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The Might of Wyrmpeak

Wyrmpeak

The cave lay before them. The darkness inside prevented them from seeing its depth. From his pack, Jorund pulled out torch and tinderbox, lighting a flame. “Both of you stay behind me at all times,” the Dwarf impressed upon his companions. “If we come across anything, anything at all, you both run like Hel is hunting you, and you don’t stop. You keep running out of this valley and south. Understood?” He stared at them with sharp eyes. They both nodded. “Good.” He turned towards the cave. “I won’t have it said that Jorund Seaborn couldn’t keep two children safe,” he mumbled. Raising his torch, he stepped forward, and the children followed.

~~~~

Jorund in front, the travellers entered the cave. It seemed little more than a scratch into the mountain, being narrow as well. “Over there!” Egil exclaimed. At the back, the rocks split apart, allowing for an opening. With a deep breath, Jorund walked over. There was sufficient room for one person to walk at a time; the torch in his hand flickered, revealing flow of air.

“Let’s go,” the Dwarf muttered. His usual tone of command was gone; his expression seemed conflicted. In contrast, Egil’s eyes shone with excitement. Bringing up the rear, Kate walked with hesitation.

Entering the natural corridor, they found the ground uneven. In the dark, it was easy to stumble, and their progress was slow. None of them spoke; the only sounds were their footsteps and breathing. This lasted for half an hour before Egil reached forward to grab Jorund by the arm. “Look!” he called out, pointing up.

Jorund raised the torch, and its flickering light revealed deep cuts into the rock. “It’s a man,” he mumbled.

“It’s a warrior,” Kate corrected. The carving showed a figure wearing a helmet, but nothing else. His arm was stretched out with his hand raised, showing a gesture of greeting or warning.

“Shouldn’t he have weapons?” asked Egil.

“He may not have needed it,” Kate suggested.

“Unlike us,” Jorund muttered; he switched the torch into his left hand, which kept his sword hand free.

“Wait,” Egil uttered. “Isn’t the helmet strange? It has patterns and carvings.”

“Egil, it’s all a carving.”

“No, no, look! Imagine the helmet is metal. Those patterns are like waves. It’s sea-steel! He’s not a warrior, he’s a king wearing the Dragon Crown!”

Jorund squinted. “Hamar’s skull, the boy may have a point.”

“That proves it! It’s Sigvard! We’ve found it!” Egil all but shouted.

“But when Sigvard came, that was before he was king. Before he wore the crown,” Kate objected. “Why would this show him as a king?”

Egil shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe if we find more carvings, they’ll tell the full story.”

“Let’s be mindful of what else we might find,” Jorund growled. “We should continue. We don’t have the food to stand around all day.” He began walking again, and his companions hurried after him. All short of stature, none of them noticed the other carving high above their heads, opposite the crowned figure.

~~~~

Their journey into the mountain continued for hours before the narrow corridor finally expanded into a great cavern. It was impossible to determine the size; the torch struggled to illuminate more than a few feet away. “You think there are more carvings?” asked Egil. He was standing by the cave wall, running his hands over the rock.

“It could take days to find out,” Jorund said. “Days we don’t have.”

“This place looks empty,” Kate considered. “If this was where Sigvard came, whatever he found in here, I think he left with it.”

“It’s too soon to know that,” Egil replied curtly. “We need to look more. If we find more carvings, that’ll tell us which direction to go.”

“Don’t split up,” Jorund warned them. “If either of you gets lost in this place, you’ll never find the way out.”

“Do you hear the wind?” asked Kate. “I can hear a strong breeze, but I don’t feel it.”

“Odd, but it would suggest there are more caves. Maybe this goes all through the mountain, and we’ll come out the other side,” Egil speculated.

“Possible, but irrelevant,” Jorund argued. “That’s not what we came to find.”

“And what search, pray tell, has led you here?” The three travellers stared at each other. None of them had spoken. Their eyes widened, their mouths opened, their breathing stalled. The voice sounded deep, as if the mountain itself had spoken to them. “Perhaps we should have more light. Conversation is easier when you can look into the eyes of those with whom you speak, would you not agree? Master Stoneman holding the torch, if my senses do not betray me, I would ask you to move towards the centre of this cavern. You shall find ample firewood left by my previous visitors that you may set aflame.”

The torch was able to illuminate the dumbfounded look on Jorund’s face as he followed the instructions; his right hand fumbled for the hilt of his short sword meanwhile. He walked fifty paces towards the middle of the cavern; all that time, there was no sound except his footsteps. Behind him, darkness covered the children he had left behind. Ahead, he saw what the voice had promised. Firewood lay piled high. Swallowing, Jorund threw the torch onto the wood and stepped back, keeping his sword hand ready to draw.

The pyre burst into flames. Light illuminated the cavern. Kate and Egil appeared as Jorund glanced over his shoulder; looking ahead, there seemed to be only the wall of the cave. It had an odd appearance, with lines running in precise patterns like carved stonework. As Jorund stared at it, the wall moved. A pair of yellow orbs appeared, reflecting the light of the flames. With brown scales covering its body, white teeth the size of a man’s arm, black claws like swords, and its very breath pushing them back, a creature of legend rose before their eyes.

“Holy –” The sentence died in Jorund’s throat. His arms fell limp to his sides.

“I ask again, why have you come to my dwelling? Humble abode though it may be, it is my resting place.” The voice resounded inside the cavern.

“What – who are you?” asked Kate.

“You have come to my home, yet you know not who I am?” A gust of wind passed through them, as if the creature had blown its breath out in amusement. “Names I have that mortal tongues cannot comprehend, known only to my kind. Others were bestowed upon me by the forest lords, who delight in giving names. In your speech, many were the cries that rose when my flight across the sky was seen. One pleased me the most, and thus I would be called Earthwing once more.”

~~~~

The three travellers stared at the towering figure. With dark-brown scales, the creature had been near invisible against the cavern wall. “You’re a dragon,” Egil whispered.

“Indeed, little one. If you are disappointed to learn this, you should not have come to a dragon’s lair.” There was a sound like a barrel being drummed repeatedly; he was laughing.

“How can this be?” asked Kate.

“How? Little one, do you have all the time in creation to listen, for that is my age, and no less would be needed to tell the tale of Earthwing.”

“You’re that old?” Egil exclaimed.

“All of my kind are. Before sun rose, before moon shone, we were there. But these are not matters for mortals, nor is it why you have come.”

“Indeed, great one,” the young scribe admitted, bowing his head low. He stepped forward, Kate following closely. “We did not know you would disturb you. I beg you, do not punish my companions. They’ve only come because I pressed them on. The blame is mine alone.”

Earthwing rose upon his front legs, towering above Egil. Opening his mouth to speak, the dragon revealed his rows of teeth. “Punishment? Has knowledge of Earthwing decayed to such a degree, you would think me capable of such?” His voice took a turn, brimming with sorrow. “Or do the deeds of my brethren taint my reputation? Calm your hearts, little ones. I obey the laws of the divines and always have. None of their children shall come to harm through my acts.”

“Dvalinn’s beard!” Jorund exclaimed. His entire body relaxed. “So you won’t hurt us?”

“Was my speech unclear, Master Stoneman? Never have I shed a drop of blood belonging to your kind. I certainly do not intend to begin today.” The dragon’s breath made another gust sweep over them. “Perhaps I have approached this conversation in the wrong manner. What are your names, my young visitors?”

“I’m Egil, apprentice to the King’s Quill.”

“I’m Kate.”

“I’m Jorund Seaborn.” The Dwarf sent a look towards his companions before making an awkward bow.

“I bear you no ill will for having roused me from my slumber, but as this was not your intention, I would ask again the cause for your presence.”

“We came seeking what Sigvard found, many years ago. Would you know of him?” Egil asked.

Earthwing stretched his neck. “Of course. You may rejoice knowing your search is complete. You have found what he found.”

“Sigvard found you? You’re the power of Wyrmpeak?” Kate asked with wide eyes.

“What else would you imagine to be found in the deep places of the earth? Did you think the name of the mountain mere fancy?” The dragon stretched out his front legs, making each of his claws visible. “Verily, Sigvard came to me, seeking to end the war.”

“What – the Great War? That’s how it ended?” Egil licked his lips, looking like a dog staring at a bone.

“Has it been so long? Does your kind remember nothing? How many years has gone by since the days of Sigvard?”

“More than a thousand,” Egil revealed.

A gust of wind passed from Earthwing’s mouth as the dragon sighed. “Deep has been my sleep. I am the last watcher, protecting against a threat that I imagine will never come. One day, perhaps I shall sleep and never wake again.”

“That sounds sad.” The same emotion was evident on Kate’s face.

“Your kindness touches me, little one, but do not be troubled. One way or another, my fate is in the hands of higher powers.”

“I can’t imagine anything more powerful,” Jorund mumbled. He moved to stand in front of his charges.

“You flatter me, Master Stoneman, but I must protest. I fear that basking in such words led my brethren to evil.” The dragon lay down, leaning his head over his leg.

“What happened?” asked Egil.

All their hair was pulled forward as Earthwing took a deep breath. “I suppose their folly may be a valuable lesson. There is much I should not tell, but the fall of my brothers and sisters inflicted grievous destruction upon your people – who am I to hide this truth? Even if it shames me.”

“We don’t want you to feel bad,” Kate said earnestly.

“For many reasons,” Jorund said to himself.

Earthwing moved his head back and forth, shaking it. “Do not be concerned, little one. In the end, we have only ourselves to thank if we are shamed by the truth. Let me tell you as briefly as I can this tale, and you may consider what lessons it holds for us all.” The dragon raised his head and stretched out his front legs. Meanwhile, the three travellers sat down on the cave floor, next to one of his clawed appendages, and the children placed their heads in their hands.

“So long ago, the years cannot be counted, I had six brothers and sisters. We delighted in flying across the sky, meeting each other in a dance of fire and air. We are not creatures the same as you, little ones. We do not require nourishment, nor do we age. Yet even so, as the years passed, we each felt weariness, and we would retreat to sleep for decades, centuries, or more. I chose this cave as my dwelling, and eventually, I stayed longer and longer. The king of the forest would at times come seeking counsel, but at some point, this ceased as well.” Egil and Kate exchanged looks.

“It all changed that day – the last day I received a visitor before your arrival.” Earthwing breathed so deeply, his entire body seemed to shake. “He was a child of Men, young even by your reckoning. He told me terrible tidings, and I wished with all my being to call him a liar. Yet I knew his every word was true. I have never spoken a lie in all my life, and so I cannot be deceived by falsehood.”

“Bloody useful,” Jorund muttered.

“His name was Sigvard. He told me of war between the children of the divines, of blood spilt and untold death. Worse than that, his final words were a dagger in my heart. All six of my brethren had abandoned their purpose and turned against the laws of the divines. They fought on the battlefield, committing sacrilege with life’s blood staining their claws and teeth. Indeed, three of them had already fallen to the bravest of heroes among the divine races.” Sorrow filled the dragon’s voice. “I shall never know the cause. Long I have speculated, but the only reason I could think of such betrayal would be that greed filled their minds, and they sought dominion over others.”

Earthwing breathed deeply again. “I knew my duty. A terrible battle was fought beneath the slopes of this very mountain, and the remaining three of my kin stood arrayed against Sigvard and his people. How could there be hope of victory against three of such might? There was only one way to turn the tide.” None of his listeners spoke; they sat in rapt attention. “I stretched out my wings and left my home. From on high, I saw the battle unfold and my brethren causing wanton death. I gave them one warning – to submit immediately or suffer to be destroyed. They chose the latter.”

The dragon clenched his claws together, scraping cuts into the rock below. “I lured them away from the battle that our clash would not inflict casualties upon those below. With fire and fury we fought! All of them came against me, but their might was for naught. Against Earthwing, they fell, one by one. Bloody and wounded, I claimed victory, but there was no joy in my heart. I had slain my brethren to save your people and thereby made myself the last of my kind.”

He relaxed his claws once more, letting them extend, and Kate moved to lean her cheek against the scales of his leg. “That is so sad. I’m so sorry.”

“As am I, little one.”

“That must have been incredible to behold,” Egil said. “How could you stand alone against three other dragons and win?”

The wyrm stretched his neck forward. “Seven we were, but not equal in might.” He opened his mouth and gave a roar. “I am Earthwing! Eldest of my kind, foremost servant to my lord! How could any challenge me?” Embers seemed to glow inside of him, visible through his scales. As he raised his head, flames erupted from his jaws, and the cave exploded in light. It disappeared as swiftly as it had arrived. “Why would they challenge me?” he asked again, and his voice changed from thunder to gentle rain, filled with grief. “Why would they not submit? Why would they…”

“Hamar’s fist,” was all that Jorund could remark.

“Forgive me, dear visitors.” Earthwing’s voice assumed its former steadiness. “I did not mean to cause you alarm. Rest assured, you remain safe as ever in my presence.”

“We understand,” Kate said. “Thank you for telling us your story.”

“So that’s how the battle of Valmark was won,” Egil considered. “Sigvard didn’t fight himself. He brought you, great Earthwing, and tipped the scales of the war. That’s why his name is Drakevin,” he added in sudden realisation. “All these years, and that’s all we remember.”

“We can’t stay here,” Jorund interjected. “No offence to you, mighty Earthwing,” he quickly added. “But we’ve barely any food left and a long journey home.”

“I guess you’re right,” Egil admitted reluctantly. “But there’s so much we could learn here!”

“I think Master Jorund has it right,” Earthwing assented. “The wise king of the forest never stayed here long. In the deep places of the earth, the world changes. That is of no consequence to me, but it is to you. Stay too long, and you may not recognise what awaits you outside.”

Kate stood up, placing her hand on the dragon’s claw. “It was wonderful to meet you, Earthwing. I will never forget this day.”

“Nor shall I, little one.”

Jorund picked up a torch from the fire and gave a deep bow. “Farewell, mighty Earthwing.”

“Farewell,” Egil reiterated.

“And the same to you all. May the blessings of the divines follow you all your days.”

The travellers walked out of the cave, glancing behind several times. As they reached the corridor, Earthwing beat his wing swiftly, causing a strong wind to blow out the fire burning in the middle. The cavern was plunged into darkness once more; a final flicker of light was reflected in the dragon’s eyes before it disappeared as well.

~~~~

When they stumbled out of the cave opening and into the valley, the sky was darkening. Nearly the entire day had passed inside the mountain. “You best prepare your bellies,” Jorund told them. “They’ll go hungry long before we can replenish our food. Let’s be off.”

They began the walk south. “Are you well, Jorund? You don’t sound like yourself,” Kate considered. “You didn’t say a word the whole journey through the mountain.”

“Who wouldn’t be impressed by what we’ve just seen?” Egil pointed out.

“It’s not that,” Jorund claimed. “I mean, maybe, but more than that.”

“What do you mean?” asked Kate.

“This is the best story of my life, meeting a dragon, but who will ever believe me? I can never tell a soul without being called a liar.” He exhaled deeply. “I’m ruined as a storyteller.”

“We’ll listen to your story,” Kate promised. “We know it’s true.”

Jorund gave a defeated smile. “It doesn’t really work when you were there as well. The story belongs to you as much as it does to me.”

They continued walking for a while in silence. Far ahead of them, barely visible in the fading light, lay the brook at the bottom of the valley; on the other side, they could see the hillside sloping upwards.

“You called yourself Jorund Seaborn,” Egil suddenly said. “I’ve never heard you use that name before.”

“That’s right!” Kate exclaimed. “You haven’t told us that.”

“What, I’ve never told you why I’m called Seaborn?”

Both the children shook their heads vigorously. “Never!”

“Hel in hot water! That’s a mistake on my part. Well, we have to go back more than sixty years…”

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About the author

Quill

Bio: Indie writer with various projects, though The Chronicles of Adalmearc is the one dearest to me. Because of this, I have decided to make it free to reach as many readers as possible. If you enjoy it, I would ask you to consider joining my Patreon; certain tiers from $5 and above will earn towards receiving the full series as hardcovers. Advance chapters are available from $2 and upwards. See also my website for more information on my work and world.

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