By Raymond Keith from June 2022 issue of The Compass
Hereb moaned as he woke, pain shooting through his body. He slowly opened his eyes, but still couldn’t see much in the dark. He was in a cavern, lying against a wall—bruised and bleeding. With his good arm and much gritting of teeth, he worked his way up to a sitting position. Fear filled his mind, remembering how he got there. He reached for one of his pouches. It was no longer there.
“Are you still among the living, shaddi? I thought you had departed.” A deep voice rumbled from the darkness before him, followed by a raspy cough.
“Not yet,” Hereb answered with heavy breath. “And you seem to be right where we left off as well.”
“I need to watch my unwanted guest. Do not forget you invaded my home, thief.”
“Only to ask you politely to return what was not yours.”
“Politely? Ha! You are amusing, shaddi. But it was given freely. Does not that make it mine by human standards?”
“Maybe, if it was given to you by the actual owner. Which I am certain it was not.”
“Are you so sure she did not give herself freely?”
Hereb did not respond to the voice taunting him from the dark—the dragon, Daggnir. He was confident it was not the widow’s idea to be sacrificed to this creature’s insatiable appetites. All he knew was what the orphan Tomas had told him. According to the boy, the leaders of the town had gone to her home, intent on making her the latest gift to their overlord. The “one” given for the sake of the “many.” Tomas claimed she walked directly to Daggnir’s lair as the leaders followed in the distance. The story of the woman’s courage had stunned him.
Hereb remembered the look on her face when he saw her for the first time. She was balled up with her arms around her knees next to the huge creature as it slept. Though neither one of them spoke, he understood everything written in her eyes. They grew wide with shock at first, then shone as she dared to hope. Hereb motioned for her to escape, but he saw uncertainty cross her face. Fear for him as much as for herself. He could see she felt shame in allowing him to give his life for hers. He motioned again, reassuring her. Finally, she nodded and fled. As they passed, her eyes expressed incomprehensible gratitude—he had never felt a deeper connection with anyone before that moment.
“Besides, thief,” the creature’s voice poured out from the dark, returning Hereb’s focus to his present situation. “Surely you came for more than just the woman? Did not the local fools spin tales of my collection? Exaggerated, no doubt, but still desirable enough for daring thieves. Not as great as some, but I am young for my kind and always adding to my treasures. Even now, this very evening, you have added this magnificent sword. May I also mention your lance? It now belongs to me as well and must be of some quality, even if the shaft is broken. Soon, very soon, my unfortunately brave little warrior, I will add your shield too, though I estimate it is not worth much now.” The creature sounded pleased with himself. “And of course, whatever other trinkets you may leave behind.” His comments trailed off as he began to hack.
Hereb had to admit to himself that it had been the stories of Daggnir the Oppressor that had drawn him. He had to see for himself—walk away the hero like always! But he soon realized Daggnir was too much for him alone and the local people were not going to help. He would have moved on if the boy had not told him about the widow.
Now he was battered, broken, and dying. Hereb had never feared death. Risk was part of the deal. It was one of the reasons he went on adventures. But lying helpless before his enemy was not how he imagined his life would end. He had always assumed it would be quick. Now death was upon him, and he realized he was not ready. Especially after the encounter with the woman.
Hereb again reached for his pouch. He felt around as best he could with his good arm, but it was not to be found. He may be helpless, but he decided he was not done yet! That is, as long as he could find a way to keep the fearsome dragon from dealing the finishing blow!
Catch Part 2 in the August 2022 issue of The Compass