As mornings went, this one was rather odd.
Svorak felt his left eyebrow twitch as yet another yell reverberated through the large cave, quickly followed by a splash. The startled soldier had fallen into the hot spring.
The human, male he noted, immediately began flailing in the steaming water and sputtered pathetically.
The dragon sighed. Was it too much to ask for solitude on a mountain peak? In the dead of winter? Far away from any large settlement of men? As the man in his bathing pool clearly represented, the answer was a resounding ‘yes’.
His cobalt eyes drifted over the small efficient fire burning cheerfully near the pool, a bed roll, and a large pack arranged around it. A short sword in its scabbard and a crossbow were neatly propped up against a stack of damp firewood. A large plump rabbit was over the fire, still mostly raw.
Apparently, his impromptu guest had spent the night and was now cooking breakfast.
Several dozen yards away, the whistle of the wind could be heard. This far into the cave complex, the hot springs provided a welcome mixture of humidity and heat. The cold barely reached here, blocked by elevation and a wall of Svorak’s magic.
Speaking of mystical boundaries, how had the man gotten past his barrier? It was specifically created to keep the heat in and any unwanted intruders firmly out of his home.
Perhaps the soldier knew a few spells. Who knew what the local army was teaching its recruits. Slipping past magical walls would certainly help during a siege.
Given the situation, the dragon could hardly blame the soldier for setting up camp. Even as a creature of fire, the weather outside was harsh enough to nearly freeze close the film of his inner eyelid. His third eye had been completely blinded by the snow and ice that froze to the top of his skull.
A fresh bout of splashing caught his wandering attention, and the dragon turned his focus back to the man who was evidently trying to drown. Did the human not know how to swim?
Briefly, Svorak weighed the pros and cons of letting the soldier die. On one side, the soldier would be easily disposed of, tossed out into the snow for the wildlife to consume. On the other, in death the man would lose control of his bowels. In the large and scalding pool that Svorak used both heat and bathing.
It would reek for gods know how long.
There was also the possibility that the soldier was not far from his fellows. Perhaps other soldiers who would be looking for him soon now that morning had arrived.
With another sigh, the dragon approached the pool, eyeing the floundering fool that had been sharing his cave. Amid frantic splashes and clumsy limbs, Svorak was able to make out a dark thatch of hair and pink cheeks under a healthy tan. Wide eyes flashed forest green and a gasping mouth displayed a surprisingly full set of straight teeth.
His drowning soldier was in better condition than most he had seen.
Svorak cocked his head to the side as he stopped at the pool’s edge, front claws curling and dipping into the heated spring. “If you are having troubles, hold on to the rocks,” he advised in the local common tongue. “Better yet, get out of the water.”
At his low rumble, the man yelped in shock and promptly slipped below the dark surface.
The dragon waited. He had air and time. The other male didn’t.
After a few moments of silence and bubbles, the man finally surged to the surface with a gasp. Looking more than ever like a drowned rat, the soldier struggled towards the side of the pool, where he clung to an outcropping of stone.
Visibly distressed, the half-boiled man stuttered out, “A-are you going t-to eat me?” in a completely different language before falling silent.
Interesting. Svorak frowned slightly. He hadn’t heard that dialect for nearly three centuries. “No,” he replied in kind. Dipping his head down, the dragon took a closer look at the human. “Where are you from little man?” The man was far younger than he originally thought. Couldn’t be older than an adolescent.
Gulping, the soldier blinked water out of his eyes before answering hesitantly. “Vorne.”
“That kingdom is dead and gone, human.” Svorak snorted, eyes narrowing. “It doesn’t exist.”
Wiped out by invading armies and divided among the victors, the golden realm of Vorne had been crippled by treason and civil war before finally crumbling more than two hundred years ago. The dragon knew its history well. It had been his homeland.
“I know,” was the whispered response. The boy coughed and took in a shaky breath. “My family was originally from there. I was born in Oran. My name is Madrik.”
Svorak reared back his head and considered the young man. Sharing names and this particular language were part of a very specific ritual that had died out with the Vornes. The last time he had undergone it, his oath partner had eventually died with a spear through his right lung. It was very unlikely that Madrik knew what he was barely starting, but Svorak did. And the dragon wasn’t interested in enlisting in the foot soldier ranks of Oran’s army.
“What do you want, boy?”
The little human chewed his lip, staring up at the dragon. “I need your help.”
“Re-establishing Vorne and ruling it.”
Svorak blinked. For a moment, he indulged in a little image of this bedraggled half-steamed soldier seated benevolently on the jade and mother-of-pearl throne from his memories. The now-crowned Madrik waved a hand at a kneeling courtier, and the dragon began to laugh.
The cave echoed with the harsh tones of his laughter, but he didn’t care that there were threads of mockery and bitterness in his mirth. The idea was ludicrous and painful at the same time.
Svorak was laughing, because the vision in his mind had shifted so that Madrik was no longer the boy in front of him, but a woman from his past. A beautiful lady with flowing ebony tresses, bright emerald eyes, and golden skin. Her crown was a simple woven band of silver and iron; her garb, leather and steel plates. Her right palm rested confidently on the pommel of a sword two-thirds her height, its steel tip resting on the worn carpet by the throne. Her other hand wrapped around the stained haft of a lance, the light glinting off its sharp edge that rose three feet above her crown.
Svorak laughed, because he was through with mourning; Queen Thalia and his sire had both perished in the war. Their memory had been honoured enough through the years. Surely by now, even they would see the humour in this. He was certainly trying to.
A splash and an indignant shout pierced through his spiralling memories. “Hey!”
Madrik stood shaking, by the side of his claws. Gone was the fear, the hesitancy in his eyes. He stood straight, head thrown back to give the dragon a fierce glare.
“I’m being serious!”
“How can you be?” Svorak sneered, shaking his head. “One single boy against nations? And you cannot rule! The Vornes were matriarchal.”
The boy in front of him scoffed, the movement odd in his youthful face. “I won’t be ruling. My sister will be!”
Testing out the dragon waters again: new characters, new situation, new culture.
Very little editing went through this little tidbit; this is just for exploration.