Time of the Dragon Slayers (part 3)
Natlie laid her head against the rock, watching the sun slip behind the mountains amid a sky of fire. Although Colton said that she could go on home, she liked being in town more than home alone. Besides, it gave her more time to visit with Lita, although with it being dinnertime, Lita had too much to do.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were a dragon yourself,” Justin said.
Natlie opened her eyes. He sat next to her and stretched out his legs.
Natlie smiled faintly and pushed herself up. “Why is that?”
“The dragons lay on rocks like that. They’re basically giant lizards, so if they can find a large enough rock for their whole body, they’ll lay on it as long as its warm.” He began to stuff his pipe. “Sometimes, if you know what you’re looking for, you can see whole flocks of them sleeping along the mountain.”
Natlie smiled slightly. “I don’t blame them. It feels good.”
Justin nodded. “I know. I’ve spent many a winter afternoon on a rock.”
“You must have been around the country quite a bit.”
“And? What do you like about it?”
Justin pulled deeply on his pipe before he answered. “Some places are nicer than others. Much of it depends upon my mood at the time. But here, well, it’s actually nicer than I expected. It’s almost the perfect balance of tension and peace.” He watched the sky for a long minute, before he continued. “Jorn is correct that dragons are harder to find. It would not surprise me if many of the less-skilled dragon slayers are retiring. Still, just because we can’t find them easily doesn’t mean that we should let them rest and repopulate.”
Natlie picked at the grass. “I–I don’t want to sound bad, Justin, but I don’t know where I stand on this.”
“What do you mean?”
She glanced again towards the sky, which had began to cool to more of a dark blue with only the orange on the horizon to the east. “I don’t like the dragons. I have no reason to. But if they could live happily in their land, without bothering us, I would not mind that either. I just want them to leave us alone.”
“Maybe it isn’t right to kill out a whole species, but our survival comes first and theirs second, don’t you think? That’s just how it should be. I suspect that the town will see it too, now that they are going about this legally.”
Natlie glanced at the meeting house, and jumped when the door slammed open. Colton stumbled out of the meeting house, tripped down the steps before he regained his balance and spun around. She slipped off the rock and began to run towards him.
“You are all idiots!” Colton yelled. “You’re going to bring death to this town.”
Natlie stopped behind Colton. Albin stood in the doorway, his arms crossed over his chest, with Jorn behind him.
Colton took a step forward. “A change like this must be unanimous.”
“Nonsense.” Albin said. “It was with a majority ruling that we built the crossbows. It is with a majority ruling that we disable them.”
“I have had that land for–”
“For a measly nine years, ever since your parents died.” Albin waved his hand carelessly. “Many of us have had our places longer than that.”
“They died because of the dragons!”
“We have tired of your arguments, Colton,” Jorn said. “If we haven’t changed our minds up until now, we aren’t going to change our minds now.”
“The fact is that we cannot kill the dragons,” Albin said.
Colton clenched and unclenched his hands before he turned sharply. “Come, Natlie.” He tromped away. Natlie glanced back once more before she followed after him.
“What are we going to do, Colton?” Natlie said softly.
“I don’t know yet. We–”
A haunting screech cut Colton off as it vibrated across the valley. Natlie looked up sharply to see the speck dive from the clouds. In barely five seconds, the full outline of a dragon could be easily seen. It screeched again, a high, mournful screech that chilled the bones.
Behind them, men jostled out of the meeting house. Natlie ran towards the rock where she rested earlier and snatched up her bow. Justin no longer stood there. When she turned, Colton, too, had disappeared.
The dragon swooped lower. Natlie glanced towards the crossbow and caught sight of Colton on top of it, aiming. Another man stood next to him to help him with stabilization. Natlie stood on the rock and drew an arrow but waited. She would not shoot unless Colton missed.
Shouts from the town mingled with the shrieks of the dragon. The dragon dove towards the town. The west crossbow fired but so poorly aimed that it looked like someone intentionally undershot. Natlie licked her lips as the dragon looped back towards them. She felt so cold and sweaty and her stomach twisted around in knots. She flinched as it spewed fire towards a nearby farm, spooking the cattle into running towards town.
A scuffle started at the crossbow nearest her. The shouts of an argument mixed together so that she could understand nothing besides a curse from Colton. Still, she did not dare look towards the crossbow. If they missed, she had to fire but she always hated this part.
Another screech. Natlie caught her breath as the crossbow fired again. Once again, the arrow missed. The dragon looped again and Natlie raised her bow. The gray beast swooped lower and blew fire again towards the cattle that stampeded through town.
Someone collided into her just as she released the arrow. She squeezed her eyes shut and the next moment she laid on the grass. With a gasp, she rolled to the side and blinked. The dragon’s screech sent sharp knives through her head, and, mingled with the smell of smoke, caused her to feel sick.
Natlie pushed herself up and swallowed against the nausea.
Someone near by brushed off his clothing. “You know the law, girl. You cannot shoot a dragon.”
She swallowed and took a slow breath. “Even if I had shot it, I would have only injured it enough so it would learn not to come back.” Natlie brushed back her hair and looked up. Jorn glared down at her but in such a way that he did not look directly at her, but over her.
“You foolish girl.” He grabbed her bow front the ground and raised it as if to hit her. Natlie gasped and shielded her head.
“Don’t touch her,” Justin snapped.
Natlie looked up quickly.
“Hand the bow back to her, Jorn.”
He paused but tossed it to her. “How do I know she won’t shoot a dragon with it?”
Justin frowned at him evenly. “She was not shooting one in town. Even if she did shoot the dragon, you know as well as I do that you need a much stronger bow to harm it.”
Jorn hesitated before he finally looked directly at her for the first time. “You heard me, girl. I better not see you ever shoot a dragon or I will–”
“You will do nothing to her or her property,” Justin said.
Jorn glared at him. “And what would you do if I did?”
Justin rested a hand casually on his long knife at his waist. “Everyone in this country considers hurting a woman a crime. Some could say that shoving a woman to the ground would count as assault. I will merely enforce the law if you did anything to her.”
Jorn clenched his jaw and stalked away. Justin leaned over and offered Natlie his hand. She wearily took it and pulled herself up. The ground lurched slightly, but not badly.
“Watch out for him,” Justin said softly. “He… isn’t right.”
Natlie nodded slightly. “I know that already.”
Justin started to say something but just shook his head. The smoke drifted higher into the sky as another building caught fire. Men began lining up to form a fire brigade along the center of the street while the younger boys began rounding up the cattle.
“Come. Let’s find your brother and leave,” Justin said.
Natlie nodded. About a hundred feet away, Lita’s cat lay with an arrow through its chest. She swallowed and looked away. A friendly cat in place of a dangerous dragon was not a very fair trade by anyone’s standards.
(Comments welcomed, both good and bad. Next post coming Sunday, March 21st.)