Sunday, November 23, 2014

Chapter One

Chapter One

The setting sun bathed the dragon’s lands in brilliant orange fire. Galvarys relished the beautiful view as he soared above sun-painted pine forest towards the heart of the sunset itself. The further the sun sank, the deeper its radiance grew until it transmuted distant mountains and sprawling forests alike into gold. The last streamers of sunlight also cast the dragon in dazzling golden hues. Galvarys preferred his natural indigo scales, a majestic color suitable for a great dragon such as himself. The black markings across his wings and the ebony stripes across his limbs only added to his regal bearing. He was a magnificent creature. No wonder the Five Villages all gave him such lovely tributes.

The Five Villages spread throughout Galvarys’ lands offered the dragon gifts in exchange for peace, though that had not always been the case. For years they sent men to take his life and his home, and for years Galvarys slew them to the last man. These were his lands. These were the lands of dragons and all the dragon slayers in the world could not wrest them from his claws. Yet as Galvarys aged, he grew weary of warring with men and fighting for his life. Though they could not slay him, the blood the dragon slayers drew and the pain they caused gave him reason to reconsider his life.

In the end, the dragon forged a truce with the villages. He allowed them to dwell peacefully upon his lands in return for gifts and an end to people sticking sharp things in him. Accepting tribute and truce was not as fun as wreaking havoc and burning the countryside, but these days the dragon preferred to keep his blood inside his body. Perhaps that meant he was getting old.

The truce brought about an amicable relationship. The Five Villages no longer sent men to try and kill the dragon and he no longer burned things down. In fact, he actively protected his land from bandit and beast alike. Galvarys could not have them harassing the merchants. More merchants meant more coin flowing into the village and that meant superior tributes to add to his collection.

Over the years Galvarys had gathered quite the collection. If he could get his paws upon it, he collected it. Though not everything he collected was especially valuable, over the years he’d amassed an assortment of treasure any dragon would be proud of. After all, a great collection of treasure brought with it status and status brought power. Power brought memory, and Galvarys refused to be forgotten.

Too many other dragons were mourned only by the wind, their lost names a whispered sorrow in the last breath of dying elders. With each year that passed more of the world belonged to men. Yet these lands and the villages built upon them belonged to Galvarys. It was here that Galvarys intended to build a legend so grand he would never be forgotten like the others. The world would never forget his name.

Galvarys the Magnificently Blue.

…He’d work on that.

The dragon pushed the thoughts aside, wondering instead what manner of tribute awaited him. Galvarys kept his forelegs tucked against his body, tapping a few claw tips against his chest plates. The Five Villages he ruled each left him a variety of gifts at different times of the year. Some months it was as simple and satisfying as golden coins and jeweled chalices. Other months it may be art, or even food and drink. Perhaps the sunset was a sign that today’s tribute would be coin again. It had been some time since he’d gotten coin.

For a time, the dragon savored the simple joys of flight and the beauty of the sun-bathed land. Warm summer winds tickled the vast, sensitive membranes of his wings. The world’s breath washed across every scale, caressing and calming him. The breeze held the warm scent of the late summertime forest, laced with a hint of sweet rain carried from some distant place. To the west the ocean of emerald forest rose and fell with the gentle, frozen undulations of the ancient earth. Behind the dragon towered rugged mountains with jagged spires and claws of gray stone ever scratching at the sky. Everything was cast in fading golden light as the drowsy sun at last began to vanish beneath the forested horizon.

By the time Galvarys descended, the sunset was replaced by a creeping purple gloam blanketing the land. Darkness was fine with Galvarys as it better cloaked him against the sky. Truce or not, when the dragon flew near human villages he preferred to be silhouetted against stars rather than bright blue sky. He never knew when some self-proclaimed hero with a bow might try and take potshots at his underbelly. Better to fly at night or stay well out of reach.

The dragon folded his black-marked wings, flicked his flight membranes across his eyes and began to dive. As he picked up speed the wind that poured over him grew from a gentle caress to an exhilarating rush that left him tingling beneath his scales. The dragon’s powerful heart thundered in his chest as he hurtled towards the earth. The echoing pulse of blood pounded in the minor heart near his tail. There was a thrill in diving, just as there was a thrill in hunting and in battle. Fold his wings too tightly or open them a moment too late and Galvarys would end himself against the earth.

Not that Galvarys was anything but determined to continue drawing breath as long as possible. Dragons had long natural life spans and Galvarys had no intention of letting anything shorten it. A short-lived dragon could not find his way into legend. When Galvarys grew too old to defend himself from heroes and dragon slayers he would take to the skies one last time. He’d savor his final flight, then fold his wings and never again open them. One final dive seemed a fitting end for a decrepit old dragon. It was better than a slow death, bleeding and broken, in helpless agony as the humans swarmed around him. A better death than most dragons received.

Before the pine boughs drew too close, the dragon began to unfurl his wings. Pulling out of a steep dive safely was a tricky prospect for a creature as heavy as a dragon. Throw his wings open all at once and he’d tear every tendon and muscle along his back. Galvarys eased his wings open bit by bit till it was safe to fully extend them.

Galvarys leveled off just above the canopy. Then he beat his wings a few times, ascending a little higher. The forest here was mostly pine, fir, and spruce. The last thing he needed was for an errant wingbeat to catch the treetops and fill his membranes with pine needles. Actually, the last thing the dragon needed was to catch the top of a pine tree between the hind legs. Again. A dragon could hardly find his way into legend if he went around injuring himself upon trees.

Ahead of the dragon loomed the barren, gray and green expanse Galvarys named Tribute Hill. The hill was an oddity. It was a rocky, windswept rise in the midst of a meadow beyond the forest’s edge. Lush emerald moss covered many of the granite outcrops and boulders marking the tall hill. Galvarys made the humans deliver their gifts there because it provided no shelter for anyone to wait in ambush.

The top of Tribute Hill was crowned with a lichen-covered boulder and a tall, wooden pole which bore the dragon’s banner. The banner itself was a black flag with the silhouette of a dragon’s horned head in striking blue. Silver eyes inside the silhouette symbolized the dragon’s watchful gaze. More banners marked each of The Five Villages and the roads linking them. The humans claimed the banners warned a dragon protected the land. The dragon himself thought them marks of ownership. As far as Galvarys was concerned, the banners meant, “Hands off his treasure”.

Atop the flat summit of the hill, the dragon’s banner snapped in the wind. In the twilight the flag looked several shades of purple rather than black and blue. The dragon circled the hill, looking for any signs of his tribute. Dismay settled into his belly, cold and tight. The hill looked empty. There were no chests of coins, no carts of cakes and glazed meats. Galvarys snarled. If they’d forgotten his tribute day, something was going to get burned down. White cloth fluttered near the banner pole. Had they brought him nothing more than some kind of silk? When the cloth moved, the dragon realized it wrapped a person hunkered down behind the boulder.

Anger heated the dragon’s heart. Some thief sought to lay claim to his tribute. The dragon flared the spines around his head, circling the hill again. Galvarys took a breath and gave a tremendous roar. Stones rattled upon the hill. The dragon squeezed the fire glands at the base of his jaws. Galvarys spat roiling flame that illuminated the rocky hill with dancing red-orange light. Heat from his fire washed over the dragon’s scales. The thief shrieked behind the boulder. The dragon smirked, a few fangs glistening in the first slivers of moonlight.

“Yes, Thief, scream!” The dragon beat his wings, circling again. “You will return my tribute at once! Then I shall…” Actually, he’d best not tell the thief of his impending incineration. “…Let you live.”

Just where had the thief spirited his treasure away to, anyway? He’d better not be in league with the gryphons that occasionally plagued the edges of his lands. Thieving cat-birds might have already carried his tribute away.

“Ham’s a poor tribute!” The thief’s half-muffled voice oozed terror and sounded distinctly female.  

“Of course ham is a poor tribute.” The dragon’s snarled words echoed beyond the hill. “What are you babbling about?” Ham might be a miserable tribute, but he’d be doubly angry if this thief girl had already eaten it.

The dragon swept in over the hill to land. He touched down upon his hind feet first, trotted to a stop and folded his wings. Moss-covered stones rolled and slipped beneath Galvarys’ paws. Tiny mossy tendrils tickled his sensitive pads. The granite boulder nearby was large enough for a human to completely vanish behind. Emerald moss wreathed the bottom of it, while layers of yellow lichen softened its pitted, gray surface.

“Come out immediately, Thief.” The dragon growled, anger tingling at the base of his spiny frills. He lashed his tail. The curved black spines that tipped it caught the earth and tossed broken gray rocks in the air. “Where is my tribute? Where is my…ham?”

The woman emerged from behind the rock, every movement cautious. Even in the darkness her face looked as pale as a hatchling’s underbelly. Her scrawny body trembled. Wind-knotted hair the color of dark honey framed cheeks wet with still-fresh tears. She bore little more than a simple white dress that billowed around her in the wind, outlining curves even a dragon could tell she was still growing into.

“Where’s my ham?” The dragon asked again, flicking his tail. “Tell me what you’ve done with my tribute, and I shall let you live.”

The girl bit her lip. She took a tiny step towards the dragon, holding out trembling hands. “There’s…no ham, Dragon…”

“So you’ve eaten it already?”

“No.” The girl wiped her eyes with the back of a hand. Light brown hair whipped about her head. “I said ‘I am your tribute’. I had my face buried in my arms. I thought…you were going…” The girl stepped back towards the boulder, tensed to flee. “With your fire!”

Galvarys padded towards her, hissing through his teeth. He flared his spines. “You’re my tribute?” The dragon made a show of looking her up and down. Then he snorted at her, hot breath washing across her face. “I was expecting gold, or treasure. You are neither.” The dragon stretched his neck to sniff at her and hissed again. “The ham would have made better tribute.” Then he blinked, pulling his wedge-shaped head back. “Wait. Do they expect me to eat you?”

The girl gasped and fled behind her boulder. With an irritated grunt, Galvarys followed her around the massive stone. She scrambled around it, staying on the opposite side of the lichen-mottled boulder. Galvarys walked around the rock again only for the girl to once more dart around the other side of it. Hissing, the dragon curled himself around the boulder. His spined tail barred her path, his teeth flashed in the other direction. The girl squeaked and flattened herself against the rock.

“Stop that!” Galvarys snapped his jaws. The girl froze, unable even to draw breath. Pleased as he was to terrify humans, the girl could hardly answer his questions if she dropped dead of fright. “I’m not going to eat you, Girl.”

The dragon pulled himself away from the boulder. As soon as the way was clear the girl dashed around to put it between herself and the dragon once more. “You…you won’t?”

“Certainly not.” The dragon tossed his head. “Humans are either too greasy, or too stringy. You’d fall on the stringy side given you look as though you’re in desperate need of sustenance yourself. I’m beginning to feel quite insulted to have been sent only a malnourished meal.”

“N-No,” the girl said, her voice trembling as much as her body. “I’m not malnourished. Wait. That’s not…what I mean.”

Galvarys sighed, licking his nose. This was getting less anger-inducing and more pathetic by the moment. He waved a paw in the air, black claws half unsheathed. “Just tell me why they made you my tribute.”

“Oh!” The girl caught on. She shifted a little, grasping at the snow-colored fabric of her dress. She wrapped it around herself. “We…my village. We’re…well, there’s no treasure for you this time. And…our crops are a little slow to come in this year…”

“Why a girl?” The dragon snapped his jaws. “I need not hear The Tale of the Pathetic Village.”

“We heard male dragons in other lands demand maidens!” The girl shrieked her answer, vanishing behind the boulder again.

“Maidens?” Galvarys cocked his head in confusion. He lifted a forepaw, rubbing his head behind one of his spiraled black horns. “Sounds like a slanderous rumor. Why would a male dragon wish a maiden?”

The girl peeked out at him, her eyes wide. “For a companion.”

“Companion?” The indigo dragon lifted his spines, flaring his black-mottled wings. Galvarys lowered his eye ridges. “Are you suggesting I suffer from some sort of loneliness?”

“And as servants!” The girl rose up a little further from behind the boulder.

Galvarys did not mind that she’d deflected his question because the idea of his own servant was an interesting concept. Surely a servant was a status symbol befitting an unforgettable legend. The dragon had little time to contemplate it before the girl blurted something else out.

“And as L…Lov…toshareabedwith.”

The girl’s words came out all jumbled together, but the dragon caught their meaning just the same. “Share a bed?” He lifted his eye ridges, chuckling and perking his frilled ears. “As in mate with you?” The dragon tossed his black-horned head, drumming his claw tips against the stony ground. “I think not, Girl.”

The girl slowly emerged from behind the lichen-shrouded boulder once again. “But, I thought…”

“What manner of creature does your village take me for?” Galvarys glared at her, narrowing eyes as silver as the moon itself. “I am not about to mount some human girl.”

“So you don’t like human girls?” The girl’s face scrunched. She seemed as confused by the rejection as the dragon was by the contortions of her face.

“I like them just fine when they’re offering me adoring tribute. But I’m not interested in trying to mount them.” Galvarys tossed his head with a scoffing snort. “I’d not even fit in a human female!” The dragon curled his neck into an S. “And regardless of species, I have no interest in females still growing into their own bodies. You don’t even look old enough to know what to do.”

“I was told dragons liked virgins,” the girl said, her voice a dismayed mutter.

“Dragons like no such thing!” The dragon hissed, flaring one of his wings. He snorted and scratched his neck with a wing-tip talon. “Who told you that?”

“Well…” The girl trailed off. “Our village…”

“Not your village, Girl.” The dragon sharpened his tone, baring his fangs. “Who told you that dragons wanted virgins?”

“The…The mayor.” The girl kneaded her white dress in her hands, shuffling her shoes against the stony ground.

“Did he.” Galvarys growled low. Each village presented tribute at different times, so he knew just which mayor she meant. A pompous little pig named Varm. “I find it disturbing your mayor makes such assumptions about dragons. If a female dragon as young as you started rubbing herself against me, I would swat her on her haunches and send her home to her family. And hope they teach her not to go around lifting her tail for strange males.”

The girl pulled her hands into her sleeves. “So, you don’t want a human maiden as your tribute.”

“No,” the dragon said. Galvarys stretched his neck till the fine scales around his nostrils brushed the white fabric of her dress, inspecting her scent. The girl smelt of sour terror masked by honeyed perfume and flowers. He pulled his head back and snorted to clear the cloying aromas from his nose. “Besides that, you reek of fear. That is not an attractive quality among dragons.” He licked his blue nose a few times, trying to wash away the lingering scent. “But the other idea you mentioned. What would a servant do for me?”

“Whatever you wish, I am sure.” The girl swallowed hard, wringing her hands again even as she kept them tucked in her white sleeves.

Whatever he wished? Galvarys liked the sound of that. The idea set gears to turning in the dragon’s mind. Beyond the simple satisfaction of having someone to order around, Galvarys liked the idea of the villages knowing he had a servant. After all, surely great rulers all around the world had an entire legion of servants at their disposal. If kings and emperors had servants, then the dragon wanted one for himself.

“These servants…” The dragon waved a few half-unsheathed claws in the air. “Would a grand king have maidens serving him? Are they a symbol of status among your people?”

The girl scrunched her nose, honey-brown hair billowing around her head. “I think so. Our mayor has maidens. He’s from the capital, originally. Oh!” The girl pursed her lips as she recalled something else. “When nobles from the capital visit the mayor, they bring their servants. My father curses them when he thinks no one’s listening.”

“Very well.” If maiden servants were a status symbol among powerful humans, Galvarys wanted his own. A servant would make an excellent addition to his collection. “I shall accept tribute of a maiden servant. But I require an adult female, with courage enough to serve a dragon. I don’t want her terror stinking up my home.” Galvarys lifted a paw and pointed towards the horizon. “Go home, Girl. Have another sent.”

 “I can’t!” The girl blurted out, balling up her fists at her sides. She sniffed. “They’ll think I ran away from you! The mayor will have my father banished, he said I had to…”

“Alright, alright!” The dragon lifted a blue paw, holding his mottled gray paw pads out towards her. He pinned his frilled indigo ears back against his head. “Your terrified prattling is hurting my ears! I’ll take you home myself.”

At least her home was not far. This month the tribute due was from the Village Of Rings, the closest village to Tribute Hill. Like all The Five Villages, he’d given it his own name. The humans called it something else, but Galvarys did not care. The dragon could hardly be expected to keep track of the names they gave their collection of sticks and rocks and muddy lanes.

Without any further warning Galvarys leapt into the air. In one smooth motion he propelled himself skyward with his powerful hind legs, while snatching the girl up in his forelegs. He hoisted her off her feet and tucked her against his plated chest. The dragon beat his black-marked indigo wings, ascending. The girl immediately gave a scream so shrill and loud it left his ears ringing.

“Balls, Girl!” The dragon snapped his jaws, swiveling his ears back and forth in a futile attempt to ease the ringing. “If you scream any higher, my skull will explode!”

The girl’s only answer was a terrified whimper as the treetops whizzed by beneath her feet. One of her simple leather shoes fell off, toppling through the canopy. She clung to the dragon’s front legs, threatening the circulation to his forepaws. The shaking of her body grew so intense that even the dragon began to feel sorry for her. For a moment.

“Stop your whimpering.” The dragon glanced down at her. “I promise I won’t drop you. You’re safe, alright?”

The girl turned her frightened eyes up to the dragon. Galvarys could nearly see the cloud of fear boiling inside them. “Nrrrhhmm!”

“Don’t worry,” the dragon said, winging his way towards the village. “I haven’t killed a human in years.”

“Aaaah!” The girl wrapped her arms around him even tighter, kicking her legs in the air. Her other shoe dropped away into the forest. She started panting again. Perhaps that wasn’t the best thing for the dragon to tell her.

“Just don’t piss yourself while I’m holding you,” the dragon said. He pinned his spines back in distaste. Galvarys glanced down at her again. “I promise you, you’re safe. Tonight you may sleep in your own hovel again.”

It was not long before the Village of Rings came into view on the horizon. Though night’s dark blanket lay across the land, the dragon’s silver eyes were sharp even in the darkness. Where surely humans saw only gloom and shadow in the midst of night, the dragon saw a world cast in midnight blue and silver-gray. The infinite arrow points of the stars alone gave him more than enough light to see the world below. To a dragon’s eyes, the glow of distant lanterns and torches cast an orange radiance that lit the horizon with wavering fire.

Galvarys called the place the Village of Rings because the entire town was designed around a series of circular roads. Each road was lined with houses and taverns and smithies and whatever else villages may have. At night the glow of street lamps and lanterns spilled across the time-smoothed cobblestone of the main roads. From the air, the city streets looked like larger and larger rings of flickering molten gold.

The dragon’s destination lay at the very center those rings. The largest of several city plazas was there, and in the middle of that plaza was the residence of the mayor himself. Whenever Galvarys paid the Village Of Rings a visit, he alighted just outside the mayor’s home. In the years since he’d first struck the truce, the crowds that came to see the dragon grew ever-larger. Whether adoring or terrified, he enjoyed the attention.

By the time the dragon was circling the village, the girl had relaxed a little bit. The dragon glanced down at her. “Cover your ears, Girl. And consider yourself lucky I’m giving you a chance to save your hearing. More than you gave me.”

The girl hesitated to release the dragon‘s forelegs from her grip. To assure her she was safe, the dragon clutched her to the heavy blue plates that protected his heart and lungs. As he shifted around her, Galvarys noticed she seemed even lighter and more delicate than most humans. When she was convinced she wouldn’t fall, she clapped her hands over her ears. The dragon took a deep breath and roared his summons.

The dragon’s roar echoed across the village. Galvarys smiled when someone screamed. Guards ran to the central plaza to join those already assembling. Someone else called for calm. One man even called for ale to placate the dragon’s anger. Galvarys liked that idea. The terrified bleating of distant livestock made the dragon hungry. The scene was basically the same anytime Galvarys came to a human village. There was a little terror, a little chaos, and a whole lot of kowtowing to his wishes.

Just the way the dragon liked it.

As Galvarys descended in a tight spiral, he surveyed his chosen landing spot. The mayor’s house was a large wooden building with elegantly arched beams and pointed eaves. Atop it fluttered the banners of the village and the dragon. The house dwarfed most of the other simple wooden structures in the village. Galvarys thought the building would make a delightful bonfire. An expansive garden surrounded it with lines of bushes covered in purple flowers, and clusters of red and yellow blossoms. The garden’s soft dirt made a perfect landing spot.

Galvarys back-winged a few times before he touched down on his hind paws. The dragon clutched the girl to himself with one forepaw, dropping the other to the dirt. Then he eased his cargo to the ground. The moment her bare feet touched earth she bolted away from the dragon. Galvarys turned his wedge-shaped head, tracking her before she vanished into the growing crowd.

“You’re welcome,” the dragon said, snorting.

Galvarys turned his attention to the assembled group of guards. Men clad in padded leather armor lined with bronze studs formed a wall in front of the crowd. They all carried simple spears with sharp iron points, and swords strapped at their waists. Some of the men also had axes across their backs or crossbows over a shoulder. A few more guards with longbows had taken up position around the mayor’s house in case the dragon became violent.

“Yes, yes,” Galvarys said, waving his paw. “You’re all very intimidating.” He snorted, looking the guards over. “Where’s your mayor?”

“He’s on his way, dragon.” One of the braver guards spoke up.

“Off in some brothel, no doubt.” The dragon growled. For a few moments he drummed unsheathed claw tips against the dirt. Someone in the crowd coughed. The dragon flicked a claw through the stem of a flower and sent the red blossom tumbling through the air. Galvarys turned his head, glaring at an archer crouched down in a shadowy alcove. The dragon hated getting stuck with arrows even more than he hated being kept waiting. “You put an arrow in me, and I’m going to see how far I can throw you.”

“Ah, Dragon!” Mayor Varm called out as he emerged through the guards. The mayor was a round little man with a belly constantly straining the buttons of the extravagant vests he wore. Today the vest was gold and the strained buttons ivory. The man had a reddish brown moustache so bushy the dragon wondered how he could push words past it, let alone food. “How blessed we are to be in your magnificent presence once again.”

Galvarys growled at the man, stalking towards him across the garden. Galvarys was not in the mood for the mayor’s usual attempts at flattery. The man’s pandering tugged at Galvarys’ spines, irritating him every time. Galvarys’ tail lashed as he strode forward, tail-spines scything down bushes and flowers alike.

“Shut your hairy mouth, you stubby little worm.” In the torchlight the dragon saw the color draining from the mayor’s face. “If you really felt blessed to have me protecting your village you’d have given me a tribute more befitting of my greatness.”

The Mayor didn’t seem to know what the dragon meant. “Did you not get your tribute today?” Varm stepped forward, holding his grubby hands out. “We sent a lovely maiden to be your companion. Was she not pleasing to you?”

The dragon glared down at the fat little man who called himself mayor. Galvarys snarled and sent the mayor stumbling back a few steps towards his guards. None of them made any move to get closer to the dragon. Galvarys followed the mayor out of the garden and onto the cobblestone plaza. Bits of leaf and petal clung to his tail, then fluttered through the air when he lashed it. Anger boiled the dragon’s blood until he expected to see steam rising from his body.

“Listen here, you fat little pervert.” Galvarys flared his spiny, membranous frills to their full extent all around his head. “Not only do I have no interest whatsoever in some half-grown human virgin, but neither should anyone else. That terrified wisp you sent me is far too young to be mounted. The fact you think I’d want her makes me wonder just what it is you think dragons desire.” Galvarys paced back and forth, leaving dirty paw prints on the plaza. The dragon’s silver eyes nearly burned holes through the mayor’s golden vest straight to the twisted heart that lay beneath. “For that matter, I wonder what sort of females you pursue. Your village no doubt wonders the same.”

“We meant no insult, Great Dragon…”

“Shut up.” The dragon ignored the mayor’s stammering as he searched the crowd. When Galvarys spotted the young girl clinging to her father, he gestured at them with a paw. “I do not expect to see that girl again unless she’s waving at me from an adoring crowd. And if I find she’s been punished?” The dragon unsheathed his black claws, scratching marks in the dirty cobblestone. “I shall burn your house down.” Galvarys gazed over the silent crowd a moment. “With you in it.”

“I…but…I…” The mayor could not find words. He opened and closed his mouth a few times. Galvarys wondered if his ugly red-brown mustache was suffocating him.

Galvarys licked his nose, grinning. “However, as I am told maiden servants are a symbol of high status, I have decided owning one is befitting of a legend such as myself.” Then he narrowed his shining silver eyes, growling through his fangs. “But not a damn virgin.”

“So…dragons…” The mayor wrung his hands, gulping. “Prefer a woman with experience.”

Galvarys grit his teeth. “If by woman you mean female dragon, then yes, we’d prefer one who knows how to share pleasure. Not that it applies now.”

“So perhaps a whore for your tribute?”

“What?” Galvarys blinked, pulling his head back. He snarled. “Are you even listening?”

The mayor stuttered. Galvarys decided he’d had enough of him for now. He strode towards the man, lifted a paw and shoved him aside. The mayor yelped as he toppled to the ground, rolling across the plaza. Ivory buttons popped and bounced away. Scattered laughter broke the silence of the crowd, even as some of the guards hefted their spears. Galvarys ignored them. Instead, he lifted his head, gazing upon the crowd gathered beyond the line of armored men.

“Since your mayor can’t seem to think beyond mating, I shall address this to the rest of you!” The dragon lifted his brassy voice so everyone in the crowd could hear him. “I demand a servant, an adult female with the courage to serve a dragon.” Galvarys paused to lick his nose. “Unless someone wishes to step forward, I shall grant you time to fulfill my request. The girl told me the nobles possess maiden servants of high status. That sounds quite fitting for a dragon, perhaps you should look there. In the meantime, I expect a replacement gift by tomorrow night. As you are out of treasure, I shall require a ham.”

Nervous laughter broke out amongst the crowd. Galvarys snorted. “It is not a joke. The girl gave me a taste for it. In fact, I shall require a number of hams. Smoked, and with that sweet glaze I like.” Galvarys rumbled, growing hungry. He licked his muzzle again. “The same as you included the last time you brought me cooked foods.”

While the crowd murmured and turned eyes upon one of the local butchers, the dragon turned his attention to the girl clinging to her father. Her father clung to her just as tightly. Galvarys doubted the man parted with her willingly. Her father looked up, staring back at the dragon for a moment as he stroked his daughter’s honey-brown hair. If the dragon didn’t know better, he could have sworn her old man was staring at him with some kind of deep gratitude. 

“You stay safe, Girl. Alright?” The girl pulled her face from her father’s chest, glanced at the dragon, and gave a single nod. “Good.”

With that, Galvarys launched himself back into the air. The wind pouring off his wings buffeted the people beneath him. Shredded flowers and leaves whirled in the air. In the span of a few breaths, the dragon put the Village Of Rings behind himself. He hadn’t gotten his tribute yet, but he’d done a good deed. Even a dragon could do at least one good deed in their life, right? Right. That meant he didn’t have to do any more. Good. He hated good deeds.

While he might not have gotten his tribute, he would soon have his own servant. That sounded fun. Why hadn’t he thought to demand a servant before? As he winged his way home, the dragon wondered what sort of woman they’d send. What manner of human female was both courageous and not a virgin? Perhaps some warrior maiden who slew monsters and then bedded men in celebration. No, he didn’t like the sound of that. Especially not the part about slaying monsters. Whoever she was, she’d be a mystery until Galvarys set eyes upon her. That was alright, being mysterious would make his new servant more intriguing. At least, he hoped she’d be intriguing. He didn’t want to be burdened with a boring servant.

Damn. He should have added intriguing to his list of demands.

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