Part 3 of At Last Farewell
Hereb sunk down the wall, battered and exhausted. He found it odd to be baring his soul to this great beast with whom he had just battled. But now, he was too out of breath for more stories. The dragon’s lair fell silent except for Daggnir’s ponderous purring that filled the light-starved chamber. Hereb knew that cats purred for pleasure or to get attention, but he also heard once they could purr to heal. Could a dragon also heal by purring? Hereb knew Daggnir was wounded from their battle, but he could not guess how badly. Was he increasing his strength as Hereb’s drained away? Was he just toying with him? Was it a matter of time before the beast decided he had enough of his pest? Was the time growing near?
“So, why this valley? What brought you to this place?” Hereb asked, weak from all the talking, but not ready to die just yet. The adventurer had been using stories to distract Daggnir the Oppressor to keep the monster from ending his life, but he had no strength left to continue. Now he needed to play to the dragon’s ego.
“I am flattered you asked, little man, though I am sure you do not really care. I made this my home years ago. It is dangerous to be among my kind, few of the young survive. However, I am wiser than they are and have lasted longer than all my rivals. I have had time to grow here, though I am still young by our expectations. I will make my mark at the appropriate time. The villagers here are so accommodating. Mostly, anyway. Once in a while, those local fools send some puny want-to-be ‘knight’ trying to make a name for himself. Or maybe some half-wit thief thinks he can outsmart me.” Daggnir started to fume at the audacity. “Their bones clutter my halls, and their baubles belittle my collection. Few have anything of real value, not even their insignificant lives. Their feeble attempts are not even amusing.” Daggnir huffed in anger before letting out a labored cough and calming himself again.
Hereb did not respond, but let him talk, hoping the dragon would reveal a weakness. “You, however, have showed some worth, shaddi. I might even believe one or two of your outlandish stories. Though I cannot decide if you are just a thief or are making some attempt at becoming a paladin. It does not matter now. Perhaps it is time to remind the villagers of their place once again. They seem to have forgotten. Though I was just a youth when I first arrived, they cowered at the sight of me. Calves they gave to me, like I was some pagan god. Ha! I was so amused, but pleased, I must admit. I insisted on gold, and they acquiesced!”
“All you demanded, they gave,” Hereb agreed.
“Yes! When they ran out of cows, they sent pigs and goats. Along with the gold came porcelain, jewels, anything and everything. They begged for mercy, so I was merciful, as long as they kept paying. As I grew stronger, I started on neighboring towns. Village after village now pays homage to me. The whole valley fears me.” Daggnir let out an amused chuckle that was overtaken by a series of coughs.
“But they have no more cattle, nor sheep or goats or even pigs,” Hereb stated, having recovered a little strength. “No more gold. You plundered them dry. They took to luring merchants, which they robbed and killed. But merchants don’t come much anymore. Word gets around.”
“Yes. It is interesting how fearful they really are. How easily they turn on each other once it gets just a little difficult. They had nothing left, so they started offering me something else…”
Daggnir smirked. “Yes, must have been reading their bedtime fairy tales. I doubt they thought of it on their own.” His throat rattled some more.
“Maybe. But is seems no one was ready to sacrifice one of their own daughters, yet. Thought they would try something else first. Someone who was alone in this village.”
“Yes, they sent over the barren widow. I should be insulted and would be, but she turned out to be so very charming. I accepted their offering—this time.”
“Yes, very charming,” Hereb whispered to himself.
“But you foolishly chased her off—that which was mine! No one dares such a thing!” Daggnir’s purring was replaced by a low growl and slow, heavy breathing, broken up by coughs. Claws clacked against stone. Terror overwhelmed Hereb as he sat helplessly in the dark. “It will only be temporary, little man, I assure you.” Daggnir spoke low, choosing his words. “Once we are done here and after a little rest, I will find her. Your little adventure will have been a waste.”
Hereb froze in fear, but the attack never came. Neither spoke for a few moments. Hereb hoped he was forgotten. Finally, the beast broke the silence and added in a calmer voice, “Except for your tall tales, of course. Very entertaining.”
“Glad it wasn’t too much of a waste of your time. Though you may need to rest longer than you are admitting,” Hereb responded, trying to sound nonchalant, praying the tremor in his voice did not reveal his terror.
“I have plenty of time.” Daggnir laughed again but couldn’t maintain it without hacking. “Soon, just a few more decades is all, and I can leave this place and rule over a real kingdom with greater wealth. Then all will fear me. Even my kin. Sorry, you won’t be around to witness it.” He fell into uncontrollable coughing.
“I’m sure I won’t be,” Hereb groaned in his pain. “This place wearies me. But I am beginning to doubt if you will make it either. That cough just doesn’t sound good.”
Daggnir didn’t immediately respond, and Hereb thought perhaps the great dragon had not heard him.
Finally, Daggnir spoke softly between continued coughing fits. “My plan was a wise one. You may have ruined that, shaddi.”
“Have I? I can only hope. I do have one question yet. May I ask you—what is the meaning of shaddi?” Hereb closed his eyes. He was drained.
“Shaddi?” Daggnir spoke between coughs. “It is an ancient tongue, long forgotten by man.” His wheezing continued. “It means ‘warrior’ or more accurately, ‘mighty one.’” Daggnir’s hacking grew worse. “I must admit, I think you have earned the title. Even if all your tales are not true, you are greater than the others that came. You fought most bravely, much more skilled. Even with your wits.” Daggnir paused for a great length, his breathing seeming heavier. “Maybe I should have learned as you did, shaddi. Perhaps… perhaps, I also was too greedy.’ He was now pausing between each sentence. “Maybe your coin does have some magic after all.” The coughing abated and Daggnir purred loudly as both sat in silence for many more minutes. Hereb was too feeble to answer.
“But I think not. That coin has no power beyond desire,” Daggnir rasped. “No, it is you that makes me ponder… you being here… here at our last farewell.” All of Hereb’s bottled up tension drained away and his fear subsided. “I am ashamed to say it—you defeated me. Like the Chu tyrant, I give you my nod of respect.” Daggnir rattled out a heavy breath, then was silent. Hereb listened, but there was nothing to be heard. Even the purring had stopped. He made a feeble last search for his missing pouch. That particular pouch contained his most prized possession, more valuable than anything he showed the dragon. He had come into the chamber with it, but now it was lost, and with it his last hope. The world faded away.