.

Howl of a Halloween

Ruebus sighed. The mountain air chilled him, and he pulled the thick blanket more tightly around him. He had already removed his clothing and placed them in a bag in the back of the pick up. He was miles out of town, and the scent of pine assured him of the closeness of wilderness. Night was falling and a few stars were already peeking out at the retreating day. His heartbeat had slowed and he was comforted by the methodical thud in his chest as he looked up to welcome the night.

He had found it amusing that the full moon had fallen on Halloween this year. Earlier in the day, he had even kidded himself that he would be able to stay in town, as everyone would think he was just wearing a costume. The smile had soon faded though. He could never completely remember the full effect of the transformation, but he was certain that it would be all too convincing. He could never even remember if he walked on two legs, or ran on four. In fact, all he ever remembered was what we saw and felt in his dreams. The chasing down of a deer or the bloodlust thundering through his veins just before terrible jaws snapped shut.

This was his fourth full moon. If he had known that the dog he’d hit that day was a wolf, he probably wouldn’t have even got out of the car. But that was old news now. One of the benefits of being a lycanthrope was a remarkable ability to heal and the scar had disappeared after his first full moon. He had been on the ranch, bringing in the horses when he had begun to change. The horses had been spooked all day. The next morning, he had found what was left of the two that hadn’t fled fast enough. Ever since then, he had made sure he was no-where near a human on the night of the full moon. He was never going to risk that.

The noise of the engine snapped him out of the trance he had slipped into. A car was coming up the road. It was still out of sight, far round the bend. But it was getting closer. His heightened senses took over, his ears, already slightly narrower and more tipped than a few minutes ago, seemed to prick up and follow the sound as it drew nearer. He was poised to run. But something held him there.

The car screamed round the bend, almost out of control. It was a black SUV, with tinted windows, and even his eyes couldn’t see the driver. The popping sound from the wheel arch came unexpectedly. The car was already sideways when the blowout shook the chassis, lifting it into the air as it spun wildly out of control. It crashed down onto its side and slid along the road in a shower of sparks and grinding metal, the sound so loud in his ears that he lifted up his hands to cover them. He could feel his hands and palms tingling as thick fur threatened to sprout from his pores, and his fingernails thickened and hardened as they rested against his skin.

The night descended still, and Ruebus knew that only a few seconds of his humanity remained. He didn’t look behind him as he heard the family scramble from the car. He ran in the opposite direction, driving himself further and further from the sounds and smells of the accident. He began to head for the tree line, hoping the wolf in him would carry on in the same direction. It was not to be.

The snapping sound in his knees drove him to the ground in a crumpled heap. As his leg bones broke, shattered and reformed into a new shape, he let out a blood-curdling scream of agony. It only ended when there was no air left in his chest. His eyes bulged in their sockets as they changed shape and colour, seeping blood as they did. The thick, dark brown fur erupted from every pore in his skin, as steel-like talons, as black as the oncoming night, curled from his fingers and toes. His spine cracked as it curved, sending him into a spasm of renewed agony. The changes hit him in waves, re-shaping his legs into powerful back limbs. His arms bent and buckled as they became heavy and hard. His skull flattened and fractured as long powerful jaws extended into place. As if in triumph of overcoming the frail human form it had been only moments ago, the wolf roared into the night air, and held its head high in a single, chilling howl.

The scents were what came to it first. The leaking oil from the upturned engine; the spilling gasoline, the wisp of perfume from the mother’s neck, the sweat and blood on the hands of the man. They all tempted it back towards the road. It slunk silently towards the brow of the hill where it already knew the car lay. At the ridge, it paused as it saw three people huddled against the underside of the upturned car. The wolf allowed them to see him as it took a few careless steps towards them, sending loose stones down the bank in their direction. It savoured the sounds of the screams and the smell of fear in the air as the two females stood up. It fixed its eyes on the man as it parted its lips and narrowed its eyes as it thought with evil pleasure of the nightmare its human-self would wake from the following night. And then it leapt.

~

If you like the short stories sometimes featured on this blog, you can find novels by the author here and here.

National Poetry Day – Smiling at Strangers

It’s National Poetry Day, and as I look forward to an autumnal walk this weekend, I am also looking to coming across friendly folk offering smiles and hellos as we pass.

Smiling at Strangers

Like leaves that have fallen from the same bough

That meet in clustered embraces about the root

Guided by wind and season, we are the same.

Sunlight and streams beckon us to visit and stroll

Alongside, beyond and beneath, we meet.

Here among the grass of meadow and swaying bough

Our paths cross for the first and last of times.

Sudden moments of unexpected union

Seconds to share a spirit of wonder

All whilst out for a little wander.

Smiling at strangers, a fleeting greeting

Amongst ramblers, walkers, uncounted unknown friends

A sign we know why each is here.

Even though we do not know from whence each has come or go

To know that to be out and about under sun or star

When compared to indoors, is better by far.

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