Dragon's Fall - The Dragon's Quest [MultiFormat]
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eBook by D L Summers
eBook Category: Fantasy/Romance
eBook Description: The Dragon's Quest is set in Britain at the fall of the Roman age. The story ties the Dragon's Fall series to the Arthurian legends to create a vivid new twist with a paranormal edge. Aonghas Deas-Mhumhan -- called Desmond -- is a dragon lord in the service of King Ambrosius. He longs for the king's daughter, the beautiful Guinevere. However, her heart belongs to the king's young ally, L'ancelot. When Desmond and his friend Arthur are sent to battle Saxon invaders, Desmond is mortally wounded. He is saved by Wolf, a vampire who is seeks the Holy Grail in hopes that it might bring salvation to their kind. Desmond knows he and Wolf cannot find the Grail alone. He returns to court where he finds that Guinevere is pledged to Arthur but still longs for L'ancelot. Now king, Arthur is anxious to remove L'ancelot from court for a time, so he agrees to Desmond's request for aid in the search for the Grail cup. Though Desmond, L'ancelot and Wolf find the Grail, they discover that an ancient being of great power defends it. Wolf is killed and Desmond realizes that they have not found the salvation they sought. His quest for salvation -- and for love -- will continue elsewhere.
eBook Publisher: Lachesis Publishing/Lachesis Publishing
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2011
* * * *
May of the year 480, on the River Bassus
A tall, thin man stood atop a grassy knoll and surveyed the surrounding countryside. His hair was cut uncharacteristically short--more like the hair of the few remaining Romans in the land than the long plaits of his fellow Britons. In his experience, Roman soldiers were wise to crop their hair. It gave enemies less to grab onto in close fighting. At birth, the man had been named Aonghas Deas-Mhumhan. The name Deas-Mhumhan came from his father, an Irishman from Munster. Aonghas came from his mother who named him for the Celtic god of choice because she, herself, had faced a choice early in life. Through she was betrothed to a minor, but wealthy, Roman land holder, she chose to marry the man she loved--the wild Irishman who had left his homeland to settle in Western Britain for reasons he rarely talked about.
The man on the knoll turned and studied a nearby encampment. Cooking fires were starting and the men and women were quietly going about the business of settling in for the evening. The people of the encampment had come to know the man--who at that time was just short of forty years old--as Deas-Mhumhan Dragwn or Desmond the Dragon. The British title, Dragwn, was reserved for warriors who had earned respect from the people and power in the court of Duke Ambrosius Aurelianus, the Roman administrator of the Isle of Britain. Rome, however, was so distant and its power in such decline that Ambrosius was virtually a king. Ambrosius was an effective leader and had done his best to maintain order in Britain, in turn earning the respect of the Dragons.
The sound of drums heralded the approach of another group of people. Shielding his eyes against the light of the setting sun, Desmond saw men on horseback and soldiers marching along the River Bassus. He shook his head at the disorderly line.
A man with long, raven hair and a shaggy black beard streaked with gray ran up the knoll toward Desmond. "I see you've heard the approach of Arthur's party," said Bran, Desmond's friend and closest advisor.
"How could anyone miss the roar of the mighty bear?" said Desmond. His lip curled up with just a hint of amusement and sarcasm. The name Arthur literally meant 'bear' in old Welsh.
"That 'mighty bear'--Arthur Dragwn--has led his men to five major victories in our Duke's name." Bran turned to look at the approaching men. "He inspires loyalty in his people and they fight fiercely by his side."
"The way he throws people at his enemies it's a wonder there are enough left to carry the dead and wounded away from the battle," said Desmond bitterly. "Still he manages to find more men to replace those who've died under his command."
"He's popular," said Bran with a shrug. "He's also your friend."
"Perhaps it's because he's my friend that I'm so critical. I do not want to see him hurt," said Desmond looking down at the ground. "He tends to indulge his excesses unwisely. His sister, Morgana, is his lover, after all."
Bran shook his head. "You know as well as I do that Morgana is not really Arthur's sister. They only say they're brother and sister to get around the Duke's decree that warriors should not marry."
Desmond snorted. "There is wisdom in the old Roman laws. A war leader cannot be distracted by the pleasures of the flesh."
"I'm glad to hear that," said Bran with a smirk, "especially since I share a tent with you."
"But you do not share a bedroll with me."
Bran's smile fell for a moment as Desmond's gaze remained a little too fixed for comfort. Suddenly Bran threw his head back and laughed. "You had me going there for a moment. I was beginning to think that maybe you really did favor men over women folk."
Desmond's smirk returned for just a moment. He reached out and tugged Bran's shaggy beard. "I'm afraid you have too much hair in the wrong places for my pleasure, my friend." Briefly, the face of a beautiful woman--the Duke's eldest daughter Guinevere--came to his mind. The war leader patted his advisor on the arm and started down the knoll toward the encampment. "Come, we need to prepare for the war council. Arthur and his 'sister' will be here before long and we have much to plan."
Ambrosius had sent Desmond and Arthur up the River Bassus to quell an uprising by a Pictish war leader called Caw. The Picts had long resisted Roman rule of Britain and it was apparent that Roman power was in decline as Saxon settlements began springing up on the island. Ambrosius had made a vow to rid the island of Saxon invaders and Caw saw the opportunity to lead a successful insurgency. He had already led demoralizing raids south of Hadrian's Wall into the villages of Luguvalium and Corstopitum. Desmond and Arthur were ordered to end the insurgency as quickly as possible.
Within Desmond's pavilion, haystacks had been set out in a crude semi-circle, like the Roman 'omega' couches, and covered with blankets. Desmond sat with his hands on his knees, waiting. On one side of him was Bran. On the other side was his seneschal, Cynddylig. Desmond watched as three people clad in chest plates, ring mail and plaid trousers, approached the pavilion. Arthur, with hair cut short like Desmond's, was unmistakable even from a distance. The man virtually radiated charisma. He carried a shield on his arm with the image of a god-like woman: Mary, mother of the Christian god, Jesus. Desmond knew little of the Christian faith which was just making itself known in Britain, but he knew many of Arthur's people were followers. Next to Arthur was a powerful woman with long, black hair. She was his constant companion, Morgana. The red-headed giant of a man who followed behind them was Kai, Arthur's own seneschal and mentor. As Arthur ducked into the pavilion and set his shield down, Desmond stood. The two clasped arms. "It is good to see you again," said Arthur with a genuinely charming smile.
"And you, as well," replied Desmond, businesslike. He indicated the hay bales and the group sat. Desmond's seneschal stood, retrieved goblets and poured water into them.
"Nothing better for your guests?" chided Arthur. "It has been a long journey, wine would be welcome right now."
"You know I don't drink wine while discussing strategy. There will be enough time for celebration after the battle." Desmond raised his goblet and then drank.
Arthur inclined his head and followed suit. Lowering the goblet, he smacked his lips. "So, where is the villain Caw holed up?"
"According to my scouts--" Desmond gave a brief nod to Cynddylig, also known as 'the guide' "--he's assembling his forces just outside the village of Cambuslang. He does not have great numbers assembled yet." Desmond picked up a stick and began drawing in the mud at the center of the circle. He showed the River Bassus and the location of the town, then he drew the location of Caw's camp and indicated a nearby forest and several nearby hills. "I believe with a small force we can sneak through the forest and get close enough that I can put an arrow right through Caw's heart. Without a leader, the Pictish rebellion will fail."
"You would make a martyr of him?" Morgana's voice seemed far away. Though Desmond knew her, he looked at her as though for the first time. Her arms were well-muscled and there was a scar on her chin. She had seen many battles but still, somehow, seemed quite fay as she looked off into the distance and contemplated Desmond's plan of action.
"I'm afraid she may be right," said Bran. "Lord Desmond, I agree that we must be assured of Caw's death, but his army must be dealt a firm defeat or his generals will regroup and attack again."
As Desmond turned to face Bran, Arthur took the stick and pointed to the map. "I must agree with Morgana and Bran. I think it would be better if we treat this as a two-pronged attack. Your men should come through the forest as you suggest and focus your attack on Caw himself." Arthur pointed to the nearby hills. "My men will come in by this route. Doing so, we will cut off the Picts' escape and we will have them surrounded."
"Except by the river," noted Kai, stroking his thick, red beard. "They can still escape down the valley."
Desmond pursed his lips and studied the map. "I can't bring most of my men through the forest with me. They'll be bogged down and make too much noise. The Picts will know we're coming." He took the stick back from Arthur. "But, I can place most of my men here." He indicated a position south of Cambuslang. "That will block their escape down the valley."
Arthur reached down and picked up his goblet of water. "In spite of your lack of hospitality and good wine," he said, "this is why I enjoy fighting by your side. You are a good planner." His pleasant smile returned and he lifted his goblet and took a long draught. Sitting the goblet down, he looked first to Morgana, then to Kai. "I believe we should return to camp. We have a big day tomorrow."
"I will set out at the beginning of twilight," said Desmond.
"And we shall position ourselves as the sun is coming up over the horizon. That should give you enough time to strike," affirmed Arthur as he stood. With that, Morgana stood and moved to Arthur's side. Kai stepped from the pavilion first, followed by Arthur who paused to retrieve his shield, and then Morgana.
Desmond retrieved his own goblet and drank greedily. Sitting the goblet down, he looked to Bran. "Spread the word among the men. Let them know where to position themselves in the morning. Then, it will be time to turn in for the night."
"It does seem a sound plan, my lord," said Bran with a confident smile.
"A good plan...as long as Arthur does as he says, when he says."
"You sound as though you don't trust him." Bran looked at Desmond with eyebrows raised.
Desmond shook his head. "No, it's not that. Arthur is fiercely loyal to Ambrosius.... It's just that he's like his namesake--a bear, big and clumsy. I only worry that there will be more bloodshed than necessary tomorrow."
Bran smiled reassuringly. "I think all warlords fear that the night before a battle."
"Perhaps." Desmond inclined his head, then moved over to the bedroll, laid out by Cynddylig. The guide had already left for his own tent, so he would be ready to lead Desmond through the dark forest before the sun rose.
* * * *
Desmond tossed and turned that night as he thought about the next day's battle. Cynddylig had given him a careful and thorough description of Caw from the times he'd scouted the Pictish camp. Not only that, the guide would accompany him into the enemy camp. Still, Desmond feared killing the wrong person. Even that wasn't the worst of the warlord's fears. There was always the chance that Caw's men would sense trouble long before Desmond attacked and put a barrier around their leader. In addition to his concerns about the battle itself, he continued to see Guinevere's face in his mind. More than anything, he did not want to fail and disappoint her. These worries plagued Desmond until he fell into a fitful sleep.
It felt as though he'd only just fallen asleep when Bran nudged him awake. Desmond rubbed his eyes and, still dressed in his trousers and jerkin, crawled out from between his blankets. He yelped slightly as his feet touched the nearly-frozen ground. He felt around in the dark for his boots and pulled them on. Cynddylig was there with his armor and helped the warlord fasten it on. As Desmond donned his helm, Bran handed him a loaf of bread and some cheese. "Our men are standing by," explained Bran. "Three of our best warriors will accompany you, me and Cynddylig. The rest will block the Picts from escaping down the river."
"Very good." Desmond bit off a chunk of bread. He reached over and found a goblet. He shivered as he took a drink of the icy water, then took a bite of the cheese. Still holding the cheese and the goblet, he stepped out from under the pavilion and examined the sky. The cloud cover kept him from seeing any stars, and it was still quite dark. They would be setting out with torches--which would be fine--the trees of the forest would obscure their approach from the Picts. He took another bite of the cheese and swallowed some more water. His nervous stomach rumbled a slight protest, so he took the remains to the pavilion and left them behind. "It is time," said Desmond to Bran and Cynddylig.
They joined three other men, then set out from the encampment. There was just enough light that, out in the open, they could walk along the riverbank, parallel to the tree line without torches. After marching for approximately two miles, Cynddylig made a silent gesture and they ducked within the trees. The men brought out torches and lit them with flints from their satchels. Desmond looked up through the trees. The sky was already lightening. His stomach rumbled as he worried that the time keepers may not have watched the falling sands closely enough and they had set out later than he intended.
Setting his nervousness aside, Desmond followed Cynddylig as he led them through the forest. He did his best not to step on twigs that might cause Caw's lookouts to raise an alarm. At last, Desmond and his men came to a place where they could look down on Caw's encampment. Cynddylig pointed out Caw's pavilion and showed him several routes to it. The guide also pointed out the guards that stood around the perimeter of Caw's camp. Desmond studied their placement, then pointed to one that stood near the forest. "He's visible to the others, but I think we can pull him into the forest before anyone sees and makes a run for the camp."
"Agreed," said Bran studying the situation.
Desmond looked out at the sky and frowned. The gray clouds brightened, but he guessed they had a good half-hour before the sun actually rose. Desmond ordered the torches extinguished and the men moved toward their target's position.
Bran and the three soldiers quickly darted out of the forest, grabbed the Pictish guard and pulled him into the woods where they quietly slit his throat. Desmond looked around a tree and saw no sign that an alarm had yet been raised. "Cynddylig, you come with me. The rest of you stay here," he whispered. Don't follow unless those guards start pursuing us. I want to catch Caw as he break's fast...or even better while he still slumbers."
Cynddylig and Desmond broke from the trees and sprinted for Caw's camp. Just as they passed the first tent, Desmond's ears caught the sound of drums. "Damn," he growled. "Arthur's early."
The perimeter guards began shouting. Cynddylig grabbed Desmond's arm and led him through the camp. Pictish warriors emerged from their tents, bleary-eyed, but neither the guide nor the warlord stopped. As the Picts realized they were under attack, they darted back into their tents to retrieve their weapons and armor, clearing the path for Desmond.
They came to the central pavilion. Desmond retrieved his bow and notched an arrow. Within, he saw several men donning armor. Others were taking time to smear blue paint onto their faces. The Dragon pursed his lips and tried to decide which bearded warrior was his target. "Caw!" he yelled. Several of the men looked up at him. Desmond rolled his eyes, but then realized that one particularly large man stood bare-chested with a stick in his hand. He had been drawing in the mud of the pavilion. He was the leader. The Dragon took aim and let the arrow fly. The big man went down with the arrow in his heart. Some in the tent rushed to their leader's side. Others went for their own bows. Desmond smiled openly, dropped the bow, then turned and ran, drawing his short sword as he did.
Cynddylig followed as soon as Desmond passed him. Arrows began raining down on the camp. Desmond looked to his left. The arrows weren't coming from behind. Rather, they were raining down from outside the camp. Again, the Dragon swore as he realized that Arthur's men were already attacking. Several Pictish soldiers rushed by Desmond and Cynddylig, not paying them any mind as they ran past. "We've got to get back to the forest as quickly as possible," said Desmond.
"Toward the river would be best," said Cynddylig looking around and assessing how the Picts were forming up against the Britons. "It'll put us out of the line of fire. Once we're out of the camp, we can make for the tree line and meet up with Bran and the others."
Without further comment, Desmond nodded. They ran toward the river. One man that Desmond thought he recognized from Caw's pavilion reached out and tried to grab the warlord's arm. Desmond swung the sword and smacked the man in the head with the flat of the blade. The man, though not mortally wounded, went down. Cynddylig and Desmond kept running.
They emerged from among the tents of Caw's encampment and saw Arthur's battle line. Caw's generals were trying to form their own men into lines. Desmond picked out several cries in Pictish, the general sense of which were confusion over the location of Caw. Some men were openly breaking ranks. Absorbed as he was by the action, Desmond nearly ran headlong into a woman carrying a crying boy and leading a stunned girl by the hand. The warlord noticed that they were attempting to make their escape down the river toward his own men.
"Woman," he called. "You will be better off fleeing the other direction. Go to Cambuslang. You will be safe there," he said.
She looked at him with wide eyes. "You are Briton. Why should I trust you?"
"You are a woman and you have children. I have no desire to see you harmed," said Desmond.
She nodded and turned. "Come along Cwyllog," she said to the girl. "Hush, Gildas," she said to the boy. "You will have to walk. Mommy can't carry you anymore." Desmond watched as they retreated back through the camp. Briefly, he thought of Guinevere and hoped she was well.
Cynddylig took Desmond's elbow and led him toward the forest. "You realize that was Caw's woman. Those were his whelps."
"What would you have me do?" asked Desmond, his eyes ablaze. "Cut them down in cold blood?"
"Didn't you kill Caw in cold blood?" asked the guide.
"That was different," muttered Desmond as he turned and sprinted toward the woods.
* * * *
That night, Arthur, Morgana and Kai once again sat in Desmond's pavilion. This time, Desmond brought out his wine. Arthur raised a toast, "To the man who brought us a swift victory. You will be known as the hero of the River Bassus."
Bran and Cynddylig raised their goblets as well. Desmond looked to the ground, his cheeks flushed. At last, he looked up, nodded, and all drank. Kai refilled their glasses and the smells from the cooking fires wafted into the tent. Desmond's stomach flipped again as he contemplated the battles that lay ahead. How long would it be before he could settle down and claim his destiny and the woman he loved?