“I imagined you would be quite a bit bigger.” Therfin laid his golden-hilted sword across his knees and rested his weary head in his gauntleted palms. Three days arduous journey he had come, only to find a beast no larger than one of his queenly mother’s prize spaniels.
Its scales were ashen-gray and cracked. Its crest and talons a tarnished gold. The little thing puffed up its emaciated breast. “I am Galvamnir, the ancient. I have lived lives innumerable, you insolent pup. Do not speak to me in such a manner!”
Therfin dropped to an armor plated knee and bowed low. “I beg your forgiveness, Sir Dragon. I meant no insult.”
Galvamnir spied the boy curiously. His gaze traveling slowly over Therfin’s fine armor. “A prince!” he cried. “It has been long winters indeed since I had a prince come to dine! Come!” He turned and swished a fractured tail at Therfin, his slithering shape throwing ominous shadows in the torchlight.
Therfin rose to his feet, his heart conflicted. Should he follow? His mother had warned him of the wiles of dragons. “They are wise and cunning,” said she, “Let them not deceive you.”
Galvamnir turned a wise eye over a cracked shoulder. “Be you afraid, young prince?”
Therfin squared his narrow shoulders and raised his chin. Afraid? What harm could such a small thing do? “I am not.”
“Fine,” Galvamnir chuckled. “Come.”
Therfin followed the dragon through shadowed galleries, darkened halls where the torchlight left flickering pools of limpid amber at his feet.
The caverns were sparse, bare but for a scattered cobwebbed spider’s keep. Where was the dragon’s hoard? The fine treasure his brothers had oft found lining a creature’s dwelling?
Galvamnir stopped suddenly at a narrow doorway, causing Therfin to miss a step and lose his balance. He crashed forward, barely catching his fall on the rough stone.
“Pardon, your highness.” The dragon lowered his crested head in a courtly bow. “I forget my manners. It is improper to enter before such a distinguished guest.”
Therfin righted himself with no little amount of difficulty, his small muscles quivering under the weight of his armor. Galvamnir waited patiently. Silently.
“You do me a great honor, Sir.” Therfin let out a deep exhale and bowed at the waist, as low as was possible without harming himself with his stiff breast-plate. A fine dining hall greeted him beyond the small door, set with grand chandeliers of dusty gold. Tarnished silver goblets and chargers sat atop a long marble table.
At one end, the dragon gestured to a stately iron chair. Therfin took the offered seat, glad to give his tired feet a much needed rest.
Galvamnir coiled at the opposite end on a tufted velvet chaise. “Forgive the state of my keep, your highness,” he called across the expanse of pale stone. “It is not often I receive visitors.”
“You are too modest, Sir Dragon.” Therfin removed his gauntlets and heavy metal visor, setting them on the table with a clatter. “Your home is fit for the finest king.”
Galvamnir preened at the compliment. “Thank you, my prince.” He clapped his taloned paws together and bellowed, “The meal!”
Therfin glanced around the hall feeling wary, wondering to whom the dragon might be calling. Were there other dragons? From a small opening to his left, a young maiden came forth. Her golden hair tucked beneath a tattered kerchief. Her fair skin marred with soot.
“My lord.” She curtseyed at Galvamnir’s side and carefully sat a steaming platter before him.
She came next to Therfin, depositing on the table a platter of finest china, white as bone. “Your grace.”
“Thank you kindly,” he addressed the maiden, who would not meet his gaze, before she dipped into a low curtsey and scurried back toward the kitchens.
“She is a shy one,” Galvamnir said around a mouthful of meat.
Therfin’s empty stomach rumbled at the scent of roast pork and thick gravy, topped with a mound of fried potatoes. He wasted no time in stuffing his mouth, moaning at the taste. He had never had pork so sweet and tender.
Another maiden appeared to pour a deep red wine, filling a goblet for Therfin and a burnished golden bowl for the dragon. Galvamnir took a long pull from the bowl and paused, seeming deep in thought. “Tell me, master prince, why have you come here?”
Therfin drained almost half the goblet to wash down a mouthful of potatoes. “I am on a quest for my father, King Thromfin.”
“Ah.” The dragon gave him a knowing wink. “You are to return with the head of a dragon.” Therfin’s shock registered on his face, and Galvamnir gave a hearty laugh. “It is not unknown to me. One of your noble brothers, Prince Trotfin, I believe, slayed my sister not three summers past.”
“I am deeply grieved for your loss.”
Galvamnir let out a long sigh and nodded. “It is no matter. Princes slay dragons, it is the way of things.” He looked down at himself with a mournful shake of his head. “Would that I could give you a mightier beast to slay.”
Therfin looked down sheepishly, surprised to see he had cleared his platter and drunk his full goblet of wine. His head swam, and his full belly gurgled noisily.
Galvamnir clapped his paws together a second time, and both maidens reappeared to clear the table. “We will take our sweets by the fire.” The maidens nodded, curtseyed, and retreated again.
“That is unnecessary,” Therfin called, “I could not eat another bite.”
“Nonsense. There is always room for sweets.” Galvamnir gestured for him to follow, and Therfin rose to obey.
The dragon led him to an adjoining cavern where a tall fire blazed warmly in an iron pit. Therfin took a seat on a velvet cushioned arm-chair, and Galvamnir curled up comfortably on a mattress of thick down. A silver tray of cakes and sweet breads was set on the table between them.
“You are truly too kind, Sir Dragon.”
Galvamnir dismissed the comment with a wave of his paw. “I am only too pleased to see to your comfort, your highness.”
“Tell me, sir…” Therfin’s curiosity was eating away at him more swiftly than he could devour the scrumptious cakes. “If it’s not too bold, how did you come to find yourself in this state?”
Galvamnir took on a look of solemnity Therfin had not yet seen in him. “Once,” he began, “this stately mountain was threaded with veins of purest gold. It was highly coveted by man and dragon alike. But I was mighty then. Brave and young. I defended my mountain keep with a violent abandon. Burning great swaths of forest and field. Razing whole cities to the ground. But with each man destroyed, with each dragon fought, it seemed five more would crop up in its place. Until nugget by nugget, vein by vein, my gold was gone.” His dark eyes shone with sadness in the firelight. “You see, without gold, we dragons cannot survive. So little is now left to me, I am scarce alive.”
Therfin’s heart burned with compassion for his gracious host. “Would that I could help you, good sir.”
Galvamnir turned to Therfin, his countenance filled with promise. “There is yet a way you might.”
“Name it, sir.” Therfin sat forward eagerly in his chair. “On my honor, it shall be done.”
“Nay,” Galvamnir covered his eyes with one taloned paw, “It is too much to ask of one so noble.”
“Whatsoever it is, it shall be done!”
“Your ring, sire.” The dragon gestured to the winking jewel on Therfin’s third finger. “Finer gold I have not seen in a long while. Allow me to hold it this night, and by morrow, I will be well again.”
Therfin slipped the ring off his finger without hesitation. “It is but a trinket. If it pleases you, it is yours.”
Galvamnir graciously accepted the circle in an outstretched paw. “Truly, highness, you are too kind.” He rose from the mattress with a crackle of bone and scale. “If you will excuse me, I grow weary, and I must bid you good night, but it would please me to no end if you would consent to break your fast with me on the morrow.”
Therfin stood and inclined his head. “It would be my greatest pleasure.”
“Until the morrow then.”
Galvamnir exited, and one of the maidens came to fetch Therfin to a chamber. He was given a carved bed with a mattress of softest down and blankets of velvet and satiny furs. He had dreams of dragons and gold.
Though no light of day could be seen, Therfin awoke refreshed, dressing in the soft linen shirt and trousers set out for him, and made his way back to the dining chamber, following the glorious scents from the kitchen. He arrived to find a table laid out with a feast. Cracked oats and exotic fruits. Quail eggs and crisp bacon. His mouth watered, and his stomach rumbled.
“Good morrow, highness. I trust you slept well.” Galvamnir was coiled on his chaise, his eyes bright with good humor.
Therfin was astounded to note the dragon’s state. He was larger in stature, now the size of a pony. His scales were smooth and had no more an ashen appearance, but a sheen of pale blue instead. “You are truly well, Sir Dragon. Your pallor is in higher health this morning.”
“To you I owe the debt, my prince. I have not felt so well in a great many years.”
The duo fell into an easy rapport over the meal. Galvamnir told the young prince tales of princes and dragons. Of kings and maidens fair.
“It is so fantastic, Sir Dragon. The lifetimes you have lived.”
“Aye,” Galvamnir gave a wistful sigh, “Would that you could have seen me at my most mighty, sire. I was truly a sight to behold.”
Therfin thought long and hard, puzzling in his mind. “Wait for me here,” he told the dragon and was given a nod of assent.
Therfin returned to his chamber and fetched his visor and gauntlets, carrying them back to the dining hall at a near run. He set them on the table in front of Galvamnir and stepped away. “Take these, Sir Dragon.”
The golden armor gleamed in the candlelight, and the dragon reared back as if struck. “My prince, you have been too generous already. I could not possibly accept.”
“Nonsense,” Therfin protested, taking on his most kingly tone. “You have given me food and shelter. The exchange is even, or I am in your debt. You must accept.”
Galvamnir bowed low and touched his nose to Therfin’s outstretched hand. “Sire, you do me a great honor.” He rose, his spines reaching the top of Therfin’s head. “I must apologize, the excitement taxes my fragile constitution. I will bid you farewell until this evening, if your highness will grace us with his presence until then.”
Therfin felt his lips split in a genuine smile. “I would like nothing better.”
“Until this evening then, my prince. Though it may be unworthy, please feel free to think on my cavern as your own home.” With that, the dragon inclined his head and left the chamber.
Not one to miss an opportunity, Therfin took the dragon up on his hospitality. He spent the day exploring the cavern’s many dark passageways. Finding the kitchens and enjoying a quiet repast of bread and warm cider. Galvamnir’s servants, as he had met a few more on his excursion than just the two he had previously seen, were kind and courteous, though none would speak more than a few words at a time, and all gave him the strangest looks. As if they pitied him.
In the late afternoon – he was sure hours had past though he’d had scarce the time to notice – he returned to his chamber to wash for supper. A withered manservant dressed him in a laced pair of soft doeskin trousers, a shirt of smooth silk, and boots of thin, pale leather. He was given a coat of fine silver embroidery, the likes of which he had never seen. Therfin had never worn anything to compare. Such extravagance was reserved for the royal heir, not the king’s fourth, and youngest, son.
As before, he made his way to the dining chamber, finding his host already in attendance.
“My prince!” Galvamnir cried. “Such finery suits you.”
Therfin smiled and set his narrow shoulders back. “I thank you, Sir Dragon. No finer gift have I ever received.” He gazed upon the dragon in wide-eyed fascination. “And you, sir, are finer still!”
Where Galvamnir’s scales had been a pale blue, they now sparkled like bright sapphires, his crest and claws like golden fire. He was so large, his tufted chaise had been removed so he could belly up to the dining table, his shoulders now well above Therfin’s head.
“I am fine indeed, sire. Good of you to notice. I feel quite like my old self once more.”
“It is a true wonder to see you in all your glory.”
“More’s the pity, your grace.” The dragon rested his head on an upturned paw.
“Sir Dragon, whatever is the matter?”
“Such a shame it is that you shall need to see me rid of my head. For you cannot return with empty hands to your kingly father.”
Therfin’s heart grew heavy inside his breast. “Tis true.”
“Perhaps…” Galvamnir’s eyes brightened a fraction. “Nay. It is not possible.”
“What, Sir Dragon?” Therfin stepped forward, only a few paces now separating himself and the creature. “Tell me how we might change this course.”
“A league to the north,” Galvamnir spoke in a conspiratorial whisper, “high on a cliff, impassable to man. There lives a cousin to me. A vile, foul-tempered serpent I would gladly be rid of.” He shed a fat tear. “Would that I had my wings so I might take you there.”
Therfin reached to his waist and set to unbuckling his sword belt. The leather strap was soon freed, and he slid the sword and tooled golden scabbard across the table to the dragon. “Please, Sir Dragon, take this.”
“No!” Galvamnir wailed, “Sire, you mustn’t. I could not part prince from sword! It is unthinkable!”
“It is unthinkable to refuse the gift of a prince. Sir Dragon, you must accept.”
“Tis true, young prince. I forget myself.” Galvamnir took the sword and scabbard from the table and set them to his side. “Ah, young master prince. I shall miss your generosity the most.”
Therfin chuckled, “Why, Sir Dragon, whatever do you…”
Galvamnir expelled a belch of flame, faster than a galloping steed and hot as Hellfire. The daft princeling did not so much as scream, his clothes igniting and turning to ash in the blink of an eye. The smell of char and roasting fat filled the chamber, making the dragon’s stomach rumble with anticipation.
“Althea!” Galvamnir bellowed, and the maiden appeared from the scullery door. “Put this with the rest.” He tossed the sword and golden scabbard at her, eying it avariciously. It would be a welcome addition to his collection. “And get this mess to the kitchens. Our new guest will be arriving shortly.” He stepped over the still-steaming corpse. God willing, the next one would have more meat on his bones.
Galvamnir took one last moment to enjoy being in his full, mighty body. “Damnable wizard,” he grumbled as he walked, stretching his long legs, unfurling his massive wings to scrape the roof of the cavern. “Would that all princes were as generous as young Therfin. And as foolish.” He chuckled, the sound rumbling though the halls.
As he neared the mouth of the cave, he called on the magic within himself to shrink down. To tarnish his brilliant claws and turn his scales to ash, cursing this endless charade. Would he ever be free of this spell? Once again to go out into the world and take whatsoever he desired instead of his meager existence of accepting only that which was freely given?
But a hoard a dragon must have. He roared, the sound of his new fragile body as threatening as the buzz of a gnat. “Who dares disturb the halls of Galvamnir, the ancient?”
The fat princeling looked wholly unimpressed. “I…I imagined you would be bigger.”
Lu Whitley lives in Springfield, IL with her husband and their two cat babies. She’s a professional aunt, a part-time fashion merchandiser, and a full-time slave to the voices in her head.
She writes a serial novel on my blog: BloodMarked.Wordpress.Com, and she dabbles in the magical art of terrible poetry.
She enjoys snail mail and anything covered in chocolate. And incomplete sentences. Shiny things make her happy. Books are her life.