Time of the Dragon Slayers (Part 2)
The first part of the story is available in either a previous post or on the side bar as a page, and that will continue to be updated as parts are posted.
“They can call me whatever they want. I do not think it is a wise move to even pretend to protect the dragons,” Justin said.
Colton glanced towards the back of the wagon where Justin sat. “I agree completely.” The horse drew his attention back to the road. “We actually look normal around here, but we worked hard to make it so. The last thing we need is another dragon coming down from the mountains, spraying its fire breath on a few crops and eating our livestock. If anything, I am more patriotic for wanting the dragons to be gone for good than for wanting them saved. It brings in more money all around.”
“Forget the economics involved, Colton. The dragons might be a part of our history, but the dragon slayers are just as much so. We can’t have one without the other. And you can’t make one disappear just because you changed your mind on who you like.”
Colton frowned a moment. “Maybe….”
Natlie twisted around on her seat so she could look at Colton and Justin at the same time. “Are you two aware that you’ve been discussing this constantly since I mentioned this last night at dinner? Do you think you could stop for a minute?”
Colton smiled at her. “Why would we do that?”
“Because you both agree and you’re just fueling each other’s frustration.”
“We don’t agree,” Justin said. “Colton here cares more about the dragons hurting his crops where as I am highly offended to be called unpatriotic for hunting the dragons.” He smiled faintly, like he knew a great secret. “Moreover, I believe that every single person in high government would be insulted, to say the least, to hear they too are unpatriotic for liking the dragon slayers and for wearing the dragon skin.”
“I think we just have to forget about patriotism and look at it in a purely logical manner,” Colton said. “The dragons destroy our crops and eat our cattle. We need both crops and cattle to make a living out here. So long as we fight the dragons, we have been in relative safety. Why would we want to change that?”
“Oh, stop it already!” Natlie said. “You two are driving me crazy. I’m lucky I’m going to town today or else I would probably have gone insane tonight with your constant discussion. At least I can find some sense while talking with Lita this afternoon.”
Colton rolled his eyes. “And then you ask me why I am not married yet, Justin? I tell you why. It’s her. She scares away anyone who might even come close.”
Natlie flipped back her hair. “He never even asks anyone to court him, let alone to marry him. He’s just using me as an excuse.”
Justin smiled faintly. “I have received my own share of comments from my family concerning my occupation, Moss Natlie, and the fact that I still roam around freely and unwed.”
Natlie looked back at him. “Well then, why do you?”
Justin leaned back. “I enjoy it. So why not? I’m the youngest of five sons. My presence there is rather… unimportant. This way, I made my own fortune in something I do well, instead of relying on my family’s money and land. It’s more honorable, the way I see it.”
“Any sisters or just five boys?”
“Two, also older.” Justin smiled faintly. “There was another sister younger than myself, but she died in the epidemic some fifteen years ago. I suppose that is why my mother hates me doing this.”
“So she is still alive?”
Justin nodded. “Quite so.”
Natlie glanced away and took a deep breath. Based on how Justin spoke, she could almost imagine a warm, motherly woman who would give him a hug and sit him down whenever he came home to some fresh-baked snack. She found it hard to imagine a toughened dragon slayer actually having a mother, but she liked the picture anyway. If she wanted something fresh-baked, she had to make it herself.
“I would have made it to town faster if I walked you know,” she said to change the conversation.
“Nonsense,” Colton said. “Anyway, I had to go into town either way. It made sense for us to go together.”
She sighed and brushed back her hair from her face. The west wind had begun to blow again, indicating another storm would probably come during the night. She pulled out hair tie from her pocket and pulled it back.
“See, we’re almost there.” Colton pointed ahead to where the crossbow stuck out from the trees. Natlie straightened and studied it as they passed. The dark wood, weather-worn from years of use, reached almost ten feet tall. Next to it, large logs formed into arrows laid, ready for use. It usually took two to three men to load it. Yet, for the first time she remembered, the defense stood unloaded.
He pulled up and tugged thoughtfully at his beard. “Well, now, that’s strange.” He handed her the reigns and jumped down. With a critical eye, he walked around it twice. Since the dragon defenses were such a necessary part of life, every man knew how to inspect, load, and fire them. They also knew, if not how to repair it, who to report to if it needed to be repaired.
He stopped in front of it for a long minute. “There’s no sign saying it’s broken. And it appears to be fine. Justin, come help me load this thing.”
Justin leapt from the cart and helped Colton lift the long, straight shaft into the machine. Colton gave him directions on what to do in his normal, gentle way that made one not feel so stupid about not knowing obvious things.
Natlie ignored them, watching the hawk glide across the sky. Enough people had called a false alarm because they mistook a bird for a dragon. However, everyone would agree it to be better to call a false alarm than to not call a real alarm. Still, she wondered sometimes what the dragons looked like if she could stop and watch them fly without worrying they came to attack. With how beautiful their skin looked in the sun, it must be a remarkable sight.
Colton taking the reigns from her hands pulled her from her daydreams. Natlie sighed. “It’s so beautiful today.” Much too beautiful to be riding in a cart to town.
Colton nodded slightly, not catching her meaning, like always. He never understood why she liked going to town as it was, let alone wandering randomly through the woods. The fields with his work were good enough for him.
The large sign announcing that they now entered Basham Heights greeted them as they entered, along with another, new sign underneath.
Colton stopped and read. “’Dragon slayers are no longer allowed within the city of Basham Heights, nor the surrounding area. Any one that dares to enter this town and attempts to engage in business will be removed as deemed appropriate.’”
Natlie glanced at him and frowned. “What–do you suppose that means?”
Colton shook his head and tugged at his beard.
“I think it means that crossbow wasn’t unloaded without reason,” Justin said quietly. Colton glanced back at him. “I think, if there has been a debate here, the debate hasn’t been over why the dragons should be destroyed but rather how to protect them.”
Natlie felt a hard coldness settle in her stomach. The phrase “as deemed appropriate” scared her more than she would like to admit. They could, theoretically, decide to do anything. “Are you going to remove your tunic?” she asked Justin.
Justin shook his head and ran a hand over it as if to smooth it. “I am a dragon slayer and just because I may not wear the tunic at one time does not mean I am not one. If you would rather, I can walk in on my own.”
“That isn’t necessary.” Colton started the horse again. “We’ve always had dragon slayers and we always will.”
Natlie blushed. “I didn’t mean it like that anyway, Justin. I just–don’t want you to get hurt.”
He smiled faintly. “I’ve hunted dragons for five years now, Miss Natlie. What makes you think I’m worried about getting hurt by townsfolk?”
“You can’t just kill an annoying person.”
“True. That is very true.”
Natlie glanced at Colton. He sat hunched over slightly, the tension gathering in his shoulders. He stared directly at the road like a statue. She gently touched his arm. He almost jumped, reminding her of how much he could lash out at someone who angered him enough. Instead, he just held her eyes for a moment before glancing away.
“I’m fine, Natlie,” he whispered.
He nodded slightly.
He licked his lips. “Changes in policy, like kicking dragon slayers out of the area, is a decision that should be unanimously voted upon by town men. I never voted on it, therefore, it was not unanimous.”
Natlie squeezed his hand. “I’m sure it’s nothing.
He nodded slightly but drove directly to the inn. “Can you please tie the horses?”
Natlie nodded and took the reigns from him. Immediately, he jumped from the wagon and headed inside. Natlie moved her skirts aside and began to climb down cautiously Justin approached.
“May I?” He offered her his hand.
She blushed slightly and accepted. “He’s my brother. Six year difference between the two of u so he forgets sometimes I’m grown up. What am I to do?”
Justin nodded and brought her gently to the ground. “I do understand.” He pumped some water for the horse, then leaned against the post. “How long have you been without your parents?”
“What happened–if I may ask?”
Natlie glanced at him and shrugged. “Dragons. What else?”
Justin nodded and looped the reigns around the post once the horse finished. “That must have been hard.”
Natlie nodded. “It happens–too much though. I–I just wish I could remember more about them. I was only ten and I feel guilty sometimes since I don’t remember them well. I can’t even tell you what they looked like, except my dad had the same hair color as me.” She smiled faintly as she twisted a auburn lock around her finger. “Curly though. And a really big beard.”
“Once people remember how much the dragons have taken away, things will go back to normal.”
Natlie smiled. “I hope. We should go check on Colton.” She ran up the stairs before he could debate it and pushed open the door.
Albin leaned against the wall, his face almost blank. “It is nothing that serious, Colton. You’re overreacting to the situation.”
“Overreacting to this situation? Do you realize what you have done?” Colton glanced at the few men there. Among them, Natlie recognized the dragon slayer from earlier, sitting quietly in the corner. She slipped into a booth near the door, hoping to be invisible, and Justin sat across from her.
“Let me summarize the situation for you so I can make certain you are fully understanding it. You illegally call a meeting of the town council, telling only a handful of people about this meeting, and decide to banish all dragon slayers on penalty of death. You also decide to disable all of the crossbows so that we have no defenses against a dragon attack when one does come. Then you support all of this with the logic that the dragons are going to disappear if we don’t do something? Are you crazy or is there something I am not understanding?”
“It isn’t crazy. It is necessary,” the dragon slayer said, absently toying with a pipe.
Colton turned on him sharply. “And who are you?”
“You aren’t a member of this town. Your opinion is irrelevant.”
“No. He is,” Otto said from the table.
“What do you mean he is? It says plain and simple in the charter–men come into the town district, live in the area for six months, and then are a member. I have not seen Jorn fellow before.”
“We gave him a special permission during the meeting as well,” Albin said.
Colton slammed his fist on the table. “This is insane! Why does he deserve this–this–stupidity?”
“Because he explained to us the situation of the dragons,” Albin said evenly. “Something I do not think you fully comprehend.”
“I don’t think you do. I know what the dragons have done. I know that they have destroyed all my crops on two separate years. I know that they have eaten my cattle several times a year. I know that my sister walks around the woods with a bow because it isn’t safe otherwise. I know that without the crossbow, we will not be safe. I know the situation, better than Jorn can know and probably better than you–with your two years of residency here–can know.”
Jorn cleared his throat again. “I was a dragon slayer for fifteen years. They’re practically gone. I have not been able to kill one for over six months–nor seen any sign of one for that matter. It is because of that–because my way of life is nearly gone–that I went into the mountains. Only then did I discover that there are nearly no dragons there as well. They are going to be gone forever if we do not take action. It is better to take action now than to regret their death years from now.”
Colton clenched his jaw. “You have gone about this illegally, Albin. You should be ashamed of yourself. I call a town meeting for tonight to resolve these issues once and for all.”
Albin frowned. “Very well.”
Colton nodded slightly and motioned to Natlie.
“Now, sir.” Albin turned to Justin. “I will give you one warning to leave town. If you do not comply, we will be forced to remove you.”
“None of these new so-called laws are in effect until the town meeting,” Colton said tensely.
“No, Colton.” Albin looked at him. “They are our laws and unless you can somehow get it overturned, they stay. Now, sir, are you leaving?”
Justin stood. “There are no limits in the whole country as to where a person can travel. You have right to refuse me a room in your business but as for allowing me to travel through this town, I will stay as I please and leave as I please and there should be no law to stop me.”
Immediately, both Otto and Jorn leapt to their feet. Albin took only two steps and punched him across the face, sending him across the table.
Natlie gasped and jumped. “Stop!”
The next punch Justin blocked and followed with a punch of his own against Albin. Otto grabbed him by the shoulders and threw him to the ground. A scramble of bodies knocked furniture aside and the next thing Natlie saw, they hauled Justin up and dragged him out the door.
Natlie followed them with Colton at her heels. Justin wrestled against their gasp but they held firm. Colton shouted at them to stop but they ignored him. As soon as they reached the edge of town, they tossed Justin into the dirt. Jorn kicked dust at him before he turned away.
“Let that be a lesson to you, Dragon Slayer!” Albin shouted.
Justin stood and wiped the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. For a moment he watched Albin evenly, then his gaze flickered beyond him to Jorn.
Natlie expected him to turn and leave then but he didn’t. To her horror, he silently took a step forward, back into town. Albin shoved him back across the town line. Justin stepped again. This time, Albin punched him in the stomach. Justin hardly flinched but Albin cried out, clutching his hand as blood began forming along the knuckles.
“What’d you do?” Albin said.
“Dragon scales are one of the hardest things you will ever encounter,” Justin said quietly, as he took another step. “You didn’t know that?
Otto took a swing at him but Justin simply stepped to the side.
“Is it really worth this?” Colton said. “The man just wants to be allowed to travel through town. You are going to get hurt if you keep this up.”
“The sign says it does matter,” Albin said.
“Burn the sign! Fighting him isn’t worth it.”
Albin scowled, wrapping his hand in the towel always at his waist. “No. Dragon slayers are no longer allowed to come. That is the law and we will not change it.”
Jorn drew a knife.
Justin looked at him. “Would you really use that against one of your own?””
“You are not one of mine anymore. I am no longer a dragon slayer. I gave that up when I decided to save our national emblem. So yes, I would use it on you and gladly.”
Justin paused. The small knife hardly seemed like it should bother Justin, for he wore one very similar to it himself. Natlie fully expected him to take another step forward. Instead, he nodded slightly and stepped back. “Just know I will do nothing to protect your town then when the attack comes.”
“We do not need, nor want, your so-called protection,” Albin said.
With a slight nod, Justin turned and walked away.