It was said that the people of Cavlan Valley were survivors. They survived a disease that stole many of their own, and they survived the oppressive presence of the dragons that dwelled in their mountains.
And that is why, as Nate walked down the market’s narrow street, he kept a firm grip on his two thirteen-year-old brothers.
Elliot squirmed. “You don’t have to hold onto us you know. We won’t run off”
Nate didn’t remove his grip. “I’m not worried about that, I’m protecting you.”
“We don’t need protecting.” Isaac piped up. “It’s not like we’re in any danger from-”
“Dragons! Dragon attack!”
As the cry went up, Nate pushed down his rising terror and pulled his brothers towards the mill, the only building made entirely of stone.
A bolt of fire flashed across the sky as they ran. The blaze grew in a nearby field, and mass hysteria bloomed in the village.
The frenzied crowd pressed against them as children were ushered to safety, and farmers searched for weapons to defend themselves with.
As more people took shelter inside, Nate and his brothers held their breath and waited for the sound of beating wings to fade.
An hour later, Nate beat at the last of the flames lingering in the wheat field.
The fire was gone, but so were the crops.
Next to him, Elliot wiped a hand across his brow, leaving a thick layer of soot. “Should we move to the next field?”
Nate glanced around as everyone else moved on to survey the damage. “I think it should be under control by now. Why don’t you and Isaac go back to the forge and see if you can find any dinner? There should be a meeting soon, but I’ll be back as soon as it’s finished.”
Elliot must have been too tired to argue because he simply nodded and started back towards town.
Bracing himself for the inevitable debate, Nate returned to town and took a seat in the back of the meeting house.
The farmer whose field had been destroyed was the first to speak.“We can’t allow ourselves to remain vulnerable any longer. I say we defend ourselves.”
A murmur of agreement rose from the crowd.
“With what weapons?” Another voice piped up, “We’re not warriors.”
“We have to do something!”
“Without that field, we won’t have enough food!”
John White slapped his hand against the table. “The dragons stole my whole flock of sheep. Another attack like this and we’ll all starve to death.”
Nate ran his hands down his face. With sheep and a field gone, it would be a hard winter. If anything else were to be lost, the whole village would be forced to move to larger cities or die.
“I’m not giving up yet.”Jane Miller argued. “We can buy food from Pinehedge to get us through the winter.”
“Not with all our goods destroyed we can’t.”
Murmurs of worry spread through the crowd again, until the governor raised his hands for silence.
“We cannot attack the dragons and win. Nor can we continue to let them destroy our homes and our livelihoods. If you wish, you may take your families away from here. But, anyone that chooses to stay can stand with me to defend our homes!” He raised his fist in the air, and the crowd cheered.
Nate wrung his hands.
Next to him, Hugh Woodard, the oldest man in the village, clucked his tongue. “They just don’t understand. You can’t beat a dragon with force.”
Nate choked out a mirthless laugh. “I don’t think you can beat dragons at all.”
Mr. Woodard looked at him out the corner of his eye slyly. “Oh you can, you can. If you steal a piece of dragon treasure, they’ll trade you one favor to get it back.” He coughed. “Not that anyone can get to the treasure, but… a chance is a chance.”
Nate stared at the old man, as he got up and followed the crowd out the door. “You’re sure?”
He grinned. “I’ve seen it happen.”
That night, Nate pulled a piece of metal out of the fire and began to pound it into a long rod. Usually, the sound of a hammer hitting metal calmed his mind, but tonight, with each strike, one thought repeated in an endless rhythm. There was a chance.
Frustrated, he shoved the strip of red-hot metal into the water and watched it hiss and steam. He couldn’t take a chance like that. Not with his brothers relying on him, not when they would quickly starve without the income from the Smithy.
Taking off his leather apron, he tried to scrub the soot from his skin. If he didn’t do anything, the whole village would starve. He stared at his father’s anvil. They could move to Pinehedge, start a new life. He could continue smithing and… and what? Move the smithy? He couldn’t afford what it would cost to move all of his father’s tools, and to build a new one? Out of the question.
Tentative footsteps caught his attention. “I thought you were asleep.”
Isaac bit his lip. “Can’t sleep.” He stared at the ground. “Nate, we’re not leaving are we?”
At the fear in his brother’s voice, the last of his hesitance melted away. “No. No, we’re staying right here.”
The next morning, Nate shouldered a pack and tucked an iron poker — the only thing resembling a weapon that he could get his hands on- under one arm. “I want you to stay close to the house. If the dragons come back, go inside and don’t come back out until you’re absolutely certain they’re gone.”
Isaac waved off his concern. “We’ll be fine. But I don’t think you should leave.”
Nate shook his head. “This is our only chance. We can’t afford to move to Pinehedge, and I can’t let the village be destroyed. Just promise me you won’t do anything stupid while I’m gone.”
Crossing his arms, Elliot nodded. “Fine. Just so long as you promise to come back soon. Alive.”
Nate stared out over his brother’s heads at the mountain lying dangerously close. “I promise.”
“Aagh!” Nate clung to the cliff face with all his might and tried to find a foothold. Below, a chunk of rock shattered against the mountain.
Mountain climbing was obviously much harder than it looked. His iron poker had long since fallen to the ground, leaving him completely defenseless, but less clumsy.
Reaching up for his next handhold, he was surprised and relieved to find a ledge which, with some struggle, he promptly pulled himself onto.
Panting, he glanced at the sky to find that a brown dragon had joined the blue one that had been circling for the past three hours.
Nate pinned himself against the rock face and waited. If they were going to eat him why didn’t they just do it already? He risked another glance upward and found the blue dragon perched directly above him, not five yards from where he was sitting.
He stumbled backward, and the ground fell out from under his feet. As he fell, the last thing he saw was the dragon peering over the edge after him.
Nate woke up on a floor of smooth, cold stone. His mind felt fuzzy as he tried to recollect what had happened. The ledge, the dragon, falling.
He should be dead. He opened his eyes and took a look around the large cavern he was trapped in. It was dark. He couldn’t see the walls around him, and a flickering orange light spread down from an opening near the ceiling.
Scraping noises to his right caught his attention. The blue dragon moved steadily closer and regarded him with curiosity — if a dragon can have any such expression. On closer inspection, he found that the dragon wasn’t truly blue, but a glittering shade of aquamarine. “You’re awake.”
Nate started and scooted away slowly. It could talk? “I must have hit my head when I fell.”
The dragon snorted, throwing a wave of heat over him. “You didn’t get a chance to hit your head before I caught you. You just fainted”
Nate scrambled to his feet. “I… you’re not… how-”
A large shape obscured the light. “Arminde.” The brown dragon glided down, landing on the ground with some grace. “I thought I told you not to speak to the prisoner?”
“He’s harmless Cato.”
The brown dragon grumbled and jerked his head towards the other side of the cavern, where they whispered quietly together.
Recognizing his chance, Nate slipped into the shadows at the edge of the room and began inching along looking for an opening to run through.
Cato barely glanced at him before spitting a bolt of fire in his direction.
It exploded against the wall, the heat brushing against Nate’s scalp.
“That was a warning boy. Don’t give me a reason to have better aim next time.”
Well, that went badly. For the briefest moment, Nate considered fighting Cato. Then again, Cato was the size of a small cottage, breathed fire, and had shown great agility thus far. He needed a new plan. Looking on the ground for a weapon of some sort, his eyes fell on a glint of light in the corner.
A ruby. A small one, but maybe… Snatching it off the ground he yelled, “I have the treasure. I demand you leave my village alone.”
Arminde blinked slowly. “He’s crazy.”
“No,” Cato smirked. “I told our smith to do whatever it took. You know how much he loves legends.”
What? “Excuse me I-”
Cato ignored him. Hooking a claw through the back of his tunic, he took off into the air.
Stone walls flew past, and as Cato moved with ease up one passage and down another, the wind whipped at Nate’s hair and clothes.
As they flew, he began to realize just how extensively the dragons had tunneled through the mountain. The tunnels went on and on, twisting and turning until Nate was sure that the entire mountain must be hollow.
Finally, just as he was becoming certain that they would never stop, the dragon came to rest in front of a large iron door.
Pulling it open with one claw, Cato pushed Nate through.
The inside was… not what he was expecting. A large fireplace that looked rather out of use stood in one corner. Along one wall, barely visible under cobwebs, were tools, and taking priority in the very center of the room was a well-used anvil.
Nate turned an inquiring gaze on Cato.
The dragon ignored him and poked his head around the room. “This place belonged to our last Dragon Smith, now it is yours.”
“What’s a Dragon Smith?”
Cato sighed. “Have they completely buried your history?” Settling to the floor, he started tapping his claw against the stone. “Let’s see now, at one point, we had a deal with you humans. We left you alone in exchange for the services of a smith willing to forge with dragon fire.”
“Dragon fire?” Nate interrupted. “As in for making Fire Swords?”
“You’ve seen a Fire Sword have you?”
“Once,” He drew in a deep breath. “It was beautiful.”
The dragon swelled with pride. “Our flames can give metal great strength but, metal can only be affected by dragon fire once. We employed our Dragonsmith to make fireproof armor during a war with other dragons. Now, however, we are at peace.”
Nate blinked slowly as his mind caught up with the new information. “Then why do you need me?”
Cato’s eyes narrowed. “Because, as we have expanded our tunnels, this mountain is very nearly hollow. If we don’t support the tunnels soon, this whole mountain will collapse, and a wooden support beam would burn all too easily.” Cato stood with a cat-like yawn. “You will fashion coverings for the beams, and eventually return to your village.”
“So, I’m a prisoner then?”
The dragon tilted his head. “You could use that word.”
Nate backed up slowly. “You’re crazy. You can’t just kidnap people and expect them to do what you want.”
“Perhaps, but it’s not as if you have any choice in the matter. If you do as I ask, you may one day regain your freedom. If you don’t, I make no promises for the safety of you or your brothers.”
“What do you know about my brothers?”
Cato laughed. “Please. I spent far too much time planning this to have no information.”
The dragon moved closer, his face inches from Nate’s. “Listen, I didn’t have very much time to convince you to help, and if this mountain comes down, your entire village will go with it. Understood?”
Pursing his lips Nate nodded. “Perfectly.”
“Good. I’ll be back shortly, but until then you should know that the only way out of here is by flight.” The dragon took off into the air without a single backward glance at his prisoner.
Nate stared at the stone walls surrounding him. Perfect. He had officially been doomed to forced labor for practically the rest of his life.
Sitting down on the anvil, he held his head in his hands. What was he supposed to do? There was no good solution, except… There really only was one solution. If he wanted his brothers and his village to live, he had to cooperate. Even if that meant Isaac and Elliot spent the rest of their lives believing he was dead.
With this realization, he walked back into the stone hall and yelled up the tunnel. “I’ll cooperate, but I’m going to need some things first.”
Cato’s head popped over the edge. “Took you long enough.”
“Were you waiting for me to call you?”
The dragon nodded and flapped down to meet him. “I almost gave up too, but you have become astoundingly predictable.” With a shrug of his scaled shoulders, he continued. “You said you needed something?”
“Well, first I’m going to need some metal.”
Cato inclined his head. “Done. I assume that is all?”
Bolstered by his success, Nate decided to push his luck a little more. “Well, If I’m going to work with Dragon Fire, I think I need to see the effect it has on metal.”
“Very well.” The dragon took a piece of scrap metal from the floor and laid it on the anvil. He blew a small flame over it until it began to glow red. “Put it in the water.”
Following the dragon’s instructions, he dunked the metal into the bucket and replaced it on the anvil.
Cato took a deep breath, before blowing a strong burst of flame at the metal, a flame so hot it caused Nate to stumble backward.
However, as he watched, the flames dissipated harmlessly as soon as they hit the surface.
Cato looked pleased with himself. “That good enough for you?”
Sucking in a breath, Nate nodded. “Yeah.”
“And you understand that you don’t have the same protection?”
At that moment something snapped. Whether it was his patience, his sanity, or his self-preservation he didn’t know, but he yelled, “I don’t care.”
Cato blinked. “Excuse me?”
“There is no way I am going to help you after what you have done to us. You can burn me to a crisp, throw me off the edge of the mountain, I don’t care.”
“What we have done to you?” Cato huffed. “I’m sorry, but have you seen the people in your village? Last time I checked they were marching around shouting ‘end the dragons’.”
“They were marching because you and your kin have burned more than one house to the ground, destroyed our crops, and stolen our sheep. They’re starving, and thanks to you, they may have to leave their homes.”
“They may have to leave their homes? Our mountain is about to collapse, and thanks to the shacks you keep putting up, there is less game to hunt, so we have to steal to survive. You think we enjoy that?”
Nate continued yelling, heedless of the dragon he was enraging. “You could at least trade for the sheep.”
Cato huffed and yelled back. “Do you think I have anything to-” His eyes shot to the metal on the anvil. “Would Dragon Forged metal be valuable to you?”
Nate nodded slowly. “We could fireproof our cottages.”
“If we traded, we would have food, and you would have something to trade with the other villages.”
Nate stared at the dragon in front of him, dumbfounded. “So, truce then?”
Cato held out a claw to shake his hand. “Truce.”
“Now, you convince your village.”
A week later, Nate watched as his younger brothers helped Cato lift the new metal roof onto the smithy.
Nate smiled and started back for the smithy. He would need to take on apprentices now that his work was in such high demand.
“I have to hand it to you, you worked this out much better than I thought you would.”
Nate turned around with a grin. “Good morning Dragon Smith.”
Hugh Woodard shook his head with a laugh. “I haven’t held that title for years. It’s yours now.”
“Well, Dragon Smith or not, I could use some help getting those supports done before the mountain collapses.”
The old man tilted his head. “I’ve seen your work, you should have no trouble finishing. But, I still accept your offer.”
As the two of them walked into the smithy, Nate smiled. Cavlan Valley would do more than survive, it would flourish.
Thank you for reading Dragon Smith. If you liked it, please share it on your favorite social media channels, or leave a comment below with ideas for my next story.
Originally published at howshewrites.blogspot.com.