by Hector of the Black Height
Not so far from here, as the dragon flies, is Dragon'sLair, the seat of the Kings and Queens of the Middle, and not so long ago the King of the East decided to capture that storied place, in order to claim the Dragon Seat for himself, and to obtain the treasures of the Midrealm. So, he gathered his horses and called out his men, he hired mercenaries and swept the prisons, he called for the pirates of Aethelmearc, he sent threats to some and promises to others, and once again the great Army of the East assembled under the Tyger banner. They aimed towards the setting sun, and marched off into the vast expanses of the Middle, south of the great Inland Sea.
The Army of the East knew its way, and soon its scouts stood before the outer walls of Dragon'sLair. The keep of the Dragon throne is ancient, dating back to the first days of the Middle, and the stockade of Cariadoc. That wooden palisade stretches about the whole of the keep, and from that wooden ring the Champion of the Middle called out. "Easterners, I bid you depart", he called, "lest you try to take this wall, and find your peril".
The King of the East waved his army forward, and battle raged. Arrows flew, and swords fell, and spears drank deep of Eastern blood. Yet, a wooden wall is but a wooden wall, and a few brave men with axes and fire soon breached the palisade. The Champion of the Middle waved Oathbinder, great sword of the Midrealm, and his men retired inwards, in good order, carrying away their wounded and their dead.
The East poured through the breach, only to face a great earthen wall, parallel to the wooden palisade, a few yards within. From atop the earthen wall the King of the Middle hailed his foes. "Easterners, I bid you depart", he called, "lest you try to take this wall, and find your peril". The Eastern King bade his army advance, and yet again battle raged in Dragon'sLair. The East shed its blood in tides unseen in ages, and yet they attacked. The King and his men stood, and yet an earthen wall is but an earthen wall, and a few brave men with shovels and picks soon breached the earthworks. The King gave a sign, and again the Champion of the Middle waved Oathbinder, great sword of the Midrealm, and again his men retired inwards, in good order, carrying away their wounded and their dead.
The East poured in yet again, to find a third, stone wall facing them. Its walks were empty, its gates open and unguarded, save for a slight, slim figure. The King of the East bade his men enter the third wall. A wave of his finest knights surged forward, only to be checked by a small voice from the gate. "I bid you, foreign lords, retire from this place," the lady said. Most any man there was all of her height, and twice her strength, with armour and weapons to boot, and yet none would advance against the lady. Again the King of the East ordered his army forward, and again the might of the Tyger checked in the face of a single lady's command to retire. Finally the King of the East strode forward, sword bared, to take the gate from the lady, who stepped within the shadows of the gatehouse.
None there can say what happened next, for the Tyger King stepped within the shadows, and was lost from men's sight for a moment. There was a howl of wind, and the sound of the beating of wings, but none saw anything. Then the King of the East emerged to his men's sight again. He strode forward, toward his army, and then lifted up the visor of his helm. When he did so, from his face-plate belched forth a terrible flame, and a smoke of awful, inky blackness. The Prince of the East ran forward, to find a charred and blackened suit of armour lying empty on the ground. He looked up, and before him saw three figures. The first stepped forward, and said, "I am the Champion of the Middle. Mine was the first ring, the scales of the Dragon, which you breached at great cost."
The second stepped forward and said, "I am the King of the Middle. Mine was the second ring, the fang of the Dragon, which you breached at great cost."
The third stepped forward and said, "I am the Queen of the Middle. Mine is the third ring, the heart of the Dragon. It has cost you much already. Are you willing to pay the whole cost?" And the Tyger Prince, newly Tyger King, shook at the sight and stench of what was now an empty suit of plates, and shook his head. He gathered his army, and withdrew through the costly breaches, pursued by but the three. The Tyger Prince marshalled his forces, and said, "We came here for treasure. We gained two rings at great price. The third ring is beyond our purchase, for who can buy the heart of the Dragon?" And at his command the Tyger banner marched East once more, and the Dragon did not pursue, for there was nothing the Dragon Throne desired of a beaten foe. Rather, the Tyger's might could only look back, and wonder at the heart of the Dragon, and remember the three wondrous rings they had left behind.
This story first was published in A Book for the Coronation of King David
and Queen Tangwystl.
Copyright A. McLean 1995, 1998. All rights reserved.
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