If a dragon cries the le.., p.1

If A Dragon Cries (The Legend of Hooper's Dragons Book 1), page 1

 

If A Dragon Cries (The Legend of Hooper's Dragons Book 1)
 



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If A Dragon Cries (The Legend of Hooper's Dragons Book 1)


  IF A DRAGON CRIES

  by

  GARY J. DARBY

  BOOK ONE

  THE LEGEND OF HOOPER’S DRAGONS

  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 1

  In the churning fires of Hades where boiling pits shine as if some monstrous demon stared out with scarlet eyes, there are but evil devils and wicked dragons that inhabit that noisome world.

  The roaring flames spew out wispy clouds of stench that swirl and curl, but there is one foul smell that overcomes all — the putrid reek of dragons.

  Devils and demons are cruel beyond what the mind can imagine, but even they cannot match the callous malice of dragons. Long ago did Hades’s demons rip out their hearts and fling them into the scalding cauldrons, but dragons — dragons are born without a heart.

  Instead of a warm, beating heart, dragons have a jagged piece of ice that leaves them cold and empty, without feeling, without a soul. Their place is to murder, to destroy, and leave all behind in ruin. Families left with no homes, crops burned to cinders, wives left without husbands, husbands having to bury wives, children forced to place their beloved father, mother into the cold, dark soil.

  A child left behind without even that.

  I hate dragons.

  I always have.

  I always will.

  As the greatest dragon slayer in the whole Northern Kingdom, I yearn for my next dragon kill. I delight in watching the green life-fluid flow from their torn bodies to soak the ground and most of all, I thrill in hearing their death rattle as they take their last breath and watch their eyes glaze over in death’s final slumber.

  Usually, I exterminate them one at a time, but now I’ve been ambushed by four of the loathsome creatures. I could try and escape their death snare, but my hatred pushes me forward, no matter the enormous challenge I face.

  If these fiery, skulking beasts, with their cat’s eyes fixed on me with ravenous stares and their scales gleaming in the morning light wish to challenge Hooper, the mightiest drachen slayer of all time — then so be it.

  The four slink and slither to each side, no doubt getting set to unleash their dreaded dragon fire. Two sapphires, or blues as they’re sometimes called, with their scales and eyes mirroring the clear sky hunker down in the swaying grass as if readying to either pounce or take to the air.

  Some say that sapphires are swifter than even the wind. If they do sky, I admit, fighting two on the ground and two in the air will challenge my skills to their very limit.

  A violet drake, or purple, as it’s more commonly called, lowers its four-horned head and slinks off to my left. Its talons, as sharp as any fine blade, dig deep into the knee-high saw grass. Its gambit is obvious, trying to get behind me where it can bring its powerful tail into play and impale me with its two long, sharp tail spikes. The color of royalty, it is devious and sly, and I’ll have to keep a particularly sharp eye on him.

  I counter with nimble and quick feet, keeping the purple beast to my front. His growl is low, rumbling deep in his throat. His violet-colored eyes, twice the size of a golden ducat, flick back and forth, seeking another route to gain an advantage. He paws at the ground, his talons ripping up great chunks of dirt and grass.

  I smile in self-satisfaction. The violet is frustrated. That’s good. A frustrated dragon is a confused dragon and therefore easier to slay.

  Then there’s the scarlet or red dragon. The most powerful of all dragons and the one that I really have to watch. Reds are the warriors of the dragon realm. Crimson scales harder than iron, fangs sharp enough to split a tree trunk in half with one bite, tail spines that can gut a man wide open in one swipe, and dragon fire so hot that with one burst a whole forest goes up in flames.

  Slaying a red dragon by yourself is oft the stuff of legends but to kill a red, two sapphires, and a violet all on your own makes you the legend.

  The red narrows its evil eyes and bares its fangs, a sure sign that it hungers for my flesh. I swing my finely-honed sword from side to side, keeping it and my dragon scale shield between me and the brute. The other three hiss and weave their heads from left to right, getting ready to pounce. I have to watch their every move, for dragons, as everyone knows, are not only merciless and evil but scheming and cunning as well.

  Four against one. Heavy odds, but I’ve never backed down from a fight, nor have I ever lost. I again heft my gleaming and superbly crafted sword, swing my shield around to face the ferocious beasts and advance on the craven creatures.

  Suddenly, I realize that the beasts have lured me into a trap. I’m hemmed in on all sides. A cliff at my back, dragons to my front. Surely, this will be a fight to the death — theirs or mine.

  I set my face in a hard, determined look, knowing the battle will be fierce and long, but I will not give up nor give in until these four despised beasts lie at my feet, either dead or groveling in submission for me to spare their cowardly lives.

  Only, their pleas for mercy will fall on deaf ears. For me, the only good dragon is a dead dragon; preferably with my sword or lance delivering the death stroke.

  I settle my helmet on my head, draw back my sword, its sharp point glistening in the sunlight, and prepare to charge. I —

  “Hooper!”

  I cringe and duck my head at the sharp yell. My sudden movement causes the wooden bucket on my head to abruptly fall to the ground with a clunk. I lower my manure rake and shovel to slowly turn to find three faces staring at me.

  Standing in the paddock’s open gateway is none other than Dragon Master Boren Dracon. His face is hard, his eyes like ice. In fact, if his face were a block of ice, his scowl would be such that it would cause his face to crack in a dozen places. No, make that two dozen places.

  Next to him, is Malo, the Barn Master. If Master Boren’s face is icy cold, then Malo’s expression resembles the coals in a searing hot fire. His face is as red as any crimson dragon, and I can’t help but see that he twitches his skillfully sharpened Proga lance against his leg, a clear sign of what may be my fate later on after Master Boren has left.

  Standing nearby is Helmar Stoudtman, novice to Master Boren. His expression is a mixture of amusement and resignation. A look I know all too well.

  “Hooper,” Malo growls, “just what are you doing?”

  I bite down on my lip and glance at the four sprogs, or baby dragons, that sit at my feet. They’ve plopped down on their hindquarters, wiggling their tails in the dirt and staring up at me expectantly.

  Their pollywog faces hold a silly grin, their tongues hang out to one side, and they dance around on their tiny front talons as if eager to continue their part in my charade. From the lively gleam in their eyes, I can tell that they found my little game most entertaining.

  “Uh,” I stammer and motion to the four, “I was just getting the sprogs used to us dragon workers.” I duck my head to
ward Master Boren, “As the Dragon Master ordered.”

  Without a word but with his stare even icier, Master Boren adjusts his woolen tunic. Clearly visible on the front, encircled by dark scarlet and azure colors are the images of a crimson and sapphire dragon with riders holding aloft sword and bow, the insignia of the House of Lorell.

  I, of course, bear no seal on my plain tunic as befitting my rank within my adopted House. In an icy tone, Master Boren says to Malo, “You come with me while I check on the golden.” He gestures to Helmar while saying, “Take care of this mess here and then check on Wind Rush, make sure she’s ready for auction.”

  Taking Malo with him, Master Boren strides away to the barn to inspect the pride of Lord Lorell’s dragon herd, Golden Wind, the only Golden Dragon in the whole world, or so it’s believed.

  With a sigh loud enough to be mistaken for a dragon’s growl, Helmar steps inside the paddock. It’s then that I notice that he’s carrying his longbow and arrow quiver over his shoulder, which usually means only one thing, a stag hunt with Cara Dracon, the beautiful and only daughter of Master Boren.

  He sets his bow and quiver to one side and kneels to scratch under the chins of the four sprogs who practically fall all over each other trying to get his attention. Hoping to divert his attention away from my earlier antics, I say, “Going to hunt for venison later, Master Novice? Perhaps with Mistress Cara?”

  “If I can get done with my work soon enough,” he mutters, “and don’t have to stop and answer fool questions.”

  I lower my eyes and take a step back. He doesn’t say it, but Helmar’s meaning is entirely clear. Stay out of my way, Hooper, I’ve no time for the likes of you or your shenanigans. As he reaches down to the sprogs, I can’t help but feel the tiniest twinge of envy. What would it be like to go hunting and be alone, even for an hour, with the lovely and winsome Cara Dracon?

  For me, nothing short of paradise.

  Helmar scratches the four drachen sprogs under their chins. His fingernails scrape tough skin that will soon start to harden into scales and cover their entire bodies except for under and over their wings and a small spot on the very top of their skulls.

  The Death Mark, some call it.

  Many people believe that dragon scales make the beasts impervious to arrows, lances, swords and the like. But that’s not true. Even without hitting the Death Mark, a well-placed metal-sheathed arrow to a dragon’s eye, or under the wings, or if you’re really good or lucky, between the scale plates of a very young dragon will kill the beast. The same with sword or lance.

  Difficult to do, yes, but thank goodness, not impossible.

  The four sprogs snuggle close to Helmar and lift their muzzles higher, each jostling for position to get his attention. “And how are Wind Glow, Wind Strider, Wind Sparkle, and Regal Wind doing?” he asks.

  Not letting Helmar see, I frown and shake my head at the names that Master Boren bestowed on each of the new babies.

  The crimson, or red dragon, is Wind Glow. One sapphire Master Boren called Wind Strider because she’s already fast on her feet, a promising sign that she’ll be very swift in the air. The other sapphire is Wind Sparkle because she has a greenish-blue line down her back that glitters in the sunlight, and the purple he called Regal Wind.

  Me, I have other names for them; He Who Walks in Poo, She Who Squats in Poo, She Who Runs in Poo, and He Who Wiggles in Poo. I think my titles are much more suited to their temperament and current activities than the Dragon Master’s names, though I wouldn’t dare say that out loud, of course.

  “They’re fine,” I dully answer. “They eat — they sleep — they poop, and then they do the same thing. Over and over.”

  Helmar grunts in answer. “You can’t expect them to do much else, they’re just wee ones, you know.”

  Just then, there is a rush of dragon wings and over the birthing barn’s steep roof flashes a sapphire dragon followed by a crimson. They make a sharp arc in the air and begin to settle to the ground just beyond the paddocks. In the sapphire’s neck saddle sits a rider whose jerkin bears the symbol of a castle with crossed lances, while the crimson’s rider is outfitted in the gleaming light armor of the king’s Dragon Knight Legion.

  Helmar stands, takes one look, and orders, “Go find Master Boren, now! He’s in the barn checking on the golden. Tell him there’s a king’s courier along with a Dragon Knight in the paddock field.”

  I suppose I hesitated too long at the sight of the two for Helmar roughly pushes me and snaps, “Move!”

  I stumble away and at my best hobbling gait go through the birthing barn’s side door. Once inside, I quickly trundle down the broad way that splits the barn down the middle until I reach the last giant stall. Inside, Master Boren and Malo stand near the pride of Lord Lorell’s domain, Golden Wind, the golden dragon.

  The beast turns her head toward me, but she’s neither agitated nor interested in my appearance as she’s seen me often enough in her enclosure, mucking it out and changing her water to know who I am. To her, like everyone else, I’m just Hooper, Lord and Master of the Manure Pile.

  I hurry over to Master Boren and duck my head while saying, “Master Boren, pardon the interruption, but Helmar sent me to tell you that a king’s courier and a Dragon Knight just landed in the paddock field.”

  Obviously irritated at first by my intrusion, Master Boren’s glance changes to one of concern, and he hastens out of the stall without a word. Malo lets Master Boren push ahead before he slows and as he passes by, pushes his face close to mine. “Playing games when you’re supposed to be working are we? Well, we’ll see how much you enjoy the little game I have in store for you later on!”

  I bite down on my lip, knowing what’s to come — one more red and raised Proga scar to match my others. Malo rushes off, leaving me to pull the heavy gate shut and snap the bolt to lock the gateway. I sort of sneak my way through the paddock ways to where the others have gathered as I’ve never seen a knight up close, and this might be my only chance to see one of the King’s Own.

  I slip into the paddock where I had been working as Master Boren has the group gathered in earnest conversation just past the pen. I tread softly over to where I had left the implements of my lofty calling, manure rake, shovel, and wheelbarrow.

  Under Helmar’s watchful eye, the sprogs have been patiently waiting for my return and as soon as they see me, come running in that stumbling, off-balance and decidedly ungraceful manner of theirs. Naturally, Regal Wind trips over his own feet, crashes into Wind Glow, and both go down in the dust. The sprog’s attempts at running remind me of a cross between a duck and a newborn foal who hasn’t quite found his legs yet.

  I pick up my rake, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. Master Boren and the others are so intent on their conversation that none of them pay me any attention. I push the sprogs off to one side and go back to work though I do manage to position myself close enough that what I hear almost causes me to drop both rake and shovel.

  “Anders,” Master Boren demands of the courier, “are you absolutely sure of this?”

  “Aye,” the young man replies, “and the king has sent messengers out to all the Great Houses. I just came from Lord Lorell’s Manor House.”

  “Wilders!” Master Boren spits the word out as if he’s bitten into a sour plum. “And this has been confirmed? There is no doubt?”

  The tall and slender knight, his helmet crested with red plumage indicating that he’s a legion officer, steps forward. “I’m afraid so, Master Boren. I received the same information just before His Majesty’s courier arrived.”

  “Wilder scum!” Master Boren all but growls. His face is dark, angry but I can also hear a note of anxiety in his voice. And well it should. We all should be anxious if the barbaric, bloodthirsty Wilders have indeed spilled out of the far hinterlands to raid and pillage.

  “I thought the Drachen Wars all but put an end to the Wilders?” Helmar questions.

  The captain shrugs. “We destroyed m
ost of their lairs, but evidently they’ve grown strong enough over the last twenty seasons to again start raiding again — in strength.”

  He pauses long enough to take a deep breath and let his face harden. “Strong enough apparently to destroy the House of Dornmuir.”

  “What?” Master Boren sputters. “What are you saying?”

  “The House of Dornmuir is no more, Dragon Master,” the knight gruffly replies. “His Lordship and Lady Dornmuir are dead and most of their holdings burned to the ground. Three days ago.”

  I all but drop my rake. A Great House destroyed by the loathsome, fierce Wilder dragon riders whose raids out of the nether lands leave nothing but death and destruction in their wake.

  “That’s barely a hundred leagues away, Master Boren,” Helmar rumbles, “less than two days by a dragon skyride.”

  I turn and stare toward the nearby forested hills and beyond to the higher knolls. The spruce tree’s dull olive coloring is brightened by the birchen tree’s light-green spring leaves. Somewhere far beyond there, a Great House lies burning, perhaps even the villages that often are part of the holdings. And with them, the villagers and the dragon workers lie dead, Wilder arrows buried in their bodies or burned to death by Wilder dragon fire.

  To me, there’s only one thing more cruel than Wilders.

  And that’s the three emerald dragons whose fierce, heartless dragon breath destroyed my world and left me scarred and torn.

  Chapter 2

  Out of the corner of my eye, I watch as Master Boren turns his head and eyes as if to study the lush, spring-green meadows and beyond them, the thick forest filled with black spruce with an occasional white birchen trunk breaking the dark line. His expression is one of grave apprehension, a look that I’ve never seen before on him though from this moment on, we should all be wearing the same expression.

  From what I know, Wilders take few prisoners and those that do fall captive soon come to envy those who died in the initial terrifying onslaught.

  “Even now,” Master Boren mutters low, thrusting his jaw toward the dark woodlands, “we may have eyes and ears watching our every move, waiting to ravage Draconstead as they did Dornmuir.”

 
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