The first chapter one Rise of the Red King is now up! As always, this is a rough draft so if you encounter mistakes, keep that in mind. Happy reading!
"And who are you to disturb my rest? My dwelling place?" A mighty black, scaly tail came crashing down upon the ship, breaking it in half. Shards of wood and metal, goods, matter and men went flying like arrows into the Llordis. Rapheth could hear the terrified cries of the crew and passengers as they fell into the rough cold waters forced. The dragon plunged its head into the waters to finish devouring the crew. Its head spikes, horns longer than long swords and black as pitch, demolished and splintered what was left of the ship. Rapheth felt himself falling, water rushing into his lungs. The cold attacked his body like a thousand stabbing knives. He caught a glimpse of light below as he struggled to swim to the surface. Like a large, bright lantern pushing toward him through the water it came. He felt its heat on the soles of his feet. I feel so cold.
"Then you should not have come here, little fool!" The light was the fiery eye of Abgaron. The dragon opened a wide, vicious looking maw and bit his torso in half.
Rapheth awoke with a sickened start.
"Another dream?" Asked a voice in the darkness.
"Yes." Rapheth murmured. There was a tiny light only some feet away from him. He guessed it had entered his dream. How the things of waking time entered dream in the most unexpected ways. The voice was Parso's.
"Reading in the dark again?" Rapheth asked, relaxing his head back against the rough burlap sack again. He heard Parso chuckle. That familiar, avuncular sound comforted him. Rapheth took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
"Do you want me to read to you from the Holy Aishanna?"
"Like the darkness that is covering the twilight. . ." As Parso read on, Rapheth tried to settle his mind, which flew from one tangled nest of dark and lurid thoughts to another. They had been sailing for twenty-two days, the Llordis Sea gradually pouring into the North Ocean. Its waters were very cold and the crew took to wearing heavy, woolen clothing proofed with a wax made of animal fat. The weather was unlike anything Rapheth and his men had experienced and some, such as Luz and Shukala had fallen ill from the chill. For some days he and Ephron had discussed how to fight a dragon but nothing had appeared miraculously to help them. Or, rather, him. Then Ephron friend urged him to think of out- witting the dragon with a riddle. They'd read that it had been done before.
"No need to ask God for help where you can help yourself." Ephron said. "We have been fortunate so far. Why assume He will not help? Do what you will and God's hand will be in the matter but go forward and be courageous and face this demon-thing. You will triumph and destroy it. Only cowards shrink away or plot." He heard Ephron's proud words echo in his mind. It had impressed him. But those words also disturbed him. In fact, arrogance was dangerous, especially in the face of servants of the unnamed one or when assuming the hand of God, in matters. Rapheth tried again to match the pace of his breathing with the heaving movement of the ship as it rolled through the rough waters of the ocean.
It was night and the sky was obscured in thick gloom. However, the crew were fortunate. A man who was once an alchemical apprentice, a technician in the golden alchemical arts, was on board and he had a compass on board to help them navigate, even when the stars could not be seen. Oratio was his name and he was amazed when Rapheth and Parso had shown him their tinkering machines, especially the chilyabium.
"I'd heard these things were banned in your lands," he'd said, astonished at the sight of it. He set to work tinkering with the machines when the weather was calm and had rigged it so that at least the chilyabium could be turned on. As to the chilyabium however, Oratio had admitted that fixing such a finely made machine was far beyond his skill. He had told them to come with him after the shipped docked, to the house of his great-uncle who was a revered gold alchemist and he had a number of other relatives that were in the guilds as well. Most of his family lived in a city named Tidua, in central Pallinona. Oratio's great-uncle, he said, on seeing such a machine would welcome them gladly.
After only a week of sailing Rapheth felt the evil dread of the dragon hanging about him like a suffocating drape. He felt it as a pain in his kidneys. His disquieting thoughts blossomed into fear as he had now sailed off the edge of promise and hope into the maw of uncertainty. In fact, as the days went on, the crew, first merry and at times boisterous, had grown quiet the farther west they sailed. But there was no turning back. His men regarded him already as a sort of king, if only amongst themselves but it was enough to burden him with more doubt and fear. This dragon son of Garon would surely test him for it was not only human men who did not want to see his rise. Those of the godly realm hated him as well. He'd surmised from what he'd read about the creature that he would have to do battle, either physical or by wits. Rapheth pondered over this now in the dark. He could hear the waves pushing and beating against the side of the ship like hands seeking what was inside. If only he had a great sword. Like the star sword of Ishuye. Why could he not have such a thing and why would God fling him to the far corners of the world without it? Even so, Abgaron would not be fooled into a physical battle with that sword again. Feeling alone in the blackness where only the smells of the ship and sea, his ears hearing the soft snores of the other men around him and the waves outside, his thoughts turned sour. Rapheth felt like an animal caught in a trap, waiting for the hunter. He'd been told since he was a small child that he was of royal blood, of the famed, or infamous Reshaim, yet he had to hide who he was. He could not fully partake of life but simply wait. Who am I, really? It frustrated him as he'd grown older to not have a sure identity and place in the community, in the world that he could openly express. He was sometimes jealous of Shukala and Ephron for this reason. They knew who they were and what their positions would be, what they would be in the firmament of society when they became men. They even knew which girls they would marry, both betrothed when they were still children, while he felt both chained by destiny and unfettered and insecure by dangers that lurked everywhere. He'd prayed to God many times but there seemed to be no satisfactory answer from that front either. If you will not give me a powerful sword to defeat him as you gave Ishuye, I shall outsmart him by wit if I can! he thought defiantly. I have no other choice.
The next morning after a breakfast of hard bread, limes, some hard cheese and salted beef Rapheth went above to the deck. The sky was the same sullen gray it had been for weeks. He had never seen the sky thus and it's alien quality did nothing to improve his moodiness. Even the crew continued apprehensive. His own men tried to get him to go back below deck but Rapheth ignored them.
"What is the matter, do you think?" Asked Injol quietly to Rhajit. Rhajit shook his head.
"Perhaps the weight of what he is about to become is finally taking its toll. Perhaps this is a test of manhood." Sea spray soaked matted down his thick black hair and Rhajit smoothed it down again and pulled his cloak closer against the cold. "Out in the desert boys of a certain age are tested as to their manhood. They must hunt and kill a fierce beast. A pack of jackals or a lion, or in the old days one of the massive lizards that used to roam the desert. Perhaps this is his test."
"I know of what you speak. I had my own test back then. However, none of us tribesmen had to face a dragon." Said Injol. Rhajit said nothing.
A black line like a massive rising wave made its way through the waters, rending a line through the sea like a sword. The water grew grayish and turgid as the creature cut its path toward the ship. There were frightened shouts from the sailors and the alarm sounded. Men ran to and fro over the deck or dove below deck but there was nowhere to hide. Abgaron, the great dragon of the Llordis had finally appeared.
"I thought perhaps we would not see him this time. Normally he would appeared long before now!" Said the captain fearfully. "I have brought tribute, men! Even a prisoner below deck who would have received the death penalty! Do not fear or panic, yet!" Shouted the captain. Ephron and Shukala refused to go down below deck but kept their eyes fearfully on their friend. A mountainous scaled head like a lizard's with a crown of sharp horns arrayed around its head like a diadem reared up from the sea. Rapheth turned to the captain whose eyes were wide as moons.
"Do not give over the prisoner for the creature is here for me." The captain nodded but said nothing.
"Did you think that you could sneak past without tribute? I perceive you have something special to give me, do you not?" Said the dragon. It's voice was like great stones dragging and scraping across each other.
"Oh great and fear-inspiring Abgaron! I have your tribute! Much gold and silver I have acquired-" Cried the captain. Abgaron rumbled with cruel laughter. Rapheth could feel the rumble in the soles of his feet. He took a deep breath. Abgaron turned his gazed upon him suddenly, his eyes blazing.
"Keep silent and keep your gold and silver! I see a prize in flesh and blood this day." The dragon opened its mouth and revealed glittering sharp teeth.
"I smell the blood of Reshaim!" It said with deepest scorn. The words rolled over Rapheth like tidal waves and he could feel the disgust like a vicious slap. "Long dead I thought you all. But here one stands before me. Do you not fear me, boy?"
"I am not a boy." Said Rapheth. His heart hammered. The dragon laughed again and this time Rapheth could feel even his own teeth rattle.
"Such courage. You must have a holy sword on you but I shall not be torn open again. No, I came to you in dream. You know of it. We shall find another way for you to pay your debt, Reshaim!" Rapheth's heart fluttered in fear and excitement. He had no weapon to kill or fight the dragon but he did have his wits still about him. He spoke up.
"Give me a riddle to answer Abgaron, since you seem to know my mind." The dragon narrowed his eyes and then let out a deep hiss and a circle of fire surrounded the ship, holding it still in the stormy waters. Quickly, as it touched the waters the ring around the ship became a wall of thick hot steam that held the ship captive within the circle of the dragon's presence. It smelled acrid, of sulphur and melted metal and the sea. The dragon's voice suddenly became low as it lowered its head, pushing it through the circle of steam and moved in close to Rapheth.
"You want to play a game? That is well, but where there is no blood-letting do not think there is no price to pay."
"There is a price to everything."
"Indeed. Give your riddle then, Reshaim." Rapheth was frightened but closed his eyes to gather himself. Airend-Ur hear me and be merciful. He could hear the dragon laughing in his head, though it could not be heard by the other men listening, who had not hidden below deck.
"Make all the prayers you need. You will not leave here until the matter is done." Came the dragon's voice, this time in his head. Rapheth ignored it as best he could and wracked his mind for a riddle. Of all the scrolls and books he had read there were not many but there were a few in the Book of Kings' Wisdom in the Holy Aishanna, and he was now fast coming up with his own riddle based upon one of those passages.
The cost of one only its maker knows,
it is both valueless and precious.
A beggar may give one as easily as a king.
But when one is broken, pain and rage are sure to follow.
it is both valueless and precious.
A beggar may give one as easily as a king.
But when one is broken, pain and rage are sure to follow.
What is the answer?
The dragon reared back and looked at him for a few seconds.
"The answer is a promise."
"What does this mean?" Asked the captain.
"It means you may pass unhindered for he has given himself to me as a promise."
'I do not understand-" Cried Rapheth.
"Of course, you do not. I have been here long before your Reshaim ancestors walked the globe or sailed the seas. The crew here can go in peace. I will not harm them. Today. You, on the other hand, are the sacrifice." The dragon laughed and fires blossomed from the steam and rose higher than the wall of steam. The sails began to burn and it through the crew into a panic
It dawned on Rapheth that he rushed in too soon to battle with this ancient creature.
"What will you give me, Reshaim, so that you may pass unharmed." The dragon tricked him but there was no way he could change it now.
"I give you my word, my promise, that I will come back this way, as a sacrifice or I shall forfeit my life, if I fail to keep my promise. Do not harm them, Abgaron."
I thought as much. naive and stupid liek all of your kind who worship the First One. Do not lie to me. I know when men lie. The dragon's voice sounded said in his head. I perceive you speak truth to me in this, that you will face me but do not think you will succeed for I have my brand upon you and do not think you will escape. My brand shall kill you if you do not hold to your promise.
"I think I will find you far more useful to me and the father of storms alive instead of dead. Oh yes." Said Abgaron.
The dragon let them pass but not before a visceral reminder of his promise. He felt heat within him like a raging fire, lighting up his body, a searing pain in his chest. Rapheth screamed and collapsed.
"What is happening!?" Parso, Ephron and Shukala came to his side. Rapheth could feel blood welling up in his mouth. He felt the brand, now pulsing in his body. In pain and out of breath he merely lay upon the floor. The dragon backed away and let them pass. As the ship sailed on, the circle of fire and steam ceased but they could hear the rumbling, menacing laughter of the dragon even far away, as it plunged itself back toward the depths of his home.
"Bless my soul and the rolling waves! That was the strangest battle I have ever witnessed. Usually he demands valuables or flesh, right then and there!" Exclaimed the captain to Rapeth. "You must be a wizard, Rapheth! You must be! You saved us all!" The captain and his men were elated.
"Yes, I think there is something else afoot here. This young man has some authority, or some other quality about him that is valuable, otherwise the dragon would not have made any such bargain with him. He must be blessed by the gods, else we all would be dead." Said another Oratio. 'when I arrive home I must tell my uncle!"
"See! What did I tell you? You or on the path to glory already! And you needed no sword or even God's hand in the matter!" Said Ephron excitedly.
"Was this your idea, Ephron?" asked Parso. He looked dismayed.
"What? He won and we are all safe. There is nothing to worry over, Parso!" Parso glared at him then glanced worriedly at Rapheth.
"That remains to be seen. And there is no true glory not given to one by the First Pillar. You should know that." Ephron made a dismissive sound.
"Come, gentle fellows. We go in joy to Pallinona!" Said the captain. the crew raised a great cry of joy and relief and they celebrated with ale and salted beef and even some spirits.
But Rapheth knew now that he had made a deadly bargain with an evil creature and though he was obligated to keep his word, Abgaron was not. He rubbed the spot on his chest where he felt the invisible brand of the dragon. The first challenge was over. And he had failed it. There was no question he wanted to keep his promise but could he? What did the dragon want to use him for? He could have simply eaten him alive but did not, which made Rapheth's sense of dread deepened. A new dread. Did Abgaron know something about his journey that he did not?