YouWriteOn offers publishing for writers to help them reach new readers who like their writing.
Click here to email us for details.
Chapter 1 - Late
The light on the moor faded from orange to grey, and Trevose knew he was already late. But he kept loping along the dusty trail, as fast as he dared while spotting the scratches and scuffs that showed that his prey had gone this way. Finally, he rounded the edge of a copse of trees and there it was.
The wolf was clawing at a gnarled tree for anything edible. It was small and mangy, with fur that had turned white for winter too early. Its ribs stood out as if being squeezed by a skeletal hand.
Not much of a prize, then, but it was all he needed. After all these weeks, this was his chance. Trevose kissed his best stone and slipped it into his slingshot; he wouldn't have to use this much longer. Crouching behind the bushes, he spun the leather up to speed, the stone thrumming in vicious circles at his side.
He only had one shot. Miss, and the wolf would be gone. Hit, and it would only be stunned, and he would need his knife to finish it. That was best. Worst would be if he clipped it. Then the wolf wouldn't be injured but might attack him in return.
The wolf looked up suddenly, ears pricked, eye alight. This was it.
Trevose rose from his hiding place in one smooth motion, stone spinning hard. For a second, he stared into the wolf's yellowing eyes. What did the hunter think, Trevose wondered, on the day it was finally caught?
With a wrist's flick, Trevose shot. The wolf bolted. The stone thudded into the empty ground, wide by the breadth of a thought.
He groaned as the wolf leapt for the bushes. He needed this kill. He couldn't bear to go back empty-handed, but the sun was balanced on the horizon already. No one was allowed out after sunset, not since the attacks had started. He hesitated for a moment more, as the wolf vanished from sight, then swallowed his disappointment and headed for home. He had a long run ahead of him.
His fur boots pounded a regular rhythm over the dried yellow grass. He was a wiry boy, not yet fourteen, with tangled brown hair and pale eyes. He ran apologetically, taking strides that were too short. It was as though he had watched others run and was now diligently trying to copy them, instead of just trying to cover the distance as fast as possible. The shadows lengthened then faded into grey twilight. It was almost curfew.
Everyone had to be home before dark since sheep had started going missing a few weeks ago. No one knew what was out there, but it must be a large predator, unafraid of the village.
Clouds scudded in front of a half-moon and the first stars peeked out from the deep blue sky. A shadow flashed between the clouds, impossibly large and impossibly fast. Trevose blinked trying to make it out, but it was gone. Was something out there, up there? He shivered and quickened his pace. It couldn't be.
From the top of the valley, he finally saw the village. The old watchtower broke the horizon in the distance, its old timbers swaying in the wind like a warning finger. He rushed down the slope and clattered over the wooden bridge at the bottom. The river there had shrunk to a stream between dried mud. Next to it stood the water mill, its wheel hanging uselessly in the air.
Trevose powered up the far side, chest and legs burning, and reached the first buildings on the outskirts of the village. A short cut through the fields was the only way to get back on time now.
In the field behind the Stithian's farm, sheep were making a terrible noise. Trevose slowed. They were clustered by a low stone wall, as far away as they could get from a shadow on the ground.
He knew he wouldn't want to see and yet crept closer.
The mauled carcass of a sheep lay on the grass, its blood staining the ground. A chill ran through the warm evening. Organs and intestines spilt out, and flies were already buzzing around. There was something he needed to know, so swallowing deeply he put his hands down to it. They came away sticky with warm blood. That's what he'd been afraid of; if the corpse was still warm, then the attacker was still close.
Trevose leapt up and squinted back and forth across the gloomy field. By the far wall, another shadow moved. The moon was behind it so he could see nothing, but a patch of darkness rose up, suddenly solid, suddenly real.
Trevose scrambled behind the corner of an outhouse and peered around the edge of the rough wood. The shadow was larger than a man, but a strange, shifting shape. It was moving fast and coming closer.
He edged away around the corner. The shadow blocked his shortcut across the fields, but the outhouse hid him if he took the long way back, through the village. With a last glance back, he steeled himself. Run!
Heart and legs pounding, he flew down the lane. Past the round stone granary that held all their winter supplies; past house after house, light and snatches of conversation sneaking out between cracks in wooden walls; past the village square, with the Village Hall on one side. On one wall was pinned the Social Contract, with all the laws of the village. Above it, the skull of the Old Dragon stared down, grey with thirty years of lichen and grime. Curfew had started, and the streets were empty. He ran alone.
The houses thinned out, and he reached the drystone walls along the fields stretching up from the village. He was almost home. Behind the last line of trees, he could see his house, light flickering around the edges of the windows.
Then he heard it again. The sheep were screaming, crying in a language that could bring no help.
A shadow detached itself from the trees and moved into the field. It stalked like a bat with the grace of a snake. A terrible bleating came from the flock, and there was a strange, acid tang on the breeze. Then the clouds shifted, and the moonlight fell on the shape of a dragon
Trevose dropped behind the wall, heart hammering. Had it seen him? His hands left bloody marks as he clung to the cold stone. It was here, here before him, between him and home. Had it seen him?
He waited for long, sweaty seconds with no idea what was happening in the field, then gathered his courage to peer through the gate.
The flock was at the top of the paddock. The dragon had come all the way up, driving them back, penning them in. These were his sheep, he had named them all. They were all he and his mum had, their livelihood, their source of food and wool.
The dragon drew back and pounced with its winged arms. One sheep was too slow and was raised, wriggling and crying, to the dragon's mouth.
The dragon's head snapped around, and Trevose realised he had stood up and called out. His bones turned to ice as they held each other's gaze then the dragon turned deliberately back to the sheep. Her name was Red. As a lamb she'd cut herself and stained her wool, so Red had become her name. She was the calmest of the flock, always the last to reach the trough at feeding time.
There was a crunch Trevose felt in the pit of his stomach, and the dragon lowered the broken corpse from its lips. Then it tossed the body aside and in four long strides was on him, face inches from his.
Its eye was a feline slit cutting through him. Rainbow colours rippled like oil on water on a thousand golden scales and bloody drips fell from the fangs. It turned slowly toward Trevose.
He tried to tear himself away from its gaze but found himself leaning closer as the dragon opened its mouth. They were locked together. He was lost in its eye and, in the pupil, he saw his mother's tears and his friends at the Even Fires dancing on without him...
Then the dragon pulled back, staring, and the spell broke. With a rippling of muscle, it leapt into the air and beat upwards and away. The surprise and the gust threw Trevose backwards off his feet as the shadowy wings shrunk into the sky.
Trevose pulled himself to his feet on legs weak as saplings.
"D… D… Dr… Dragon!" he screamed into the dark. Still trying to catch his breath, he stumbled down the field.
"Dragon! Dragon!" He glanced back over his shoulder, but the beast had vanished into the clouds. He passed his neighbour's house, then ran up his own path and into the arms of his mother. Rosevean's face was so pale the moonlight seemed to shine through her, and tears ran down her thin cheeks.
"I'm… I'm fine," he said. There was wood smoke in the air and shouts in the distance. His neighbour Meredith rushed up, her shrewd eyes reflecting a torch in her hand. Behind was her daughter Merryn, a girl of his age who was as bouncy as her brown curls.
His mother guided him inside and laid him down on straw mats. A single torch cast flickering light around the one room, chasing shadows under chairs and into corners. Rosevean looked him all over and gasped when she saw his bloody hands.
"It's a sheep's, it's not mine.," he said quickly. "A sheep, it had been killed. Killed by…"
The door burst open, and Chief Duporth came in. He was tall and imposing, with eyebrows that could hide a hamster. He wore fierce-looking furs even in the late summer heat that barely covered his biceps. Though it was hard to tell where the muscle ended and the fat began. His presence filled the room, as did his aroma. The women stepped back to accommodate both.
"Chief Duporth?" Trevose frowned up at him. "What are you doing here?"
Duporth glared back, his eyes braced for bad news.
"What happened boy?" he barked. "What did you see?"
"I was running back from hunting," said Trevose. "There'd been an attack at the Stithian's farm. A sheep had been killed. Then there was a shadow in our field, and it killed one of ours too." Flames danced in four pairs of eyes around him.
"It was… was a dragon."
The word chilled the air and darkened the room. He couldn't bring himself to say how close the dragon had come. He could have reached out and touched it. Why had it stopped?
"Huh," Duporth grunted. He grunted with more expression than he spoke, filling a single syllable with joy or anger or, as now, scepticism.
"You're lying. You're wrong. It was a wolf, maybe a bear."
"I never lie." Trevose raised his head proudly. "And I know what I saw. It walked like a bat but was bigger than you. It killed Red, the sheep I mean, then flew away. It wasn't a wolf."
They exchanged grim looks, except Merryn who burst out, "It'll be like Helston, all over again, won't it!?" Her eyes shone as though this was the best news in the world. "The village needs a hero to fight it, like we did the Old Dragon!"
"Yes, Merryn," her mother tried to calm her, "but it didn't end well for Helston, did it? Nor the others before him who didn't come back. We don't sing their songs, do we?"
"Why were you out, anyway?" asked Chief Duporth. "It's past curfew."
Trevose swallowed and sat up. "I was out hunting, trying to get a… well, the dragon almost saw me, out by the Stithian's, so I had to take the long way around. By the time I was here, the sun was down."
Duporth looked at each of them in the eye, drilling in his command. "Tell no one, do you hear? I don't need panic in the village. I'll take out a few hunters. We'll kill it before Even Fires, then I'll tell everyone when it's dead. Until then, no one needs to know."
“But… it might attack before curfew,” said Trevose. His mother’s eyes widened in alarm. “Nobody knows, nobody’s prepared. We have to let them know to – “
“We’ll kill it first.” Duporth cut him off. “Everyone’s perfectly safe because they keep curfew. Unlike you. So keep your mouth shut. That’s final.”
Trevose nodded quickly, “yes, chief.”
Duporth grunted in acknowledgement and turned to leave. Merryn followed behind the Chief and her mother, but Trevose could see the secret fizzing off her skin. She wouldn't keep it to herself for long.
Rosevean closed the door behind their guests, and the house was their own again. The torch burnt low while his mum stroked his hair, and the shadows grew. Trevose sank back on the straw.
"Is that all? Is that all that happened out there?" she asked.
Trevose swallowed deeply. "It came right up to me, mum," he said in a small voice. "It stared right into me but didn't attack. It just looked and left; I don't know why."
His mother gave a small nod, appreciating he had held back that detail for her. Sharing in his terror, she held him close again. Trevose looked over her shoulder into the dancing flames, remembering the shape of a dragon's eye.
Chapter 2 - Fires
"Did you hear about the dragon!?"
Trevose spun around in surprise. A vast bonfire burnt behind him, flames stretching up to join the stars. Music thumped and dancers whirled around. Every new moon the village celebrated the Even Fires in the field toward the river. They gave thanks to the Great Mother for their crops and their safety and called for her to return the moon. So far, she always had.
By the fire, the healer Penwithick made the flames spark and flash rainbow colours with her strange potions, but only a few people were with her. Kids played tag together, shouting and ignoring the adults except to use their legs as cover. Someone was telling the old story about the white stag they had seen in the forest, but they only had a small audience too.
Instead, people were gathered in tight little knots, talking in low voices, quite different from their usual loud conversations. Chief Duporth had not announced the death of the dragon, and sheep continued to be killed. Trevose had carefully kept the secret but suspected he was the only one. Apparently, even Harlyn knew.
"What dragon?" asked Trevose, straight-faced.
Harlyn stared in disbelief and brushed his hair out of his eyes. They were almost the same age, although Harlyn looked older. His hair was brown and scruffy in a casually stylish way, whereas Trevose's was just plain scruffy. His family were rich enough to afford dyed clothes, which made even Trevose's best look drab in comparison. Tonight he wore an orange and purple tunic which made Trevose's eyes itch.
"It's a dragon that's taking the sheep!" Harlyn said. "Chief Duporth has been taking patrols out to kill it, but they haven't found it yet. Everyone's talking about it!"
Between gossiping, people cast furtive looks over at Duporth and the few senior men and women gathered around him. His wife next to him made a matching set, her furs and leathers complemented the Chief's. Their son Polzeath stood with them too. Usually, he would be with Trevose and his friends, but today there were important discussions to be had. No one dared approach them, but Duporth and the others would decide what would be done. Trevose had always seen that the more confident they were, the louder they talked. Today they were talking very quietly indeed.
"Polzeath knows about the dragon," Harlyn said, watching him in the distance. "Another benefit of being the Chief's son. And Merryn already knows."
"'Course I do," said Merryn as she skipped over to them. "Told you about it, didn't I?" She flopped back on the grass, her curls spreading out like spilt water around her head. "Why are you so happy tonight? You've been moody since you were ill, and that was weeks ago."
Harlyn shrugged, smoothing the creases from his top. "Things are looking up, aren't they? We've got a dragon to kill. Veryan! Hey, Veryan!"
He called out to a slight, hooded girl in the distance who was wrestling with an older boy twice her size. She looked up at the sound of her name, one eye reflecting the bonfire from under her hood, then the next second was bundled over on to her back.
"You heard about the dragon, didn't you?" Harlyn called.
“Ah… yes!” groaned Veryan from the ground, then leapt up to attack the boy once more.
"Ah Trevose, you're always the last to know!" Harlyn hit him on the arm, then settled himself beside Merryn, straightening his purple
"Last to know? I was the first, the very first! I was just keeping the secret." He looked around, but no one was listening. "Like we were supposed to," he finished, to himself.
They lay back on the grass for a while, watching the distant dancers whirl. Harlyn teased Merryn, tickling her with grass stems. She was on fine form, loud and laughing, and was only interrupted when the chief called out.
"Merryn! You get up here!" Duporth's voice carried across the crowd, and Trevose froze in shock. It couldn't be.
Some cheers and whoops came from others anticipating what would happen. Merryn got to her feet, smiling with a shy pride and headed over to the fire and Duporth.
"Wooooo! Well done, Merryn!" yelled Harlyn.
"No, no, no," Trevose said. "She can't have. I can't be the last."
Merryn reached Duporth, and with a wave of his hand, the crowd quietened down.
"As you know, Harlyn, Veryan, and my boy Polzeath have now become adults of the village. They have all killed themselves a wolf. They have killed a killer, hunted a hunter and protected the village. They have earned themselves the Wolf Badge, a proud way to become adults!"
"Not as good as a bear, though, is it!" cried a voice from the crowd. Duporth smiled. On his chest, a metal, bear-shaped badge glinted in the firelight.
"Merryn, step forward! You have killed a wolf. So it is time for you to take your vows and become a woman of the village!" He hoisted a wolf's body above his head and turned it around for everyone to see. Harlyn ran forward whooping to the front of the crowd. Trevose hung back, shaking his head.
The group cheered again as Merryn tentatively stepped forward to stand with Duporth, silhouetted against the flames. Then the noise died down to the crackling of the logs on the fire.
"Merryn. Do you promise, your whole life long, to uphold the Social Contract?"
Merryn raised her head proudly. "I promise."
"And do you promise, your whole life long, to obey the village chief and his appointed aides?"
"And do you promise, your whole life long, to put the good of the village before your family and yourself?"
The light sparkled in her eyes now. "I promise."
The crowd fidgeted, holding in their final cheers.
"Then," Duporth raised his voice to address them all. "I now pronounce Merryn is a woman of the village!" A roar broke out, drowning his words. "She may speak at village meetings, she may hunt with a bow and arrow and," he reached in his pocket, "she has earned the Wolf Badge."
The crowd swirled around them and lifted her onto their shoulders. By the fire, hands found instruments and the music swept up again.
At the back of the crowd, Trevose sat watching and muttering.
"I can't believe it. How did Merryn kill a wolf? I can't be the last. I can't believe she killed one."
"That's because she didn't."
Trevose jumped as Veryan had sat down beside him, rubbing her bruised side with one hand, drink in the other. She took a swig and said, "I did."
"What? What are you talking about?"
"I killed a wolf. It was poking around our chickens." Veryan looked out at the dancing crowds, her nose poking out from her hood. "Merryn saw and asked if she could have it, so I gave it to her. She was never going to kill one on her own."
"But… that's cheating! That's a lie!"
Veryan shrugged. "It's just what happens. Half the people in the village cheated, and you shouldn't always do what you should. I'll get you one if you want."
"No, I'm not going to cheat! And I can kill a damn wolf."
Trevose shook his head, and they lapsed into silence. He felt tired and sick and was no better by the time Merryn bounded back, grinning and toying with the badge on her chest.
"Well done," said Trevose. "I thought I'd be the next one to kill a wolf."
"Just got lucky," replied Merryn.
"I'm sure luck had nothing to do with it," said Trevose. They both carefully avoided looking at Veryan until Harlyn ran up.
"Come on," Harlyn said, brushing his hair rakishly out of his eyes. "This is our chance. We're going to do a dragon patrol of our own."
Trevose stomach clenched and churned at the thought of sneaking through the darkened village, and Veryan was unimpressed.
"Is this like the time you said we should get a load of raspberry juice and pretend we'd all been murdered?" she said.
"Or the time you thought the millpond ice was thick enough to slide on?" added Merryn.
"No!" protested Harlyn, "we're protecting the village - they'll thank us! My dad was teasing me, saying I'd never be a dragon hunter like my grandfather Helston. So I'll show him tonight. We'll do a patrol of our own."
"But… what if the dragon's out there?" asked Trevose, feeling queasy.
"Oh, he won't be out tonight," said Harlyn confidently, then added, "and if he is, we'll just make a racket and run, right?" He looked around at them eagerly.
The girls got to their feet. "Sounds like a job for us adults. You can stay here," said Merryn with a wink.
Trevose bristled and got to his feet to follow, with one glance back toward his mother. He wished she would call him over and give him an excuse not to go, but he was already in the shadows, and her back was turned. He ran to catch up.
Walking through the darkened houses, Trevose saw the dragon's eye around every corner. He felt dizzy and sick but concentrated on walking to keep up with the group. Harlyn, however, loved their nervousness and kept leaping out at Merryn who gave satisfying screams.
They were at the edge of the village square when Veryan stopped them short, saying, "What was that?"
The sun had set, and there was no moon in the grey sky. The friends strained their eyes in the half-light.
"What was what? Stop trying to scare us that's my job!" Harlyn cried.
"Sssshhhh" insisted Veryan, staring fixedly at the spot. "Something moved, over on the other side of the hall."
Trevose felt it too. The square had been disturbed, though he couldn't put his finger on the source. Then a dim orange light flickered between two buildings on the far side, and the four froze.
"Something's here," breathed Merryn, her voice barely a whisper over the wind.
"Now, it could be anything," replied Trevose, his voice just as low.
"Only one way to see." Veryan hefted a branch from the ground. "Quiet now."
Slowly and silently they moved forwards, Harlyn and Veryan at the front, Merryn and Trevose lagging behind.
They paused at the edge of the house, watching the flames reflected opposite, listening hard. Scraping and grunting sounds came from around the corner, barely audible to Trevose over the pounding in his ears.
Veryan held up her hand, counting down three fingers, two, one…
They jumped around the corner and came face to face with the dragon. Flames danced around its mouth, and its brown body snaked away into the shadows. Its glowing orange eye sockets stared straight at them, and Merryn screamed.
Trevose fell down and scrambled back against the wall by Harlyn, who stood frozen in shock. But Veryan leapt forward to attack, swinging the branch in a powerful arc.
Trevose could barely breathe but saw the dragon stumble, and its body twist. Veryan's first blow sent its head tilting to one side then there were shouts as she leapt on its back. She dropped the branch and lashed out with her hands until the whole dragon tumbled to the side, and its head went crashing to the ground.
"Get off! Get off, you little terror!"
Harlyn's father appeared from nowhere, fending off Veryan and trying to calm her down. Trevose saw the flames burning were just an ordinary log, lodged in the dragon's mouth. And the mouth…
His fear had brought it to life, but it was just the skull of the Old Dragon, stolen from the Village Hall. Its body was a mouldy brown blanket, out from which came Harlyn's father. Devoran's neatly cut hair was ruffled, but his fine clothes shone in the firelight as he pinned Veryan's arms. "Girl, stop wriggling now!"
Veryan twisted this way and that as she squirmed until finally, she calmed. Devoran dropped her to her feet and backed away, arm outstretched, as though from a horse only half-tamed. Then he turned to his son and slapped him on the back.
"Got you, didn't I!" Devoran laughed. "Not much of a dragon hunter, you were scared as a scampering squirrel!"
Harlyn glared back furiously, still recovering from the shock. The dragon's skull lay staring blankly into space, flames still licking its bony lips.
"What do you think you're doing?" said Trevose, swallowing back bile and gesturing at the crude dragon costume. "You're dressing up and sneaking around?"
"Thought I'd give you a bit of fun, didn't I?" said Devoran, gathering up the blanket. "Knew I get you! It's just a bit of a laugh."
But Trevose couldn't see anyone else laughing. Harlyn was incensed, and Veryan was only now starting to calm down. He felt weak, and the contents of his stomach clamoured to escape out of his mouth. Suddenly an unstoppable wave of sickness flowed over him, and he turned and retched on the floor.
"Don't you splatter on me!" Harlyn hastily stepped back. "Too much excitement for you, is it? Past your bedtime?"
Trevose was too sick for banter. "I'm fine," he mumbled, then stumbled away from their pitying stares.
He staggered home, feeling worse all the while. He was supposed to move the sheep tonight and feed the chickens, but his head swam as he cleaned the ashes from the fire. His limbs turned to water, and he couldn't find the energy to stand. He leaned forward and rested his head on the floor. He would sleep just for five minutes to gather some strength, he thought. But as he lay on the ground, he didn't move again.
When he woke, it was almost pitch dark. His mother's hand was on his head, and waves of heat boiled off him, even as he shivered and shuddered. She placed a wet towel on his forehead, and blessed coolness briefly washed over him before being burnt away.
"I'm all right," he tried to say, but his mouth was so dry it was barely a croak. His mother gave him water, and he drifted in and out of sleep.
When Trevose woke again from unsettling dreams, his mother was gone, and he looked around in clumsy alarm. Merryn jumped up, shocked that he'd awakened. The morning sun poked golden holes through her curls.
"It's all right there Trevose, you'll be fine," she said, but the surprise in her voice belied her words. She cast around anxiously for anyone else to call, and Trevose saw his mother sleeping close by.
"Oh now, she's only just gone down. She'd been up for two days straight!"
"Two days?" he asked, bewildered, "Then how long have I been…"
But even as he spoke his eyelids closed again. He slept, for the last and final time as just Trevose.
Chapter 3 - Wings
He awoke again, and this time everything was wrong. He felt better, stronger, but strange, as though the world had been bent out of shape. It was the dead of night. He was on the floor, by the burnt-out fire. His vision was bizarre, bright, even in the darkness, and moving his head felt slow and heavy.
Pushing himself to his elbows made it worse. His arms hardly moved, and there were strange rasping and scraping noises as he shifted his weight. His stomach roiled; he wanted to gorge himself, he wanted to vomit. He wanted to get out.
He was too disoriented to stand but dragged himself inch by confused inch to the door. He pushed it open and squeezed through, falling down the small steps onto the garden.
Outside he felt better; he breathed in deeply his head cleared. Steadying himself, he looked down at his arms, only for waves of nausea to flow over him again. Where his arm should be was a dark scaly log, moving erratically as he watched it. Frantically he scuttled backwards, trampling herbs and flowers in his panic, but whichever way he went the black limbs followed until he finally crashed through the fence. That brought him to a stop, his huge chest heaving for air.
He moved his right arm slowly, and the scaly arm to his right moved. He tried the same on the left, and the scaly arm there moved too.
He needed to see; he needed the tool shed.
Crawling faster now he realised how this worked, he got to the rough wooden shed halfway up the field behind their house. It was open on one side, rusty farming implements hanging from most pegs, but there was one shining sword.
The sheep were making a terrible noise. His heart thundered, and his breath was short and fearful. He knew what he would see even before he looked into the sword and saw the face of a dragon.
He roared in fear and confusion. His claws lashed out and destroyed one side of the shed; the other crashed down in front of him.
He tried to stand but fell back down onto all fours – of course dragons walked on all fours. But the effort made him sick, and he retched by the fence. In horror, he saw a ball of flame leap from his mouth. It burnt his lips and set the fence post alight.
The field glowed orange, revealing his hideous body, the scattered sheep and the trail of destruction he had left behind. He crouched there, dazed, as the light flickered over him. How did this happen? How could he change back? He scratched at his scales with curved claws, trying to dig down to his real skin underneath. He was in there somewhere, the real him, trapped in this terrible body.
There were shouts in the distance and tiny points of light travelling with them. Trevose stared. His mind was spinning, but also felt stuck in cloying mud. Those noises, that light coming closer meant something.
As the group drew nearer, voices called out in excitement. The burning fence left the dragon Trevose in silhouette but lit up the faces of Young Smith, Polzeath and others. One of them raised a stick in front of his face, then there was a rush of air and his cheek burned in pain. A bow and arrow - they were shooting at him!
The patrols. The dragon patrols Chief Duporth had promised must have started. They were dragon hunters coming closer. And he was a dragon.
The conclusion sparked like a fire in his mind. He had to move. He should fly! He had great folded wings hanging limply under his arms, he should use them! Rearing up, he raised his arms and brought them down in a mighty flap.
Nothing happened, he remained rooted to the ground. Flying, apparently, wasn't that simple and whatever he would do, he would have to do on foot.
He spun around, trampled the fence, and tried to gallop up the field away from home. But his arms and legs tangled as he ran and he fell heavily, knocking his chin against the earth. In a panic he resorted to a baby's crawl, diagonal limbs moving together, then sped up the motion as fast as he could. Another arrow whistled past before he started to pull away from his pursuers.
"There it is!"
"Why doesn't it fly?"
"Look out for its fire!"
"I told you, my arrow hit him. It can't fly because I winged it!"
Trevose crested the hill. Ahead the tended fields gave way to moorland stretching away, unbroken and open with nowhere to hide. Off to his left, though, was Warwick's Wood. It wasn't large compared to the forest he usually hunted in, but it was the only cover for miles. He set off again in his rapid trot.
How big was he? How far apart would the trees be? They would provide cover, but would also slow him down; could he get away from the hunters?
The night was very dark away from the fire. Above, stars and a half-moon shone down. He had been ill for a week.
Despite the darkness, he could see the first layers of bushes at the edge of the woods ahead. His pursuers' torches lit every crease in their clothes, every fearful and fearsome expression on their faces.
He bounded into the woods, pushing himself between trees. His trot was forgotten now and replaced with a mad scramble. He must be leaving a vast trail behind him; if he carried on like this, then the trees would hide him no better than the open moor. He looked up.
The treetops. That was the only chance. He was now well ahead of the patrol, so choosing two closely growing trees, he flexed his claws, then began to pull himself upwards.
It was completely different to climbing as a person. His claws had excellent grip and could dig right into the wood. He climbed up some way, then followed boughs away from the trunk. He spread his weight over as many branches as he could but, when they began to bend, he steeled himself, then jumped toward the next tangle of foliage ahead.
He was making a terrible noise, and must be a ridiculous sight, but he resolutely kept going for several more jumps before finding a particularly tall tree, leaves densely packed around its trunk.
He climbed as high as he dared, then folded himself up within the top branches. Something swayed conspicuously below him, and it took several seconds before he realised it was a tail. It was his tail. He had a tail, and it was dangling below him, so he quickly tucked it up, then stopped and waited.
Only a few minutes later the patrol came blundering through the forest below.
"I'm telling you, the trail stopped back there!"
"It hasn't gone far. We have to keep looking!"
Their torches had gone out and they had resorted to burning branches, which gave a less certain light.
Barely breathing, he prayed they would not look upwards and would give up soon. Even his dragon muscles began to protest as he held his position, hour after hour. Finally, he heard the group, grumbling and tired, turn and head for home.
Only then did he slowly lower himself to the ground, his limbs creaking like tree branches. The forest was still, silent and shadowy. He had escaped the hunters but was still trapped. He was free to run but imprisoned in his body, with no way home.