Belargo: A Tiny Dragon Tale
WRITING PROMPT: The world’s tiniest dragon must defend his hoard, a single gold coin, from those who would steal it.
“Are you sure you read the note correctly?”
We had been walking in this maze for hours. The stench of the underground sewers was beginning to wear on my nerves worse than the ogre-sweat our porter exuded. Him, we had to tolerate. We brought him along with the promise of more gold than we could possibly carry alone.
Diri, our local and rented cutpurse, gave me a withering gaze which suggested my kidney might sprout a dagger mysteriously should I question her competence again. Her response, however, maintained a degree of professional detachment. “I’ve been reading the squiggles of the Guild for ten summers, luv. If there’s gold to be had, this fellow knew about it. He wrote it in ‘is own blood.”
The Orc, Gruumm, who was scouting the path downward into the catacombs gave us a handsign and we stopped. We could hear him sniffing the breeze. How he ever got any information over the stench of sewers, ogres and dare I say Orc was a miracle to me.
“Sulfur.” He was an Orc of few words. I was left to interpret this as: “There is no local sulfur in this region and thus to smell it implied either there is an artificial source of it or there is a creature responsible for its smell.” Which means the second part of the note was being confirmed.
There was a dragon to be found here. We continued our trudge deep into the catacombs of the Undercity. Belargo wasn’t a terrible place as long as you didn’t do anything stupid like visit the former site of the of Belargo, which is built upon the ruins of the first. There were legends of a great Dragon war, which destroyed the city, but there are only a few of the Long-Lived who will confirm or deny such things and even they won’t talk of that war.
Belargo was destroyed. Belargo was rebuilt, sewers were rerouted and somehow managed to connect with the underground of the previous city and routed to the sea. As long as people can shit properly, they don’t tend to care where it goes.
But I’m a wizard and we are a curious lot. When I get a scroll tube sealed with magic revealing both magical and non-magical runes, I sensed a secret. I love secrets. In fact, they are my stock in trade. Nemerandi’s Apothecary and Secrets Exchange. You bring me mysteries, I give you answers, minus a thirty percent cut if they yield treasures. I demand half, if I have to get them myself. It’s a living. People always have more questions than they have answers.
This question drove me into the Undercity of Belargo seeking a great hoard, a fierce dragon and the promise of early retirement. I was getting a little old for the private investigating business. One last score, a dragon hoard could place me into a lifestyle where I hired adventurers rather than was one.
We had been down here for three days, with the map being reoriented dozens of times before we understood what we were seeing. As we went deeper the map changed, revealing new information. Information we didn’t know about this part of the city. On the face of it, this map might be worth as much as the proposed hoard itself. It seemed to know everything about the Undercity, defining the areas perfectly.
The castle of Count Belargo was our destination and with this map, we might be the first to ever reach there and return. The Ogre porter, stopped periodically to mark the walls with a liquid we could all sense either with magic or our various gifts, in case we were lost or separated.
Magical maps may be good or evil. Best to map one’s route by hand which is where my porter came in. Ogres have very good senses of direction, another fine reason they are excellent porters. They can get into almost anyplace and get out just as quickly while burdened. This is also why they cost a fortune to hire, assuming you can get past the smell, or convince them to bathe earlier than their once a year special festival bath.
Gruumm stared at the map with Diri, and with some mutual mumbling agreed this was our destination. How could this be? This appeared to be a cave. Did the entire city sink into the ground, whole?
The castle appeared to be standing before us whole. Nothing else had survived this magical event. Why should this? Something was amiss.
“Turn back, there is nothing for you here. If dragon hoards be what you seek, there is nothing for you, not a solitary peek.”
Looking at each other in our torchlight, we turned toward the castle and began moving forward. I cast a spell for the removal of illusions, because the rubble beneath my feet told me nothing I saw with my eyes was real.
This spell was meant to deter and confuse. When I dispelled the glamour the fate of the castle was made clear. It had been utterly destroyed. A few feet further and we would have walked into what appeared to be a bottomless pit.
“You are a nosy sort and a poor sport. I was hoping for an eager scramble to a tasty prize, then a sad plummet to an unfortunate demise.”
“Fiend, spare us your poetry and reveal to us your hoard, for only a dragon can cast such glamours so perfectly.” Gruumm and Diri had already started moving around the hole before throwing a torch into the pit.
My porter put down the chest on his back, opened it and pulled out an eight foot club. Don’t ask. It’s bigger on the inside. I told you we came for treasure.
“If I told you there was no hoard, just silt, would you leave, taking nothing for your days save stenches and filth?”
Gruumm pointed ahead around the dark side of the hole in the ground where the castle was supposed to be and found what appeared to be a stairway into a storeroom. Possibly an armory on the outer wall. He pantomimed for me to keep talking, presumably to entertain the dragon. The Ogre stood quietly nearby his ears pricking visibly at the slightest sound in this vast underground space. I could see Diri hands magically filling with her ever-present daggers.
I readied my staff, feeling the magics already bound to it and ready to release with just a few magical chord-like movements. We could all feel it. Something was about to happen.
Gruumm kicked the door a few times before realizing it wasn’t going to budge. I nodded to the Ogre to resolve the problem. No sense in wasting magic. The door exploded open and it took a second for the echoes to subside.
It was in the moment I was alone, that I felt, I wasn’t alone. A cold, incalculable evil had opened its eye, toward me. I couldn’t see it. I could only feel it.
No, it wasn’t my imagination either. One does not get to be an old wizard with an over-active imagination. I tried to focus my magical awareness upon this cold intellect scrutinizing me.
“I could while you’re alone, snap you right up oh wizard. Perhaps you might make for a snack for my mighty gizzard.”
“You might find me more difficult to swallow than you imagine, oh dragon, hiding in the darkness. You would not be the first thing which thought I might make for tasty eating. Are you looking at me? Do I look like I would really make good eating. Skin and bones. Look at this nose? Pure gristle. How about you make this easy and give us your hoard. We have some degree of facility in this regard. You would not be the first drake to fall before our skills.”
“And what do I get in return for my hoard, a cold empty cave, bereft of entertainment, now bored? I think not. I shall have you wizard. Your friends are bland and dull as toast. Perhaps it’s time to invite them to my roast.”
The wind in the cave suddenly moved. It howled. I could barely stand. The others ran back up the stairs carrying various armor from a bygone era. I waved. The dragon was yawning.
They ran and stood beside me dropping their treasure into the chest sloppily before closing it. The wind was all around us.
Something cold stuck to my cheek. I think it was a coin. Something big. Something Old World. Slimy.
“There you have it, wizard. My hoard to give. All I own in the world is now yours. But you shall never spend it as long as I live.”
A second smack.
I admit to being more than a bit phobic about flapping things hitting me in the face and flailing around with my staff didn’t help anyone feel more comfortable. I only began to worry as they turned toward me and appeared to be considering braining me.
What are you looking at? I could feel something still flapping about my head.
“Unhand me you witless sot. I could still vaporize you lot.”
Relieved laughter echoed though the cavern. Not because we didn’t believe it was technically possible. The size of a dragon didn’t mean it wasn’t potentially under a spell of reduction or some other magic, but it usually meant whatever power it did have was correspondingly puny. This little fellow could probably light a torch on a bad day, and on a good one maybe light a campfire. Vaporizing, unless we were extremely unlucky, was out of the question.
I picked up the Old World gold and sized it up in the torchlight. It would fetch a fair bit of coin with the collecting set, since it was part of a empire long gone. Not the hoard I came for; sufficient however enough to pay for the cost of the team, the trip and along with the map, worth the effort. Not a retirement payday, not at all.
As I held the coin, the dragon landed upon it and began to chew. A chip came off the coin, just a tiny bit. Wouldn’t ruin its value much. “I’ve given you my hoard, mage, this completes our vow. It’s care and feeding are a mission for you, now.”
And what exactly did that mean, you ask? I would spend the next fifteen summers on the run as this dragon attempted to bribe, cheat and steal from every person we met. For having his coin meant having his curse. The inability to keep any money, while coveting every cent I could come across.
Yes, you see him sleeping on the table and think he’s cute. He isn’t. He’s a devil with dragon’s wings. Oh and his poetry is totally an affectation. A practiced one, but not necessary. He’s a trickster, a thief, a liar and a reprobate of the first order.
Don’t think I did try to give him and the coin away. It didn’t matter. If he didn’t want to go, he always came back. If he did go, eventually someone would bring him and the coin back. Or worse, come chasing him back to me. It became easier to just keep him close at hand.
I began to compile a list of our adventures and I named the little bastard, Belargo, after the hole we found him in. He kept life interesting, I tell you this much. We may have even made a profit from time to time.
But he never did grow any larger than a housecat and we never knew why. I suspected he never wanted to. He never did anything he didn’t want to. But that’s a tale for another day…
Belargo: A Tiny Dragon Tale © Thaddeus Howze, 2017, All Rights Reserved
Thaddeus Howze is the Answer-Man. He is also a writer, essayist, author and professional storyteller for mysterious beings who exist in non-Euclidean realms beyond our understanding.
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