Excerpt for Vitha and the Dragon by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

VITHA AND THE DRAGON

The Land of Nod

Aidan Russell



 

All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. Any similarities between real life events and people, and the events within this product are purely coincidental.

 

13Thirty Books

Print and Digital Editions

Copyright 2018

 

Discover new and exciting works by Aidan Russell and 13Thirty Books at www.13thirtybooks.com

 

Print and Digital Edition, License Notes

 

This print/ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This print/ebook may not be re-sold, bartered, borrowed or loaned to others. Thank you for respecting the work of this and all 13Thirty Books’ authors.

 

Copyright © 2018 Aidan Russell

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 9781370266708

DEDICATION


To those who’ve ever dreamed of chasing a Dragon through a haunted forest.



Don’t look back. This land is a prison, a wanderer’s tomb. Long ago did the Almighty cast out the Murderer, for his brother’s blood cried out from the earth for justice. From him were born the evil broods, ogres and elves and phantoms of hell, and the giants, who long contended against heaven. He brought his bloody ways. He brought war against the Ancients, born before man had been given life and the angels had warred.


In the North, empires are shattered and knights grow old. The wretched gather around embers to whisper of dragons and the four heroes who saved them once, but never again. In the South, rulers bend their knees to the Ancient king while bloodthirsty tribes gather beneath banners of glory. Yet, for all the savagery, honor grows stronger than fear.


Days of adventure and peril await. Arise! Fetch your steel! War has come to the Land of Nod.


CHAPTER 1

When he blew the dust away, tiny lines revealed themselves in the rock. Some of the lines formed circles and swirls, others were simple lines intersecting one another, and some were so eroded, Vitha couldn’t tell what they were supposed to be.

“See,” the Elf said, “these aren’t Traluíl at all. They’re some other language, one that’s never been spoken by any Sylvan Elf I know of.”

Vitha’s enthusiasm was sincere, but Fuiin wasn’t convinced. He crossed the four spindly limbs that served as his arms and leaned back onto one of the large rocks scattered about the wooded knoll. The leaves in his branches shivered out his response the young explorer.

“Well, no, I don’t know what language the Fairies spoke when they were Miradep’s stewards, but they didn’t build with stones either. They dug into mounds or carved themselves homes into the trees. They didn’t carve stones or use bricks, and this is a brick.” The Elf held out his prized rock to the Dryad. The tree-creature looked it over with hollow eyes that appeared to have been carved into his smooth bark by a whittler’s knife. The chunk may have once been a brick, but after having spent millennia buried beneath the dirt, its edges had worn down and one side had crumbled. But, Vitha was right, there were strange lines carved into the stone; lines that meant nothing to Fuiin, but had clearly meant something in a time long before the sapling Dryad had walked Miradep’s mystical woodlands. His leaves shivered once more.

“Of course, I’m going to be careful with it,” Vitha said. “This is one of the biggest discoveries I’ve made to support my theory that Miradep grew over the remnants of an old civilization.” He wrapped his prized brick inside a large leaf and then tucked it gently away inside the leather pouch slung over his shoulder. He plopped onto the rock against which Fuiin leaned. Even though Dryads were among the smallest of the Irmincúl, the Trees-Who-Walked, Vitha barely stood to the part of Fuiin’s trunk that resembled a solid rib cage.

The Elf and Dryad looked up through the choking cluster of pines. Beyond the verdurous peaks of trees that had witnessed civilizations rise and fall—only to be replaced by empires who had, in their own time, fallen again—a sky shone bright with only a few wisps of clouds kissing the field of blue. Between the gnarled trunks and crumbled boulders, a gentle breeze pushed the pine-laden boughs into a lackadaisical sway. The breeze was neither warm nor cool. It was the perfect companion for an early spring afternoon. Yet, despite the gorgeous sky and agreeable weather, Vitha could feel the silent trees’ distress. It would take more than a pleasant day to soothe the temper of a forest under siege. He pulled an apple from his pouch, took a bite, and began to sing.

He did not sing in Traluíl, so no Sylvan Elf would have understood his words. In fact, the lyrics did not form words at all. The Irmincúl and the trees did not speak in words, but rather rhythms and sentiments. To an outsider, the tongue made as much sense as stars relaying messages in their twinkling lights.

Beneath his chest, a hazy blue glowed within Fuiin. While the breeze remained steady, the boughs of the nearby pine trees rustled a tad quicker.

Fuiin’s progenitor had taught Vitha the song. To the young Elf, the melody was calm, yet mournful. To the Irmincúl and the trees, the song was a rousing jig, a glorious praise to the rain-laden storms.

Vitha concluded the song, tossed his apple core onto the mossy ground, and hopped from his rocky seat. “Come on. I need to get home. The Warden's been warning us about the Galeberthians coming close with their patrols. He doesn’t want anyone out after dark. Afraid we’ll get caught or killed.”

Fuiin’s leaves shivered frantically. Ten years was but an instant in the lives of the Irmincúl, but the last decade had dragged on as the Galeberthian king did his best to conquer the enchanted forest of Miradep. Fuiin had seen the charred stumps of his comrades and Vitha watched more than a handful of villagers march off to defend their Mother Forest. As the years passed, fewer and fewer returned home.

Vitha felt the pines bid farewell to Fuiin and he. He turned and lilted a series on undulating notes to thank the trees for their shade and company. Then they continued down the unseen path that led home.

Fuiin didn’t ever say much, which meant Vitha was left to his own wandering thoughts as they walked among the trees. They passed way stones and Monument Groves. He called to mind the history and myths behind each landmark in his head. It didn’t take long before he was lost in scenes of shattered temples, slain kings, and ancient Sylvan Elves offering themselves up to the old Fairy gods. An hour into their walk, they passed by a mound covered in moss and grass. There had once been an opening in the mound that led to a hidden world: a world neither Vitha nor any of his kind would ever see, or so the old stories said. Now, a heavy stone sat over the mound’s entrance, and superstition kept the curious from seeing what lay beneath it. That and the Sprites, who always seemed to be angry. They didn’t hesitate to attack any who came near the mound or the gnarled fir they inhabited.

While Vitha’s mind was lost in the Great Seelie War, when the Fairies had been cast from the hidden kingdom and guardianship of the forest given to the Traluíl, Fuiin reached a limb across the path to stop the daydreaming Elf.

“What is it?”

Fuiin’s carved eyes rolled toward the sky. Vitha turned his head to point a steepled, pointed ear upward. Despite the preternatural hearing bestowed upon Elvenkind, he heard nothing. He swiped the stray strands from his face, cinching them back into the braided leather thong secured into his golden hair with a falcon’s feather. He looked to the sky and saw nothing as well.

“What's gotten into you? There’s nothing here.” He lifted his foot to take a step. He felt the ground shift beneath his feet and he found himself falling face first into the pine covered dirt. Then he heard the roaring shriek overhead. Immediately behind the piercing howl came the sound of great wings, like wind filling the sails of a great frigate over and over.

Vitha lifted his head from the dirt. Fuiin looked to the sky, the recent trembling of the earth or the torrent of sound forgotten. He followed the Dryad’s skyward gaze. At first, he flinched away from the dazzling reflection of sunlight from the silver scales. He made himself look, though. The sight of Miradep’s guardian dragon was one of the few good omens to exist within the haunted woods. Even the queen rarely received an audience with the silver dragon, so for a lowly historian and tree-singer to fall within the shadow of his monstrous, dark wings and catch sight of his long, sawtooth tail was remarkable. Before the awestruck smile formed on his face, Vitha had pushed himself to his feet and taken off in a sprint.

“Qa’sin! Come on! He’s heading toward the village!”

He bound deftly over roots and stones in his doeskin moccasins. He ducked between two close trees that concealed the path from any outsider and leapt over a stream. He jumped and took hold of a dangling root to pull himself up a low drumlin’s steep side. It didn’t take long for Fuiin to catch up. The Dryad twisted his roots together to form two slender, graceful legs that propelled him swiftly along the labyrinthine path back to Vitha’s village. When the Sylvan Elf stopped, Fuiin shook his leaves.

“It's been a long day. I just need to catch my breath.”

Fuiin shook his response.

“Do I look like I’m putting on weight? And no, if anything, I should be reading more books.”

A long, mournful roar rushed to them from the North. Fuiin didn’t wait for the Elf to catch his breath. He took off into the pines. Luckily, the Dryad’s leafy branches stuck out among the coniferous landscape, allowing Vitha to follow after his friend.

They passed through a thicket of firs. Sticky sap covered Vitha’s hands and scrapes covered his arms when he emerged from the densely packed trees and into an airy copse where blooming flowers encroached on the forest’s shadow and greenery at the edge of the Meadowlands. Even while chasing dragons, history lessons played through his mind. The humans had thought they could inhabit the mystical forest. They had cleared out great swathes of forest for their homes and towns. Then the forest had closed in around them and the Traluíl slaughtered them all. Their blood and corpses had fed the bright flowers that would then grow over their ravaged homes.

Once past the Meadowlands’ border, the forest returned to dark shades of pine, made darker as the sun sank toward the West. They climbed a steep hillock and came at last to overlook the glen where Vitha’s village lay. In the middle of the slender valley—where the trees had been coaxed with song and sacrifice to weave together into homes and his ancestors had fought the Ogre incursion to protect their menhir runestone—a pillar of smoke reached for the sky. A rush of flame rose from the smoke. Through the fire, the dragon Qa’sin rose into the air, the smoke clinging to his silver scales.

“What? No.” Vitha didn’t understand. The dragon protected the forest. He didn’t war with the Traluíl or the Irmincúl. He never protested to sharing the forest with the Sylvan Elves and the Walking-Trees. Or that’s what the seers had told him.

Vitha was awakened from his slack-jawed trance by Fuiin pushing him to the ground. The Dryad covered him with his oaken body, shielding him from the dragon’s shrieking growl as he flew overhead, an amalgamation of silver and flame hurtling toward the sun.

Fuiin flailed to keep from rolling down into the valley when Vitha threw the Dryad off of himself. This time, Fuiin struggled to keep up with the sprinting Elf. He followed the trail of shaking trees as Vitha pushed his way through the cluttered boughs. When the hill took a steep dive, Fuiin found his friend sprawled across a swathe of rocks with hands bloodied from a nasty spill and tears smeared across his face.

“Let go of me!” Vitha pushed Fuiin’s limbs away when the Dryad helped him from the ground. He would have felt hurt by the Sylvan Elf’s coarseness, but Fuiin knew the feeling. He had seen the devastation fire could do. He had lost his own kin to axes and fire since the Galeberthian invasion. The Dryad didn’t rush after Vitha. He knew what awaited them at the village.

When he reached the bottom of the glen, he found Vitha on his knees before the roaring flames. Trees that had once been homes were engulfed. Through the smoke and inferno, he could see the outlines of bodies being eaten away by the fire. Their ashes already scattered on the hot wind. In the center of it all, the village’s runestone lay toppled and broken, it’s once gentle glow gone dim despite the conflagration. Vitha answered the roaring of the flames with a scream of his own. Fuiin wanted to go to his friend, to offer what comfort a voiceless tree-man could, but the heat was too intense. He knew if he got too close, he would become another casualty to the dragon’s ire.

By the time the flames turned to embers, night had fallen and Vitha’s eyes had dried up. His fair skin was red from the heat and coated with soot.

“Why would he do this?” Vitha said as he heard Fuiin step onto the cinders. “How could he do this to us?” He wiped a string of snot from his nose with his sleeve. “They’re all gone.”

Fuiin shook his leaves.

“Where? Where could any of them have gone? How could any have hidden from a dragon? He didn’t want any to live, and none could stop him from killing whatever he pleases.” He turned to Fuiin, his eyes rimmed red and tired from grief. “I read the stories of Qa’sin. He's killed demons, fought against angels. The old Fairies couldn’t contain him. He killed everyone. Everyone I know. Everyone!” Somewhere, in a place he didn’t know, his eyes found more tears to signal his sorrow to the world. Then he stood and waded into the ashes.

In the den of Ygirlmi’s, the stout Elf had carved deer and fowl into meat. At the home of the Caemrins, the village gave their thanks to Filoth for the bounties the forest gave to them. The runestone lay cracked, the precious alloys that had been laid into the runes and allowed the stone to pierce the Veil now gone. Of these places Vitha had known, nought but smoldering coals remained. Through the wreckage, a skeletal arm pointed skyward, charred meat still clinging to the bones.

Vitha stopped before a pile of blackened embers. Beneath the rubble, the books and scrolls he had studied to earn his place as a historian of his people were now ash. Beneath the remnants of his home, he knew his father, mother, brother, and sisters were buried. Knowing they were together, their spirits dancing away within the Urkraft’s tides, constrained his grief for a moment.

He kicked aside some ash where the door to his home once was. The blackened soot stuck to the dried sap on his hands as he searched around in the debris. When he pulled his hands from the ash, he held a steel chain necklace with a set of bear claws affixed to the links. His eyes dry at last and the family heirloom in his possession, Vitha turned from the wreckage of his home and Fuiin followed. When they reached the forest, untouched by the dragon’s fire, Fuiin’s leave shivered.

“I don’t know where I’m going, but I have nothing left here.”

Fuiin asked another question.

“What will I do now?” Vitha stopped and turned to the Dryad. He had never trained with a sword. His only martial skill was to catch his own food. He had devoted his life to studying, to reading, to discovering the truth of times forgotten by the Traluíl's eldest seers. He had foregone fighting the invasion of King Velat’s forces to focus on his life’s calling. But with everything he cherished destroyed, Vitha had found a warrior’s rage. “I’m going to kill a dragon.”


CHAPTER 2

Vitha didn’t awaken when the mosquito buzzed around his ear or even when it bit into his flesh. What awoke him was when he reflexively slapped himself upside the head.

“Ow.” He sat up and opened his eyes just in time to watch the mosquito fly off.

Fuiin stirred beside him. The Dryad unlatched his roots from the moist soil and unfolded his limbs, metamorphosing from a still, deciduous sapling dwarfed by the giant pines to one of the Irmincúl. He shook his limbs and leaves, spraying Vitha with droplets of the morning’s dew. They had camped near a grassy glade as the sun faded over the western horizon the night before. To their east, a dull blue heralded the coming day.

“Is it daylight already? I don’t think I’ve slept that much since that one winter when Mother-Mother wouldn’t let us outside.” He pushed aside the layer of pine needles and moss he used as a blanket. They had walked for two days in a southwesterly direction. They asked every critter they came across if they had seen the dragon Qa’sin. Few said they had, but a few confirmed the dragon had been spotted passing by. They came across one Traluíl soldier, a bandage over her eye and an arm in a sling. She warned them to turn back, that King Velat’s soldiers had pushed deep into that part of Miradep and would ambush any Sylvan Elf or Irmincúl they came across. When Vitha and Fuiin insisted on going onward, she didn’t try to stop them. Her orders were to take word to the Sentinels of Monument of the incursion, not talk some foolish youths out of getting themselves killed. The journey had leached some of the vigor Vitha’s rage sustained him with. Fuiin saw the young Traluíl’s weariness and convinced him they should rest for the night. Vitha protested at first. Elves usually slept but once a week. But when Vitha tripped over a root because he had dozed off while walking, he assented and found a nook between some roots to lay his head.

Vitha reached into his pouch and checked for the brick he had discovered before the dragon attack. Only after he was sure his prize was still there did he pull the apple, his last, out for some breakfast.

“Should we keep heading the same direction?” Vitha asked while he chewed on his first bite.

Fuiin shivered his leaves and stretched his limbs.

“I don’t think anyone knows where that dastardly dragon lays his head. For all I know, all of Miradep is his home.”

Fuiin shivered once more.

“Yes, a few squirrels and a fox saw him head that way as well, so I guess you’re right. If I were Qa’sin, I’d likely make my home atop the Deep Mountain or in the Crags, so we’ll keep going on then, I guess.”

Vitha took another bite from his apple and watched the sky slowly brighten in the East. He thought of the place he once called home, the pile of ashes, that lay in the direction of the rising sun. He thought of his family, what they looked like before the dragon took them. He remembered their smiles, he did everything he could to block out the knowledge they were now charred husks, likely picked at by crows and wolves.

“Come on, let’s get moving.” He tossed the apple core into the underbrush and threw the pouch around his shoulder. When the first arrow whizzed between them, neither Elf nor Dryad knew how to respond. At first, they thought it might have been a lost bird in a mad dive toward the ground instead of soaring toward the sky. When they saw the arrow lodged in a man’s throat, they still weren’t sure what was happening, but they knew they had best get somewhere else fast.

The leaf-covered cloak fell from around the arrow-shot man’s face and they saw he bore the golden hair and tall, pointed ears of a Sylvan Elf. Blood came in gushing bursts and the Traluíl huntsman fell to his knees gagging.

Fuiin scooped Vitha into the nest of his four, arm-limbs. The Dryad darted into the glade. When a fusillade of arrows crossed the glade, Fuiin realized the open glade had not been the ideal place to run. He fell behind the only cover he could find: the glade’s knee high grass. He clutched Vitha against his torso with two of his limbs and spread the other two out to shield them any arrows. Arrows didn’t cause the Dryad much worry, so long as they weren’t aflame.


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-10 show above.)