Dragon ActuallyBy: G.A. Aiken
He’d heard the sounds of battle for quite some time. But, as always, he ignored it. The wars of men meant nothing to him. Never had. But those same sounds right outside his den? Well, that did stir him to move.
His tail unwound from around his body and he slowly moved to the entrance of his home. He didn’t know what to expect and was not sure he even cared, but things were pretty boring right now and this just might prove interesting. Or, at the very least, provide dinner.
The blade entered Annwyl’s side, ripping through armor and flesh and tearing through organs. Blood flowed and she knew she was dying. The soldier smiled at her cry of pain, which only brought out the telltale rage Annwyl had become famous for.
She raised her blade and, with a cry of pure bloodcurdling fury, swung it. The steel sang through the air as it swiped through the man, separating his head from his neck. His blood slashed across her face and arm. The other soldiers stopped. They had handily disposed of her small band of warriors without much trouble once they had them backed into this desolate glen. But she never allowed them an easy path to the killing blow. Until now.
Her life’s blood drained from her body and she knew her time grew short. Her vision hazy, she felt weaker and lighter. She struggled to breathe. But she’d fight as long as she had breath in her body. Annwyl raised her sword, clasping the handle in both bloody hands, and waited for the next attack.
One of the men stepped forward. She could tell by the look on his face that he wanted to be the one to take her head. Present it to her brother so he could keep it as a trophy and warning to others who would dare question his reign.
She watched him move with assured slowness. Clearly,he also knew she was dying. Knew she couldn’t fight much longer.
Her legs shook as her strength fled, and her body ached to lie down for just a few minutes and sleep. Just a little nap. . . .
Annwyl’s eyes snapped open and she realized the soldier was that much closer. She swung her sword and he easily parried the blow. He smiled and Annwyl would give her soul for just one last surge of strength to wipe that smug smile off his face.
The soldier looked back at his comrades, making sure they were all watching before he killed her. But he left himself open. And one thing her father always taught her . . . never let an obvious opportunity pass by. She ran him through with her blade, slamming the steel into his stomach as his head snapped back around to look at her in horror. For good measure, she twisted her sword in his gut, watching in satisfaction as he opened his mouth to scream but left the world with nothing more than a whimper.
She yanked her blade out of him and he dropped to the ground. She knew that would be her last kill, but she would still die with her blade raised. She turned to the remaining men but they, to her surprise, no longer found her of any interest. They looked past her. Into the cave she now stood in front of.
Annwyl tried to figure out what new trick this could be, but she never took her fading eyes off the men in front of her. Even as the ground shook under her. Even as they backed away from her in obvious horror. Even as the enormous shadow fell across her body, completely blocking out the sun.
It wasn’t until the men screamed and began to run that she glanced up to see black scales hovering just above her. When the scales moved, as a large breath was inhaled into even larger lungs, she finally looked back at the fleeing soldiers.
The stream of fire flew across the glen, destroying trees, flowers, and, eventually, men. Using her sword now to prop herself up, she watched as the enemy soldiers were engulfed in flame, their bodies writhing as they desperately fought to put out the fires that covered them.
A small sense of satisfaction rippled through her, even with the knowledge that she would be next. As the screams died away, Annwyl again looked up to find the dragon now looking down at her. He watched her with obvious curiosity and made no move to blast her into oblivion. At least not yet.
“I’d fear you, Lord Dragon,” she got out as the little strength left fled her body and she dropped to one knee, her hand still holding her blood-covered sword. “If I weren’t already dying.” She gave a bitter half-smile. “Sorry to deny you that tasty morsel.” She coughed and blood flowed onto her chin and down her burnished steel armor. Annwyl’s body dropped to the ground. And, soon after, she felt herself moving. She didn’t know whether her soul had passed over to the land of her ancestors or into the mouth of a beast, but either way she was done with this life.
Annwyl heard moaning. Incessant, loud moaning. It took her several long moments to realize that she was the one making the annoying sound.
She forced her eyes open and struggled to focus. She knew that she lay in a proper bed, her naked body covered with animal furs. She could hear the crackle of a pit fire nearby and feel its warmth. Other than that, she had no idea where she was or how by the gods she got here. Last thing she remembered... she died. But there was a little too much pain for her to be dead.
Her eyes focused and she realized she was in a room. A room with stone walls. She blinked again and attempted to still the rising panic. These were no mere stone walls. But cave walls.
“By the gods,” she whispered as she reached out and touched her hand to the cold grey stone.
“Good. You’re awake.”
Annwyl gulped and prayed the gods were just playing a cruel joke on her. She raised herself on her elbows when that deep, dark voice spoke again, “Careful. You don’t want to tear open those stitches.”
With utter and almost heart-stopping dread, Annwyl looked over her shoulder and then couldn’t turn away. There he was. An enormous black dragon, his wings pressed tight against his body. The light emanating from the pit fire causing his shiny black scales to glisten. His huge horned head rested in the center of one of his claws. He looked so casual. If she didn’t know better, she’d swear he smirked at her, his black eyes searing her from across the gulf between them. A magnificent creature. But a creature
nonetheless. A monster.
“Dragons can speak, then?” Brilliant, Annwyl. But she really didn’t know what else to say.
“Aye.” Scales brushed against stone and she bit the inside of her mouth to stop herself from cringing. “My name is Fearghus.”
Annwyl frowned. “Fearghus?” She thought for a moment. Then dread settled over her bones, dragging her down to the pits of despair. “Fearghus . . . the Destroyer?”
“That’s what they call me.”
“But you haven’t been seen in years. I thought you were a myth.” Right now, she silently prayed he was a myth.
“Do I look like a myth?”
Annwyl stared at the enormous beast, marveling at the length and breadth of him. Black scales covered the entire length of his body, two black horns atop his mighty head. And a mane of silky black hair swept across his forehead, down his back, nearly touching the dirt floor. She cleared her throat. “No. You look real enough to my eyes.”
“I’ve heard stories about you. You smote whole villages.”
She turned away from that steady gaze as she wondered how the gods could be so cruel. Instead of letting her die in battle as a true warrior, they instead let her end up as dinner for a beast.
“And you are Annwyl of Garbhán Isle. Annwyl of the Dark Plains. And, last I heard, Annwyl the Bloody.” Annwyl did cringe at that. She hated that particular title. “You take the heads of men and bathe in their blood.”
“I do not!” She looked back at the dragon. “You take a man’s head, there’s blood. Spurting blood. But I do not bathe in anything but water.”
“If you say so.”
His calmness made her feel overly defensive. “And I’m not just taking men’s heads. Only the enemies of Dark Plains. My brother’s men.”
“Ah, yes. Lorcan. The Butcher of Garbhán Isle. Seems to me if you simply took his head your war would be over.”
Annwyl gritted her teeth. And it wasn’t from the pain of her wound. “Do you think that I’ve not thought of that? Do you think that if I could get close enough to the little toerag that I would not kill him if I had the chance?” The dragon didn’t answer and her rage snapped right into place.