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The Crimson Blade

An eleven chapter saga of swordplay and sorcery
by
Chris Gordon

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Previously: In the latest enemy raid, the inn keeper's daughter, Cara, is stolen by the Thrait warriors who descended upon the city on flying beasts. But when the battle is over, and the dead on both sides accounted for, among the city's spoils of war are some of the enemy's flying beasts -- beasts no man has ever ridden successfully. But Kael has an idea...


CHAPTER SIX:  Maiden Fight

Kael, Olver and Siman stood in the stable where the soldiers had herded the half-dozen or so dragans the previous evening. In the confining stalls the giant reptiles could not take off, though they seemed to be eager to be out in the open now that the sun had crept above the horizon. The night had been hard, a battle to extinguish the fires and tend to the wounded and dying. Blackened timbers where houses had once been, and freshly dug graves, stood as a testament to their failure. The bodies of the slain Thrait and their mercenary companions had been burnt on a huge pyre just outside the city walls. The attack had been vicious, the northern, western and eastern walls had all been besieged simultaneously. The death toll had been heavy on both sides. Tarran had not been seen since first light. Now he would grieve.

‘I still say you are mad,’ said Siman, standing well back from the creatures.

‘I’m with Siman,’ agreed Olver. ‘I’ve seen what these things can do. They can rip a man limb from limb.’

‘If one rider can break one of these damn creatures, so can another,’ Kael said, sounding  more confident than he was as he slowly approached one of the dragans. The reptile marked his passage without moving, its eye rolling in its socket as it followed his approach. It made no attempt to bite him. He moved closer. Still the creature remained motionless. He took another step, close enough now to be able to reach out and touch its leathery hide with his hand. The creature turned it’s head slowly on it’s long muscular neck , and suddenly, without warning, lunged at him.

Well had it timed its attack, it’s lizard-like head striking  whip-like towards him, massive jaws open, revealing razor-sharp teeth ready for the kill, a blood-curdling scream emanating from it’s throat as it struck.

Only Kael’s keen reflexes saved him from having his head torn from his shoulders, as he side-stepped the beast’s lunge and the great jaws snapped noisily together in empty air. There was an eruption of sound and activity as the other creatures felt the excitement of the first. The young man quickly stepped out of the beast’s range.

‘Fast,’ he said, when the beasts had begun to settle down. His two companions had gone pale.

‘Now do you see?’ said Siman. ‘They are uncontrollable.’

‘Let us stop this foolishness before one of us is killed,’ added Olver.

‘I’m not giving up that easily,’ Kael said with the recklessness that is the wont of youth. ‘Wait here.’ He disappeared through the stable doors and went outside into the courtyard.

He had been gone but a minute or two before he returned brandishing an object before him. It was a wooden rod, eighteen inches long with a leather-bound handle at one end. At the other end was fastened a metal ball, from which there protruded a dozen or so inch-long spikes, each sharpened to a fine point. In appearance it resembled an undersized mace. A leather loop, big enough for a man’s wrist, was attached to its handle.

‘Do you know what this is?’ he asked his two companions, lifting the object up to their eye level.

‘Aye,’ said Olver. ‘At least, I’ve seen them before. All the riders carry them. I assume they’re some sort of weapon.’

‘It could be used for that, I suppose,’ Kael agreed, brandishing it like some sort of club. ‘But I don’t think so. It’s too short when you’re in the saddle of one of these monstrosities, for one thing.’

‘Perhaps it’s used for hand-to-hand combat?’ suggested Siman.

‘I’ve thought about that, but I saw none of the raiders using them last night.’

‘Then what do you think it is?’ asked Siman.

The expression on Olver’s face suggested that he had begun to guess what the device was for.

‘It’s a goad!’ he cried.

‘That’s what I was thinking,’ said Kael. ‘Perhaps this is the reason that no-one has been able to control them.’

Again he approached the winged lizard, this time holding the goad in front of him like some sort of charm to ward off evil. Only once did the creature react to his presence, a low hiss as he approached, but Kael lifted the goad as though he were about to strike the animal, and it lowered its head submissively and allowed him first to enter the stall beside it, then to climb onto its saddle, mounted between its great leathery wings, which were folded tightly at its sides. From birth, the beast must have been intensively conditioned to fear the cruel strike of the spiked goad. It’s trainers had done their job superbly.

The dragan looked much the same as its close relative the rassaur. With the obvious exception of it’s broad, membranous wings, there were few startlingly obvious differences. It’s build was somewhat lighter, as would be expected of any flying creature, and it’s neck and tail were perhaps somewhat longer, but its skin was still thick and mottled brown-green, and it still retained the vicious jaws of its ground-based brethren, although they were set in a more slender muzzle. What twist of nature had decided that such a brutal predator should be given wings was anybody’s guess.

‘Open the stall door,’ he told Siman, who did so carefully, wary of the beast within.

Kael kicked his heels into the dragan’s flanks, grabbing the reins that were attached to the bridle about the beast’s head, similar to those that would be used on a horse, except these were solid instead of flexible. The dragan responded and trotted out of the stable block and into the courtyard. It craned it’s head towards the sky and let out a piercing screech, as though it knew it were about to fly once more. It hopped up and down on it’s powerful hind legs impatiently, and Kael gently prodded the soft flesh of it’s neck with the spiked goad. The bird calmed down instantly, years of conditioning taking effect once more. One only needed to push the spikes against the dragan’s flesh hard enough to stimulate its pain centres.

Kael located the thick leather belt that would hold him safely in the saddle during more aerobatic manoeuvres and fastened it around himself with its massive brass buckle. He was unsure what he should do next. This was an experience completely unfamiliar to him. Should he attempt to work the animal like a horse. What should he do?

He remembered that the rider of the beast that had grabbed him in it’s talons had spoken his commands in Camaric, a language commonly adopted by Thrait living in the more central areas.

He tried the only thing he could think of.

‘Up!’ he cried in Camaric.

To his great surprise, and accompanied by exclamations from his two friends, the animal squatted down onto its haunches, then launched itself into the air, its great leathery wings unfolding to their full size, pumping away, lifting the beast and it’s astounded rider ever higher.

Kael sat atop the beast’s back, above the insertion point of the wings, his feet in stirrups forward of this, and the huge membranous wings seemed to almost meet above his head with each upward beat, enveloping him in leathery darkness.

He pulled at the reins and the creature rose as its head was tilted backwards a little,  pushing the solid bar-like reins caused the bird to dive, the harder the reins were pulled or pushed, the quicker the bird gained or lost height. Within minutes he was diving and climbing high above the inn, practising tighter and more graceful turns, more daring aerobatic manoeuvres. Far below him he could see the tiny figures of Olver and Siman watching him in open-mouthed wonder.

He rapidly lost height, diving down to the courtyard below. Now he had a problem. How to land? He circled warily, no more than twenty feet above his friends’ heads. Remembering how he had coaxed the bird into the air, he lost height, and reaching a likely landing spot, pulled gently on the reins and said, in Camaric:

‘Down!’

The bird simply ceased to flap it’s great wings when it felt it was close enough to the ground and, spreading the leathery membranes wide, dropped onto its hind legs, powerful muscles absorbing the shock as its full weight thumped heavily onto the pave.

Olver and Siman looked on admiringly as Kael unbuckled the safety harness and dismounted. The reptile hissed again as he walked past its head, but the goad, still attached firmly to his wrist, acted as a deterrent. Simple but effective.
‘Who’s next?’ he grinned.


Next: Chapter Seven: The Raiding Party

back to Chapter Five: Attack from the Skies!


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The Crimson Blade is copyright by Chris Gordon. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)