I slid through the forest. Brambles and briars and branches tugged at me, threatening to pull me down. I slipped, fell, tangled in the undergrowth. Then I was up again, running, running, running.
Finally I arrived. I didn’t know where or how I knew but I was there, at the lair. Sulfur rankled the air and bit bitter into my nose and eyes and throat. I could smell the too-sweet stench of death and decay below the burn.
I pulled my sword from my back, felt more than heard the sing of it leaving its sheath. It was a good sword, old and worn and new and bright. It was as long as a greatsword but the hilt was shorter. A hand-and-a-half or bastard if you like.
Great folds of metal wavered up and down its shining sides. It was straight and true and would not falter in battle. It was a great sword.
Then I unlimbered my shield. A simple metal frame wrapped in shiny coppery scales. Dragon scales. It was light and strong. All but impenetrable. This was my true prize, shield of my father’s father’s father. My sword was great but my shield was magnificent.
Once armed and protected I approached the lair. It wasn’t a cave or a canyon or a pit. It was a patch of forest filled with a feeling of strength and flight and dread. This was a dragon’s lair.
I approached on stealthy feet. Sword and shield high and protecting. Then I heard it, a rustle then a flash of amber in the trees.
I ran, pitching myself through the forest. I could see her, there, hidden among the trees and bushes. How did I know it was a her? Maybe in the way she moved, darting and dodging instead of attacking. Or maybe it was the smell, the shes have a different smell less sulfury. Whatever it was I knew that I had found my prize.
I darted into a small clearing. She had cleared it. She was magnificent. She towered above me, cloaked in amber scales that rippled in the dappled sunlight. Her claws and horns were luminescent gold.
I moved to attack, hiding behind my shield. Liquid fire rained down but he shield held, my hand was not even hot. She then tried to attack but my blade and shield held her back, turning each strike away.
I could taste her fear then, smell its acrid tang on the air. But I knew she would not flee, no matter what the cost to herself. Behind her was a boulder of pure obsidian, dragon glass. It was smooth and silky with edges sharper than the finest blade. The top of the stone was crouched with a hollow and in that hollow sat a giant egg that gleamed as gold as her claws. Even from a distance I could feel the waves of heat rolling off the boulder that had been bathed and stoked in her maternal fire.
The attacks abated for the merest moment allowing me a brief respite. I peered over the lip of my shield to see the dragon regarding me. Her eyes were glossy obsidian orbs to match the stone pedestal which held her offspring and in them I saw something. It was primal and instinctual and it was human. They plead for the life of her unborn child. They screamed for me to leave and let them be.
I admit I hesitated then, almost turned back, but I couldn’t. What then would I tell my unborn child, who rested then in his mother’s womb? That I, a dragon hunter, turned away from my greatest prize out of pity? Would that pity fill his hungry belly as he wailed in the night? Would it keep him warm through the harsh winter that he would be born into? No, it would not. But food and shelter and clothing bought with her scales and talons and horns would.
I bowed my head and turned away, unable to look into those eyes as I raised my sword one last time.