Treacherous a Dragon's Love
m/f fantasy romance
Section 2: Treasure
King Taseth stared down the ravine at the glittering gold and swore. There was no way to reach it. He could barely tell if the second lump of gold and red was the dragon or another pile of treasure, but it had to be the dragon. No living dragon would allow an army of men this near his lair. There was no movement from the dragon lump. Prince Sean’s arrow must have hit its mark and pierced the foul beast’s heart. The top of the ravine, and all along the sides, had deep gouges and blood as if the creature had tried to slow his descent. But in the end his efforts were wasted, and the lump lay motionless. With his treasure.
The damned treasure. There was no way to get it. He might be able to get men down, King Taseth thought, but it would be impossible to get them up again without wings. It was too deep, and too abrupt an angle. No footholds, no possibility of lowering ropes because of the random spurts of fire emitted by the mountain. Impossible. He wouldn’t be able to reclaim his ancestor’s wealth. But at least that flying snake would never humiliate him again.
He had his sons search the rest of the mountain maze for any other treasure, and any other survivors. The woman disturbed him deeply. Arostrath always took his sacrifices to the mountain before eating but no one had guessed they might roam the mountain in constant terror until his hunger peaked. It was a hideous thought.
They found a few scattered gems, but no substantial treasure. There were no survivors, but his eldest led him to a pit filled with bones. Human bones, dropped into the room from above. A few of Taseth’s younger sons were pale and one needed a few minutes outside to handle his stomach in private.
“Now do you see why I needed to destroy this evil?” the King asked.
They nodded and he felt satisfied that they would spread word of Arostrath’s monstrosities. Attacking the dragon had eroded the King’s support and nearly caused an uprising, inspired no doubt by one of these very sons, but now that people could look at the bones and see the dragon’s barbarian nature firsthand, they would embrace the King for the rest of his rule and ignore his power-hungry Princes.
When he returned to the camp he ordered the dragonspawn brought before him. The oldest dragonspawn, Stratus was one of Arostrath’s children from nearly two centuries ago but he still looked as young as any of the King’s sons, save for the decrepit leather on his one remaining wing. His red hair had been bleached gold by the sun and his bronze skin darkened to black, but his face was unlined and the King resented his immortality. Dragonspawn were rare, and valuable servants if they could be persuaded. This one had sworn loyalty to the King’s grandfather many times removed yet still helped the royal family because of their shared blood.
Stratus appeared surprised to see him and glanced at the mountain in dismay. The King wondered how far the dragonspawn’s loyalty really went, and what his real reasons for bringing the King were.
“I have defeated Arostrath. He lies dead with his treasure. My sons have witnessed his body and can confirm it.”
“It cannot be.”
“You saw the arrow that pierced his heart in the sky, Stratus. He was unable to survive the fall and remove the arrow in time, and now lays dead in vast mounds of treasure.”
“No,” the dragonspawn whispered. “You are not worthy to slay Arostrath.”
“Then why did you tell me how to find the dragon? Why did you lead me here?” The dragonspawn was silent and the King smashed his fist into the falsely youthful face. “You swore loyalty to my forefather; you must obey me.”
“I swore loyalty to a King who was wise and just,” Stratus said with a snarl, spitting blood. “I obeyed him because I wanted to. No dragonspawn would obey a King as foolish and cowardly as you, and if it weren’t for the faintest hint of your forefather’s blood in your veins I’d kill you myself. Yes, I brought you here to die. And if one of your sons hadn’t made the lucky shot-”
The King cut his outburst short with a sword through the heart, the only way to kill a dragonspawn. He hacked off the wing, then each limb, savoring the immortal blood splashing his face as he had not been able to enjoy Arostrath’s blood. He had never dared harm the arrogant dragonspawn before; he was Arostrath’s son. But now the monster was dead, all dragonspawn were at his mercy.
He stopped when the corpse became unidentifiable. Turning from the body, the King shouted for attention from his troops. They would pack up and leave first thing in the morning, he announced to a few happy shouts, and return to the castle in five days. Then, he continued, they would be free to rejoin their villages. There was a hearty outburst at the last. His eldest sons washed the blood from his face while the younger sons buried the dragonspawn’s remains. Stratus had been their teacher in youth, and the King’s as well, but Stratus deserved his fate.
With his face clean and victory official, the King remembered the woman and found her in the healer’s tent. She was awake and her eyes were eerie gold, like a dragon’s.
“She is taken by dragongaze, your Majesty,” the healer said. “She will never recover.”
“Who is she?” the King demanded.
“Do you know your name?”
The healer’s voice was soothing and the woman faced him expressionlessly.
The King shivered. The healer held a hand up to indicate patience.
“Those under dragongaze lose their sense of self, your Majesty. Who were you before Arostrath?”
Her eyes squinted as if she were seeking memories long burnt out by the dragon’s fierce gaze.
“Rossa,” the woman whispered, eyes unfocused.
“Rosa’s a common name,” the King said. “What do you remember?”
The King’s knuckles whitened. Of course she would remember gold. Unlike him, she had touched the dragon’s wealth. He tried to remind himself of her terror but jealousy remained. He stared at the golden manacles perfectly molded to her body and wondered how much they would be worth once removed. They were seamless, but he would remove them. The shackles and the woman were the only real trophies from this quest.
The King stroked her fiery hair possessively. “Soon we will remove the chains, Rosa, and you will be free.”
“No,” she cried, pushing him away and leaping up.
She gasped and the healer forced her to lie down again. Blood showed through the thin blanket under her bandages but she shoved the healer’s hands away, shaking her head.
“If you remove them,” she cried, “I will die, and the person who removes them will be cursed for all of his days.”
“We won’t remove them,” the healer murmured and coaxed her into lying still.
Her face was ashen beneath the bronze and the King considered his options. He didn’t doubt that Arostrath would place a curse on his gold, or his victim. The curse was easy enough to avoid, since he could arrange for someone disposable to remove the manacles. But he wanted the woman alive, for a time at least. She was a physical reminder why his decision to kill the dragon was the right one. And she would make a marvelous addition to his harem.
In fact, if this was the quality of woman his villages offered in sacrifice, perhaps he should extend the custom and take the women for himself. The villages couldn’t complain since the women wouldn’t be eaten. He’d even let the women return to their homes occasionally, if they pleased him. The dragon’s idea wasn’t so bad.
He would leave the manacles on, the King decided. They would remind people that she was once the dragon’s slave, and they would thank him for rescuing them from such dark times. Yes, she would be a very good addition, and when she died, he would add the gold to the treasury without guilt.