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.
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.