Read The First Dragoneer Online

Authors: M. R. Mathias

Tags: #arrow, #bow, #camping, #coming of age, #dragon, #dragoneer, #dragoneers, #dragonrider, #elf, #fantasy, #hunt, #magic, #mythology, #stag, #stag hunt, #sword, #treasure, #wyvern

The First Dragoneer

 

 

The First Dragoneer
by M.R. Mathias

Copyright 2010

Smashwords edition

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1


So what are you gonna do? Have you
decided yet?” Brendly Tuck asked his best friend.

They had known each other all seventeen
summers of their lives. Brendly hoped that since he didn’t have the
option of getting out of Prominence Valley as March Weston did,
that his best friend would decide not to leave. It was a small hope
though, because Brendly couldn’t remember March ever talking about
anything else. March was always asking him things like, “Where
should I go?” Or “What should I try to become? Should I go
downriver to Camberly? What about up North to the borders? Maybe I
could hire on as a guardsman, or maybe go down South to the coast
and work a ship?”

Brendly loved his friend dearly, but as the
finality of their last summer together grew closer, the gnawing
sense of loss, and feelings that bordered on jealousy, were growing
inside of him. If March kept rubbing it in, Brendly thought that he
might just have to give his best friend a good ole thumping to take
with him when he left.

Wondering now why he had asked the question,
Brendly stopped on the woodsy game trail that they were traveling
and waited for the answer that he didn’t really want to hear.


I don’t know yet where I’m gonna go,
or what I’m gonna do,” March replied. March could sense Brendly’s
discomfort so he added, “But I sure wish you could come with
me.”


So do I.” Brendly dropped his head
with the weight of the words to look at his scuffed up leather
hunting boots.


Well, let’s make the best of it till
midsummer, when I’m to leave. We can worry about it then.” March
forced a grin and started back up the trail. Brendly waited only a
moment to follow, but March had already disappeared under the thick
canopy of the woods causing Brendly to have to quicken his step to
catch up.


We won’t even get a rabbit, much less
a stag. Not if we keep skulking about thinking of that stuff,”
March called back over his shoulder. “Come on, it’s getting
late.”

Remembering that they were hunting, Brendly
caught up with his friend and let the worries of the future slip
away.

They were hiking their way up toward Cander’s
Ridge. It was a little farther from Prominence than they usually
came to hunt, but not so far as to cause concern. They were still
easily in the kingdom’s border, at least as long as they stayed on
this side of the slope. Topping the ridge would only invite trouble
though.

A pack of dark skinned, pointy eared, kobles
had been spotted recently. The feral humanoid creatures could best
be described as two legged dogs. They weren’t very dangerous alone,
but if you ran into a pack of them you could be in serious trouble.
They seldom ventured across the kingdom’s established border, which
meant that they weren’t completely void of sense. Only the
hungriest of them ever hunted in the protected lands of Prominence
Valley, and though a few had killed villagers and hunters in the
past, those were usually hunted down and killed. The dead then hung
up in the trees, to draw carrion, for their violation.

This side of the ridge was kingdom territory,
and not even the huge dark skinned wood trolls that roamed the
foothills dared to trespass. King Timothy’s border guard patrolled
the boundary well and often. The border guard was feared by even
the giant Karsithian warriors, who sometimes ventured too far south
out of their high mountain territories.

The game trail the boys were following led
them to a clearing that held a small pool. When they stopped and
looked around for tracks, they both noticed the valley spreading
out below them. The rich, dark shades of the green tree tops flowed
down the mountainside on their way out into the lower slopes of the
valley. The trees thinned into large clumps, only to disappear
completely in the valley floor. There, squares and long rectangles
of brown, gold and russet took over. Some of the greener fields
were speckled with the black and brown dots that were livestock,
but most were empty of life save for the rows and rows of crops.
The silvery-blue thread of the Prominence River wound its way
through the pastures and crop-fields, splitting the valley into two
misshaped halves. The river was speckled with dots, but those were
the fishing boats and cargo ships that used its flow as a source of
bounty. It was a view that neither of the boys had seen before.
They were entranced by its overwhelming beauty.


Let’s make camp here,” March whispered
as if his voice might disturb the tranquility of the valley far
below.


Yup,” Bren replied simply, not taking
his eyes away from the sight before him.

They made a circle of rocks and started a
fire inside it. Then they went about setting up a makeshift tent by
draping an oiled sheet of canvas over some low hanging branches and
stretching it wide at the bottom. They fastened the corners of the
canvas with wooden stakes so the breeze couldn’t flutter it
away.

They had planned to be hunting for at least
five days, or until they got a fat, late spring buck, or some other
sizable game that they could carry home and parade proudly around
town. Neither of them got in a hurry over anything.

They both knew that this was a goodbye hunt.
In only a few short weeks March would set off to find his fortune.
His father, and two older brothers, would take care of his mother
and sister, and the family farm. It was the unspoken duty of a
third son in a struggling family to move on and make his own way.
March didn’t mind. He had been dreaming of leaving since he found
out that he would someday have to.

Brendly had no brothers. He did have four
sisters that he and his father would labor to care for until they
were eventually married off, but even then Bren wouldn’t be free.
He was destined to take over the family’s herd of horses, and the
small farm where they raised them. It wasn’t likely that he’d ever
escape the boring, yet ever growing village of Prominence.

Prominence was at the eastern most edge of
the kingdom. It was originally a river stop for the copper miners
that had once swarmed the other side of the valley. As time wore on
and the veins in the mountain dried up, farming and ranching had
slowly taken over the area. A large reservoir, up in the eastern
foothills at the head of the river, was rich in krill and whisker
fish. If you had a net boat, you could fetch a fair share of coin
in Camberly, a city that was a two day float downstream to the
west.

Prominence sat at the base of the large
jagged mountain range known simply as the Teeth. Throughout the
Teeth, wood and rock trolls roamed, as did kobles, and many other
unfriendly creatures. Brendly and March had both heard the myriad
horror stories that their parents had used to keep them close to
the home fires when they were little. They both knew that the
stories weren’t just wives tales either. Much blood had been
spilled over the years to make the kingdom safe for humanity. King
Timothy’s border guard was one of the main reasons for the sense of
security.

As the sun disappeared and the moon washed
them in a pale silver glow, they were content to sit by their small
fire and listen to the symphony that the forest provided. The woods
could be frightening at night, but both Brendly and March felt
comfortable. They were men now. They had been on many a hunt, both
with their fathers, and without. They felt safe inside the borders
of the kingdom.


When I was looking for firewood by the
bigger pool upstream I saw fresh tracks,” March said quietly. “If
we can get up early enough, we can find a spot near there, and
maybe get a shot at something coming to water at
daybreak.”


Yup,” Brendly replied half heartedly.
He was thinking about March leaving again and wondering who he
would hunt with after his best friend was gone.


You can’t be a sad-sack till I go, you
know!” March jested.


March, I don’t want to be stuck in the
valley all my life,” Brendly responded passionately. “I don’t want
to be a horse rancher. I want to go on an adventure like
you.”


Bren, you're gonna marry Canda
Shilling, or Deanda Bargery, and have a family, and a good happy
life!” There was more than a little envy in March’s voice. “It’s
going to be a lot of boring days and nights without my friends and
family for me, no matter where I decide to go. It won’t be all fun
and exciting like you think.”


But what if I went with you?” Brendly
lit up at the thought, as if he would really run off in the night
and leave his structured world behind. “You’d have a friend with
you, and we could make our fortunes together.”


Your ma would hunt us both down, and
then strap you all the way home. I can’t let you come with me!”
March laughed.

Bren laughed too, and after a long awkward
silence said, “I’m sure gonna miss you.”


I’m not gone yet, Bren. Let’s get some
sleep so we can get up to that bigger pool before
daybreak.”

2

When the sun broke the horizon, they had a
perfect view of the tracks by the pool. Each of the boys was at one
end of a thick heavy shrub that hid them well from whatever might
come to drink the cool crisp water. Yet, they weren’t so far apart
that they couldn’t communicate silently with the hunter’s hand
signals that their fathers had taught them. The air was cold and
charged with anticipation. Birds were just starting to chirp their
good mornings to the world. The forest was coming to life, bringing
with it the promise and blood tingling excitement of the hunt.

Brendly, sitting there alert with an arrow
ready to loose, had forgoten his sadness for the moment.

March was feeling alive inside. He was
anxious to see what would show up to drink on this most perfect of
mornings.

The moment was broken by the distant, yet
clear, sound of dried wood cracking. The boys looked at each other
excitedly. Whatever it was, it was moving noisily toward them. Both
of them began to scan the tree line across the pool for any sign of
movement. Instinctively each raised his bow toward the area of the
noise.

Bren was trying not to breathe too loudly. It
was always a chore for him to keep calm and contain himself when
this moment came on a hunt.

March just wished his nose would stop
itching. It seemed to him that every time he was in a position that
he couldn’t scratch his face, it began to itch. As the sound of the
approaching animal grew closer, the discomfort got so bad that he
decided that Bren could have this one and he silently relaxed his
draw so that he could scratch his face.


Whew!” Bren exhaled rather loudly.
March turned and looked at him with alarm. Bren glanced toward him,
and whispered, “It was only a wild sow -- or a little--
uh.”

His words abruptly stopped as a new sound
carried toward them. It was a snort, a loud one. It was accompanied
by the sound of rattling branches.

Bren instantly went back into firing
position; alert, prone and ready. March gave his nose a last second
scratch as he re-aimed his arrow. The soft sound of Bren’s excited
breathing was the last sound he heard before he tuned the world out
so that he could focus on the tree line.

First it was a small doe, a yearling, March
thought. Two fawns and another larger doe appeared. With nervous
darting eyes, the biggest of the four deer lowered its head and
began to drink. Slowly the others followed suit. March was
thrilled. He hoped that Bren would be patient. A buck was sure to
present itself eventually.

Bren almost loosed his arrow on the larger
doe, but at the last second thought better of it. He wanted a buck
to show off to his dad. His restraint however was mostly due to the
two awkward moving young fawns frolicking near their mother.

Suddenly, all four of the deer rose from the
pool and froze in alarm. In a flash of movement, a big cracking
sound erupted from behind them. They were off in a series of
leaping bounds that carried them instantly out of sight and back
into the forest.

Here he comes, March thought. He expected a
wide heavy rack of antlers to emerge from the trees, announcing the
leader of the herd. Instead, the creature that showed itself nearly
stopped his heart.

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