The Heir of the Dragon
Marea had been waiting for her husband to arrive for hours now.
She sat in the Grand Hall of Silverscale Castle. Long tables stretched to the walls of the chamber. Large daises were raised at each of the room’s five corners. Dragons once rested upon them, but now they were empty.
As an archduchess Marea often played host to great feasts in this hall, but now it stood empty; her only company was the familiar roar of the Great Hearth’s fire.
It’s high, deep mouth spanned an entire wall, as awe-inspiring as in her youth. It still amazed her that such mighty flames were but a pale imitation of their past glory. Over a hundred years had passed since the time when Silverscale burned brilliantly with dragonfire.
Marea placed her hand on its lip, running her fingers across the hot stone. She stepped into the fire. The flames rolled across her skin and licked at the edges of her short brown hair, but she remained un-singed. The enchantment on her red and silver dress reduced the fire’s kiss to little more than the caress of sunlight. Silverscale’s greatest treasure rested before her.
Five eggs, each the size of a man’s head, sat in a ring upon the stone altar.
The first was vibrant green of the forest. Its bumpy rounded scales were tipped in glowing rich gold.
Its neighbor was crimson. Small sharp protrusions rose out of the shell like the flames dancing around it, and black lines traced around them like throbbing veins.
The third was bigger, smooth with the color of the night sky with orange starbursts shimmering across its surface.
The next egg was smaller than the others. It was a gentle sky blue with cream-colored swirls that passed over it like clouds.
Finally was the largest of the eggs, its shell a mix of dark brown with bronze, covered in jagged scales like daggers.
Marea felt joy and sorrow fill her heart in equal measure. This was House Harker’s last legacy, the only dragon eggs known to exist. They had sat in this hearth for decades, bathed in the heat of the flames in a vain hope that a new generation of dragons could one day be born from them. But it was a fantasy. Dragons had been hunted to extinction long before her time, and she knew she would not live to see them return.
Marea ran her hand over the closest. It felt the same as when she’d first touched it all those years ago, teeming with warmth and life. They would never hatch; their heat was a lie of a false future. Nevertheless, the eggs, and the hope they represented, were the greatest treasure of House Harker, more than gold or lands or even their ancestral sword, Soulfire.
“Hope” was irreplaceable.
Marea knelt before the altar and prayed for her husband’s safe return. She was comforted by his many letters, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. How many nights had she waited like this for Alaine to return from an expedition? She couldn’t remember. This was the way of their marriage, she would govern and he would explore.
As much as she loved her husband, he was not the sort to be an archduke. He had no mind for ruling, no. He was still that farm-boy-turned-adventurer from the Gulchwood Elms, who spoke of beasts and puzzles and the amazing wonders of the skies while she listened in quiet awe. It was bitter poetry; his love of adventure had been what seduced her, and now it filled her heart with worry.
She renewed her prayers with greater fervor. Please, Celestials and Dragons above, please guide him through the skies safely back to me. Her tears were consumed by the flames with a hiss.
Her prayer complete, she left the fire’s comfort, giving the eggs one last treasuring look before returning to the cold of the Grand Hall.
She was no longer alone. A familiar figure stood in the doorway, still as a statue.
The young maid lifted the hem of her dress, curtsying respectfully. The light of the flame illuminated her features and causing the silver dragon on her breast to shine.
“Begging your pardon, m’lady, I know you wished for no interruptions tonight.”
“Nonsense, Fiona, I take no offense to the intrusion,” Marea assured her with a smile. “Is this about Blake?”
She nodded tersely. “The young lord wishes to know when the lord of the house will return, m’lady.”
A sigh escaped Marea’s lips
“I shall see to him then. Please wait in the courtyard for Lord Harker to return. When he arrives, bring him here.”
She paused for a moment, seized by a fit of mischief.
“If I’m not back by then, tell him I said it was his turn to wait for me this time,” she chuckled. “Dismissed.”
“As you wish, m’lady.” Fiona departed the hall with a bow.
Marea glanced to the fireplace once more, walked up the stairs to her son’s room.
The tower’s climb was uneventful, and her attention turned to the window. Silverscale’s courtyard was bathed in shadow, its high walls and large gates were blurs in the night. In the distance, torches burned upon the castle’s five spires. Maeven, Draundore, Vestill, Lariska, Misturge, she remembered their names by heart.
She reached the top and her thoughts turned back to her son.
When she entered Blake’s room, it was no surprise that he was still wide awake. She swallowed a giggle when she saw him perched at the window. Like mother like son.
“At this time of evening, children should be resting.”
He turned with those joyful brown eyes of his and stumbled out of the covers to her side. So full of life, just like his father.
“Mother, has father returned?!” Blake asked hopefully.
She tenderly ruffled his brown hair and shook her head.
“Not yet, my little dragon, your father has a great desire to keep us both waiting.”
“It’s okay, I can… *yaaawn* wait for him…” He was desperately staying away, the dear thing.
“No, no, you need your sleep my love,” Marea said, reaching down and scooping him up into her arms. “A young lord needs to grow up to be big and strong, like a dragon.” She carried him over to the bed, swelling with pride at how heavy he was getting. He was growing every day. She tucked the covers to his chin and sat beside him, stroking his cheek.
“But… but I want to see father…” he begged, even as the sleep began to creep into his face. “He promised to read me a story for bedtime when he gets back…”
Marea laughed at the months-old promise turned to the shelf filled with book upon book of dragons. “Well, that could be some time, sweetie. What if I read to you instead, tonight, and your father reads to you again in the morning?”
She ran her fingers along the spines, already knowing which one he would ask for.
“I want one about dragons!”
“Yes, yes, always dragons,” she laughed, retrieving “House Harker and Dragons of Saekoria”, an old book that had been read so many times he likely knew the words by heart. It had been old when she was a girl, and her father read it to her. “Let it never be said that you are not my son.”
She opened the book to his sparkling eyes.
“Dragons are the coolest! I want to see a dragon in real life!”
“In real life?”
It hurt, not being able to tell her son that there were no dragons left in the world.
“Yeah! Father has traveled everywhere, right? He must have seen lots of dragons out there!”
“Maybe so, little one.” She gazed at the drawing of the majestic dragon on the front page. Its eyes shone with life that almost made it seem real, like it would leap out and burst into flame. But that was all it was, a drawing.
“I’ll be an explorer like father someday,” Blake promised, nestling into the pillow. “I’ll visit all the islands and countries in the sky and find a dragon! And then I’ll get on its back and ride it home, to show you and father!”
Marea smiled at his hopeful dream and began to read. While her son dozed, she told him stories about noble knights and dragon riders. Tales of Marlowe Harker and his crimson blade, flying into battle on the back of Maeven the Silverflame, and countless more legends that had been passed down for generations. By the time she reached the five dragons of Silverscale Blake had long-since fallen asleep, the cutest of smiles on his pudgy little face as visions of dragons no doubt filled the skies in his mind.
She rose from bed and set the book aside, kissing his forehead. “Good night, my little dragon,” she whispered, and left her son with his dragons.
She gazed out the window once more as she descended the tower, and paused. There was a figure in the center of the courtyard. She rubbed the tiredness from her eyes and and checked again to confirm that, no, it was a girl, or perhaps a boy, it was hard to tell at this distance. They stared up at her, a thin stick of a thing with pale skin, short white hair, and white tunic, and for a moment Marea thought that it was a ghost.
She rubbed her eyes again, but the figure was gone. It was a specter of the night, nothing more. Marea sighed. She hoped to see Alaine at the base of the stairs. This night was long, and uneasy, and she wished more than anything for it to be over and for her love to be in her arms again.
She reached the Grand Hall, and there he was. A great bear of a man, tall and broad-shouldered, squeezed into a vest that bulged out from his muscled form. In one of his beefy hands he clasped something long and wrapped in cloth.
A smile curled across her face and she called to him, “what, pray tell, are you doing in the Grand Hall of Castle Silverscale at this time of night, weary traveler?
The man turned to greet her, warmth flooding his bearded face as he smiled, his eyes twinkling at her. “Begging your pardon, my lady, but I have traveled a great distance to come give greeting to the lord of this castle, is he in?”
Flashing a coy smirk, Marea strutted across the stone floor, holding her hand against her forehead and giving an exaggerated sigh. “Alas, your long journey has met an unfruitful end. For my husband, the archduke, has been away a great while, and I do not know when he shall return.”
She gazed up into his eyes as she resisted the urge to throw herself upon him then and there. She passed him by, walking towards the flames. “I’ve been so lonely these past months, longing for my husband’s touch, just… mmm… yearning to see him again.”
He wrapped a thick arm around her waist and pulled her back against his chest. Marea gasped at the cold of his hand.
“I must express my deepest sympathies, my lady,” his voice burned against her ear. “To leave a woman of such beauty alone for so long, you must be married to quite the fool.” He pressed his lips against her neck, the familiar scratches of his beard causing her to let out a giggle that nearly gave away their game.
“Mmm… yes, he is a fool, such a fool… but a fool whom I love nonetheless… and you, my good sir, would do well to not be so forward with a married lady!” In spite of her words, she reached down and wrapped her hand over his, letting out a deep sigh.
“Even if I should come bearing a gift?” He asked, raising his kisses up to her cheek. She smiled.
“That could be a different story of course, my love.” She lifted her hand and he pulled away, allowing her to look him in the eye once more. Unable to resist any longer she threw herself into Alaine’s arms and hugged him tightly, relishing the comfort of her sweet and gentle bear. “Welcome home…”
“I’m home,” Alaine warmly replied, as though his mere presence wasn’t enough to confirm it. The two parted, far too soon for her wishes, but she gave it no mind. There would be time enough for that later.
“How was your expedition?” She asked, trying to keep her voice from sounding too hopeful. Alaine smiled at her, his eyes twinkling, and he raised the wrapped object up to her. Marea felt her heart begin to pound. It couldn’t be, and yet she hoped it was. Alaine set it down on the table and unwrapped it, revealing the treasure to her eyes.
The fire in her chest roared louder than the Great Hearth itself.
“Soulfire,” Marea breathed, her voice just above a whisper. She gazed down at the crimson sword of her family. “You found it.” Even with it sitting in front of her, she couldn’t bring herself to believe it.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t figure out how to unwrap the cloth. Such a legend, but the blade-“
“Nonsense,” Marea shushed him, lost in to the world in the beauty of the great sword. “Nonsense… you found it. After so many years, Soulfire once again dwells within the walls of this castle.”
She had never expected to set her eyes upon it, not even when she was a hopeful little girl in this same hall, staring into the flames of this same fireplace.
But now, here it was, hot in her hands. The legends were wrong: the pommel was not topped with a silver dragon. Rather, the sword lacked a pommel entirely. A crimson guard, thick and sharp, like the blade of a battle-axe, was wrapped around a grip meant for a hand-and-a-half blade. In fact, at a glance, one could mistake the sword itself for an ornate axe of some sort. The long blade of Soulfire was wrapped tight in a stretch of crimson cloth, not an inch of the red steel to be seen.
Her husband had found it, just as he’d promised.
Set it down and hugged Alaine once more, tears rolling down her cheeks and soaking his vest.
“So what now?” She asked, pulling back from him. “Another expedition?”
“No, no,” Alaine said, shaking his head. “This one was too close a call. I’m not a young man anymore.”
“And who was it that said he wouldn’t be happy unless he died fighting some phantom beast in an underground labyrinth on some far-off island in the clouds?” She laughed, slapping him in the chest. “That doesn’t sound like the man I married!”
“That man was a young fool. Right now, I want nothing more than to take care of my family. No more grand adventures or expeditions. I’m retiring.”
Alaine turned to look at the glimmering sword.
“Besides, what greater treasure could I bring home than this?”
“You’re home, are you not?” Marea pulled her husband into another hug. “That is treasure enough.”
Blake was roused from his sleep by the sounds of footsteps and shouting. Someone was shaking him roughly.
“Wha…?” Blake yawned, his eyes struggling to adjust to the darkness.
“Blake, you need to wake up now,” his mother’s whispered voice catching his ear. She sounded worried.
“Mother? What’s going on?”
“Just come with me,” Marea said, helping Blake out of bed. “We need to go, now!”
“Go? Go where? Is father here? Is he coming?”
“Not right now,” Marea said, shaking her head. Blake was scared. His mother was always cool and strong, seeing her panicking like this frightened him.
“Wait,” Blake said, running over to the bookshelf and grabbing his favorite book. He clutched it closely to his chest. He hoped the dragons in the book would give him strength.
Marea took him by the hand and led him out into the corridor. In her other hand, she held a large sack over her shoulder. She was walking quickly, and Blake had to struggle to keep up. His heart was pounding in his chest as they approached the Grand Hall. “-there! Stop them!”
Fragments of sound echoed in his ears. The shouts were getting louder and more frantic.
“Hush, sweetie, don’t listen.” But the panic in her voice failed to reassure him, and she was holding his wrist so tightly it was starting to hurt.
A figure in a black robe and a white dragon mask leapt out at them from around the corner, holding a sharp knife. Blake froze in terror.
“…Glurk-!” Whoever they were they quickly collapsed.
It was Fiona! His favorite maid flicked blood off a slender dagger.
“Fiona! Thank the Celestials,” his mother breathed a sigh of relief. “Come!”
She led the way to the place that scared Blake the most.
“The crypts?” A shiver ran down his spine as he stared at the intimidating black door, already picturing the dark stairwell descending down into the shadowy depths beneath the crypt.
“I know you’re scared sweetie,” Marea said, kneeling down next to him. She was crying. “But you have to be brave for me, okay? You have to be very brave right now, like a dragon. Go with Fiona, she’ll keep you safe. She knows what to do.”
“You aren’t coming with me?!” Going into the crypts was scary enough, but without his mother? He shook his head. He didn’t want to go!
“I need to go find your father, sweetheart. He’s out there right now fighting for all of us, and I need to go help him.”
“I’m sorry, Blake, I’m so, so sorry,” she cried, dropping the bag she was carrying and hugging him tightly. He could feel the cold sting of her tears. They were the same as his.
“I wish I could have protected you from this for a little longer. There’s still so much you don’t understand. I wish I had time to tell you, but I can’t. I love you, my little dragon, your father and I both love you. We did this for you.”
“Momma, what are you saying?” Blake sobbed. He didn’t understand what she was talking about, he was scared and tired. He didn’t want to go into the crypts, he wanted to go back to sleep and wake up tomorrow and eat breakfast with his parents. His father still needed to tell him all the stories about his adventure, why did everything sound so scary now?
“Blake, will you forgive me?” She asked. Her face was white and streaked with tears. Blake didn’t know what she was sad about, but he wanted her to stop crying so he nodded his head.
“Of course momma…”
“Even though I’m such a terrible mother?”
“You’re the best mother, momma. Of course I forgive you!”
She gave him a soft smile, then she brushed his hair away and kissed him on the forehead.
“Even if you change your mind someday, thank you, my love,” his mother whispered. She picked up her bag and gave it to him. It was almost as big as he was, and it was really, really warm. “Take care of these for me, just for a little while, until I get back, okay? They’re our treasures.”
Blake drew open the string and looked down into the bag. He gasped. The dragon eggs from the Grand Hall?
“But momma, why-?”
“Keep them safe for me, please,” she urged him. Blake gulped and nodded, his heart wild with fear as he stared down at the green egg at the top. Its heat seemed to call to him. He reached to close the bag and let out a gasp of pain. His hand had scraped against egg’s shell.
“Owww!” The bag and his book slipped from his hands as he cradled the burn.
“Oh, no, sweetie,” his mother kissed his hand, and the pain immediately disappeared. She picked the bag back up gave it back. He held it close, grabbing it with one hand and his book in the other. He put on the bravest face he could so she wouldn’t worry.
“My family cannot thank you enough for this,” his mother said to Fiona.
“As one who bears the silver dragon crest, it is an honor, m’lady,” Fiona said, lowering her head and placing her hand over the silver dragon on her uniform. “It is more than enough for the debt I owe to your family.”
“That debt is repaid as of today.”
“M’lady, would it not be better for you to join the young lord? I can go find the archduke and bring him to you, if you so-“
“Thank you Fiona, but no. Castle Silverscale is my home. I will not run and hide in the crypts while my guards and my husband fight to defend it.”
She held up her hand, and bright crimson flames erupted from her fingers, spreading over whole arm. It was so bright and warm.
“As you wish, m’lady,” Fiona said, lowering her head. She open the door to the crypt and took Blake by the hand. He winced. His mother’s hand was warm, but hers was so cold. He glanced over his shoulder to see his mother’s eyes one last time before the heavy door rumbled shut behind him, trapping him in the stairwell.
Fiona lifted a torch and led him down. The flames cast shadows across the walls that made Blake feel very small and afraid. They were in lowest level of the crypt, the Dragon’s Graveyard. The massive skeletons of dragons glowed in the light.
They were nothing like the dragons from the stories. The skeletons were towering ghosts of the past that looked ready to snap him up in a single bite. Blake always hated these things, ever since his mother had first shown them to him. He loved his mother and her love of dragons, but he couldn’t share her love for these scary monsters.
The warmth of the eggs soothed Blake in the cold, haunting air of the crypt. He clutched the bag tighter to his chest, worried he’d drop it. He tried to pull away from Fiona, but she refused to let him go.
“I want momma…” Blake sniffled. “Mother and father, when are they coming back?”
“Hush young lord,” Fiona sternly whispered. “We must not make a sound. They can’t find us here.”
Blake nodded. He had never seen her acting this scary, not nice Fiona.
Fiona looked up at the tomb’s ceiling. Blake looked up as well. He couldn’t hear the muffled voices anymore, the only thing he could hear were his footsteps and the pounding of his heart, and the dull crackle the torch.
The dragons won’t hurt me, he reminded himself. They look scary but they won’t hurt me.
A thump in the darkness broke his concentration. Fiona whirled around and shoved him backwards. Blake landed on the dusty stone floor, startled. The maid brandished her torch with one hand while the other held her blade in front of her. She looked scared.
Blake curled up in a ball and clutched the bag tightly to his chest, his book lying forgotten on the floor of the crypt.
“Who’s there?” She whispered. “Show yourself!”
Soft footsteps echoed through the chamber. Like a ghost emerging from its tomb a figure stepped into the torch’s ring of light.
Blake’s eyes widened in surprise. It was a girl, slender and dressed in white. She was older than him and seemed almost unearthly in her beauty, and for a moment he wondered if she was one of the elves that he had heard about in stories. But her ears said no.
She raised her hand and Fiona got really tense. Blake squinted. What was that red thing the girl was holding.
“Come,” the girl’s whisper was gentle, like a bell. She beckoned them to follow her.
“Fiona…” Blake glanced at the maid, watching the girl in white retreat to the shadows, waiting for them. But Fiona didn’t follow her.
“Young lord, we can’t trust her,” Fiona said, stepping closer. “Allow me to take care of this intruder.”
“No,” Blake quickly shook his head. “I don’t… no more killing.”
“Silverscale will fall,” the white girl said. Her golden eyes flickered in the light. “I have taken Soulfire for safekeeping. If you wish to protect your young lord, then follow me.”
Her eyes were warm and kind, and oh, so familiar, like a forgotten memory.
A voice rang out in his head.
Blake looked around, frantically but didn’t see anyone.
The sound of footsteps drew the attention of everyone in the room. Distant voices echoed from the stairwell. Blake looked up at Fiona’s grimacing face. She didn’t want to go, but she didn’t want to stay.
But Blake wanted to go. He was scared, and wouldn’t spend one more second in this dark, spooky crypt if he didn’t have to.
Clutching the bag to his chest, he ran over to the girl in white, following deeper into the crypt.
“Young lord!” Fiona cried after him, and he froze. But his fear pushed him forward again. He heard her footsteps echo behind him, and then they stopped. More shouts and the clang of blades. He heard Fiona grunt and even though he was terrified, he needed to make sure she was okay. But the torch had been snuffed Blake felt tears roll down his cheeks as he thanked her silently, running to catch the small girl.
Blake didn’t know where she was taking him. He could barely see where he was going in the inky blackness of the crypt. But then suddenly he could. A soft light glowed gently against the corridor’s narrow walls. The girl’s hand was glowing!
“Wow… Is that… magic?”
She nodded. He followed her until they reached a pile of rubble. It was a dead end!
“Here.” She set the strange wrapped object on the ground and knelt. The light in her hand floated up to the ceiling and she pushed on part of the wall, revealing a secret passage! It was barely wide enough for them to get through.
“You… you want me to go in there?” Blake wasn’t sure if he could. She nodded again. He took another look at the passage. It was dark and cramped and scary, even worse than the crypt.
Fiona! Her clothes were torn and there were cuts on her face and arms. Her torch and knife were both gone, and in their place she clenched his favorite book tightly. Blake nearly fell over in relief to see she was okay.
“Stay. Go.” The white girl picked the red thing off the ground and rose to her feet, slipping into the tunnel. The orb of light followed after her, the corridor growing darker and darker.
“Fiona…” Blake looked desperately at her. She grumbled a word he didn’t recognize and nodded, storming after him into the passageway. The stones rumbled shut behind them and they were trapped. There was nowhere to go but forward, into the tunnel, and after the odd girl in white whose magic lit the way.
Blake chased after the girl, feeling Fiona’s presence right at his heels. He held the dragon eggs closer. It was a tight squeeze at several points and he nearly tripped over stones and roots a few times, but they caught up.
“Where are you taking us?” Fiona demanded. The girl didn’t answer.
Blake was curious himself.
“Um, what… who are you?”