I started this story around Christmas and put it down, only to finish it around 1:00 last night. (You’d have to be a writer to understand that last bit.) It’s on DIOM, but I’ll post it here for easier access.
Timothy wiped the rim of his earthen mug and wished he hadn’t. Thick brown grime coated his index finger. Sighing, he brushed his finger on his faded brown pants and brought the mug to his lips.
Warm, oily liquid filled his mouth. A bitter taste coated his tongue, but he swallowed, willing his stomach to hold its contents. Timothy licked the film from his teeth and set the vessel on the worn wooden table, shoving it away. A wave of water heaved over the top and spattered onto the table, filling in the many zigzagging cracks on the surface.
The tavern door opened, sending a gust of wind into the room. Timothy wrapped his shawl more tightly about himself and studied the newcomer.
Tall, an impressive build. Muscles bulged underneath a too-tight leather vest. The man’s chiseled torso left no doubt; the man knew how to show off. Thick arms swayed at his side, brown hair just beginning to bristle. A man in the prime of youth. Timothy frowned at the man’s face. Bright eyes hid under bushy eyebrows, and his thin lips stretched tight. He carried himself with authority. Timothy squinted. False, he assumed.
“Bartender, give me the strongest drink you got!” The youth’s rich baritone drowned out the myriad bawdy conversations being carried out in the room. Two score voices hushed and almost twice as many eyes (some patrons didn’t have a pair) turned his way. He strutted to a table occupied by three middle-aged men and winked. “Can I sit here?”
The one nearest him, who wore a hooded cape, shrugged and scratched his graying goatee. “Sure.” He kicked out a chair. “Sit.” The newcomer thanked him and settled in. “So what brings you out here?” the man asked. “Don’t get a lot of strangers in these parts, just you and that old man there tonight.” Timothy scowled and took another sip. Water dripped onto his meager beard. “Guess you’re just passing through?”
The youth nodded. “Yeah.” A matronly woman plopped a mug down. “Thank you,” he said, bringing it to his mouth. Timothy watched with interest. The youth’s eyes bulged, but he downed it. He exhaled. “Ah! That’s good.” He propped his elbows on the table and looked around. “I slayed a dragon.”
Timothy choked. He reached down to the floor and picked up his old gray walking staff, then he stood it upright. The thud it made when it hit the floor could be heard, the tavern had grown so silent.
“Yew didn’t kill no dragon!” A gap-toothed farmer stood and pointed a shaky finger at the youth. Drunk. “Y’ain’t got no sword!”
The main grinned and dismissed the complaint. “Rest assured, I did. What, did you think I would bring my equipment with me?” The farmer didn’t move for a moment, then shook his head stupidly. “Old Drake? Yep, my best sword is stuck in his flank.”
“Ye’re joshin’ us. Ain’t no way ye killed Drake!”
Timothy’s staff pounded the floor with every step. “Slew a dragon, eh?” He put his weight on the rod and slouched. “Do tell. What did he say to you?”
“Aw, don’t encourage ‘im!” the first man said.
Timothy did not acknowledge him. “Well? He spoke to you, I am sure of it. They often do, even the corrupted ones—before they kill you.”
The youth smirked. “Drake didn’t even put up a fight. ‘Matt!’ he said. Surprising enough that he seemed excited to see me, doubly so when he spoke my name.”
A splinter dug into Timothy’s palm, but he did not flinch. “He gave your name?” He placed equal emphasis on each word. Someone sniggered. “What else did he say?”
Matt waved his hand. “Oh, some nonsense about being chosen for this-or-that task. Didn’t make sense.”
Timothy raised his staff and swung it. The rod hit Matt’s head with a mild crack! Not enough to hurt, but it got his attention.
Matt rubbed the point of impact. What was that for, old man? You itching for a fight or something?” He rose from his chair.
“You fool!” Timothy forced him down again. “You do not even realize what you have done!”
Matt crossed his arms over his chest. “Amuse me,” he said, a defiant glint in his eye. His cheek had begun to swell.
“Drake was never a threat to anyone. He is still pure!” Timothy stamped his foot in frustration. “He is a farmer!”
“Shut up, old timer!” A drunk in the corner sneered. “We didn’t come to hear no wives fables.”
Timothy pointed his index finger at Matt and ground his teeth. “You listen. My words may have passed from the popular scene, yet truth remains. He Chose you as his own. He likes you!”
Matt raised an eyebrow. “Drake likes me? What did I do to him?” Timothy knew the youth mocked him, but he said nothing.
Timothy’s voice lowered to a whisper. “Was he dead when you left?”
“Well, ye-yes, of course!’ Matt glanced at the quasi attentive men surrounding him. Timothy raised his staff in warning. Matt shook his head. “No. No, he wasn’t. Close, but not dead.”
“Then there’s still time.” Timothy scowled at the youth one last time, then he hurried out the door.
All the locals knew Drake made a temporary home in the cleft between two house-sized boulders. Timothy stumbled to the entrance and called out. “Drake!” A low, mournful note shook pebbles loose from their perch above Timothy’s head. “Are you well?” He rushed into the cave, confident the fire-breathing reptile would not attempt to harm him. “Drake, I heard what happened. Please, answer me!”
“Who speaks?” The sound of the dragon’s voice shook the man to his bones. Deep and powerful, yet sad, as well.
“A friend. I should be in the main chamber in a moment.” On cue, Timothy stepped into the dragon’s sanctuary. He gasped at the sight before him. “A sleek green dragon fully ten cubits in length gazed at him, eyes unblinking. Yellow irises shone, illuminating rounded pupils.
The dragon’s forked tongue sampled the air. “I do not know you.”
“I am Timothy, noble drake.” Timothy bowed as he spoke. “The sword, does it still…?” Drake lifted his head and looked to a corner. A blood-stained sword reflected the light emanating from the dragon. Timothy took a step closer. “Are you badly hurt?”
Drake sang the same mournful note that Timothy had heard only moments before. “I am well in body, though I fear my heart has suffered a mortal wound.” The dragon stood and limped to the human. “Why, Timothy?” the dragon asked. “What drove my beloved to act in wanton violence toward me?” When the dragon sighed, a flurry of wayward sparks drifted to the rocky floor.
Drake was an arm’s length away, now. A tear trickled down Timothy’s cheek and nestled in his beard. “I cannot say. Matt does not know the legends. Or rather, he learned the wrong ones.”
Anger seeped into the dragon’s voice. “My corrupted brethren have destroyed the fair reputation once bestowed upon us. Their stories have tickled Matt’s ear, you say?” Drake bowed his head. “Then I mourn for him all the more.”
Timothy stroked the fine dragon’s smooth scales, running his fingers along the ridges between the armored plates. Pure dragons had always been this trusting of another, so spoke the old stories. Drake would not harm him; indeed, the thought would likely never cross his mind. “I am glad the stroke did not cause undue harm.”
Drake’s ears perked up. “Silence!” he commanded. “The lad comes.”
Timothy bowed to the dragon and moved to the wall of the cave, hoping to blend into the darkness. The sword continued to reflect the light, a beacon in the opposite corner.
“Matt!” Drake bowed his head low. “You have returned.” Excitement seemed to radiate from the dragon’s body. Drake took a step forward. “I want to apologize for whatever it was I may have done to you. What?”
Matt rested a hand on the hilt of his sword. “Why do you mock me, dragon?” The creature backed away. “I came to kill you, yet you remain alive! And you know my name.” Matt drew his sword and held it before him. “Now I’ll finish the job.”
“But Matt, I…” Drake’s gaze flickered to Timothy. “I do not understand. What have I done to you? I have wished you no harm.” Timothy wanted to call out, to help, but he knew to do so would be wrong. It was rude enough to listen to the conversation.
“There was an old man at the tavern. Because of him I’ll be a laughingstock if I do not return with your head.” He glanced toward Timothy but saw nothing. “Tell me why you should live.”
Drake had not heard. His thoughts were turned inward. “I Chose you,” he mumbled. “I swore on that day to ensure your happiness.” Sparks littered the floor, and Matt jumped back. “Does this mean I have failed?” Drake lowered himself to the ground. “Then kill me, for I have abandoned my oath.”
Timothy blinked. He had not expected this!
Neither, apparently, had Matt. “This is trickery, I know it!” Matt breathed heavily but did not attack. Second thoughts?
The dragon moaned. “You are not happy, Matt? There is nothing I can do to restore some of the joy I sensed in you that day?”
Matt’s sword arm lowered, as though the instrument had become heavier. Hope sparked in Timothy’s heart. Perhaps he would leave! Then Matt’s troubled expression changed to one of fierce determination. His arm found strength once more. Drake glanced at the youth for a moment before returning his gaze to the floor.
Timothy’s jaw trembled. It was not his place to interfere, yet he could not bear to see the destruction of an innocent creature! Soul overcame mind. “Enough!” he shouted. Matt’s sword clattered to the ground; he had dropped it in shock. Timothy’s voice reverberated through the chamber, giving the impression of a giant speaking. The old man stepped from his hiding place. “Keep your hands where I can see them!” he barked. His staff tapped against the stone for each step he took. “I will not have you lay a hand on Drake.”
The dragon sighed, his hot breath buffeting Matt. “Timothy, what is this you have done?”
Timothy bowed. “My apologies. I could not watch in silence while a fool slew you.” He shook with rage. “And you, I hope, will not be foolish enough to die due to one child’s ignorance!” He glared at Matt. “Should you kill this creature, I will hold you responsible for driving the most noble race to grace this earth to extinction!” He set his foot next to the sword and slid it away.
“What’s it to you? I don’t see what you have to lose.”
Timothy swatted at Matt’s leg. The youth jumped just in time. “Do you truly know nothing, boy? You owe your very existence to creatures such as he!” he said, jabbing his finger toward Drake. “What is more, he Chose you. Do you know what that means?” Matt shook his head. “I thought not. That is as close to a statement of servitude as one of his stature can get!”
Matt laughed. “You mean he would do whatever I told him? You are a lunatic.”
“I said servitude, not slavery. And do not speak!” he snapped at Drake. “This is no longer your concern.” Timothy stooped and picked up the sword. “A nice blade,” he said as he tested it. He presented it to Matt. “Take it. Good. Now I want you to do something for him.”
Matt rolled his eyes. “Will it make you leave?”
“Yes. Now. I want you to look Drake in the eye and say, ‘I am honored that you Chose me, yet I humbly ask that you seek someone of greater worth than I.'”
“Just do it.”
Matt sighed, shook his head, and spoke: “I am honored that you Chose me, yet I humbly ask that you seek someone of greater worth than I.”
Timothy nodded once. “Good. Drake, you are no longer bound by oath to this buffoon.” He pointed with his staff. “And you, young man, should leave. Drake now is under no obligation to keep you alive.”
Timothy arched his eyebrows. “You want to risk it? You are a fool.”
Matt sheathed his sword. “Fine. You win.” He pointed at the dragon. “But I will get you one day!” Timothy watched him leave the chamber and listened until the echoes ceased.
“There we are. And look, he left his sword. I am sure you can pawn it, Drake.” The dragon stared at the entryway. “Drake. He is gone. And by his own words, he is no longer chosen by you.”
“I suppose. Timothy, will I find someone else?”
Timothy shrugged. “Perhaps. But you may want to educate the next one first. Speaking of, I take it he was your first?”
Drake’s ears pinned back in embarrassment. “It was. I will know better next time.”
“There will be a next time, good. Do not be intimidated by this one mistake. And now I should be going. You are certain you will not suffer further physical injury?”
“Yes. Thank you.” Timothy hobbled to the exit. “And Timothy, when will you clothe yourself in scales once more?”
Timothy pondered this for a moment. “In time. It is easier to spread the truth about us in this form.” He snapped his fingers. “Oh, and one more thing. You should probably consider leaving soon in case Matt returns. Humans are predictable that way.”
“Yes, Timothy, I will.” The dragon bowed. “Thank you.”