Baker Trittin Press
With soot in his golden hair and the taste of smoke and ash on his lips, Lukas clambered to his feet and peered into the sky with burning eyes. The yellow dragon flew toward the clouds holding Lilia firmly in one of its twenty claws.
Silently King Lundin stooped to grab the silver necklace that had fallen to the ground. Without a word, he roughly thrust it into Lukas’s hand and looked back into the clouds in disbelief. “She needed you, lad,” the king whispered through clenched teeth, “not your heart, not your hand. She needed your courage . . . but you fled.”
“The . . . fire . . .” Lukas stammered. He turned away from the king in shame and stared at the pile of dust that was once his friend, Taro. Tears welled up in his eyes and rolled down his cheeks. He fell to the ground, cradling his head in despair.
The king’s voice turned from disappointment to regret. “I know you fear fire as wicked men fear death. I knew you would fail, lad. You will always be the same. Your fear binds you with unbreakable chains.” With those words the king started toward the palace, ignoring the moans and cries of the injured around him.
Lukas closed his eyes and fought against the memories smoldering deep inside his mind. They had singed his midnight dreams for years; he would not let them ignite his waking hours. Looking back to the king, he called out, “Please, my lord, give me charge of a hundred men, and I’ll leave before the beast is out of sight! The flames of hell itself won’t stop me again!”
“No, lad,” the king snapped without turning. “Not even a thousand men can defeat that creature.”
Confusion replaced Lukas’ urgency. “What do you mean?”
“Follow me,” the king said, “and I’ll show you.”
King Lundin led Lukas deep below the castle to a secret study lined with ancient books and scrolls. It was a chamber Lukas had never discovered in all his boyhood years of exploring the castle. In the center of the dim room sat a small table with a tiny wooden chest carefully placed on top. The king opened it with a creak. “Her name is Haarlok,” he said, “the mother of the dragons. She’s the last and worst of her kind. She’s from that forgotten realm between myth and reality, legend and history . . . like the world that once was before wise men replaced poetry with prose, before heroes exchanged swords for words; and before the extinction of virtuous men. The dragon Haarlok is virtually invincible. No mortal weapon can harm her. No mere knight, however brave, can defeat her.”
Lukas dropped into one of several rickety reading chairs and put his head in his hands. “Then I will die trying,” he moaned.
“That’s probably true,” the king said, turning to Lukas with a tattered scrap of parchment in his hands, “but legends exist that speak of one way to defeat that rotten, yellow beast. They will sound strange and fantastic. You will want to doubt my words, but they represent our only hope.” He handed the parchment to Lukas. “This is the first piece of a fourfold map. This section reveals a hidden path to the secret Valley of Validaan which is two days’ journey to the northwest. The geography should be familiar enough to you if you kept up with your studies. The walled garden holds not only the second part of the map, but also the famed Helmet of Validaan, the first of four powerful weapons necessary for defeating the dragon. The other weapons you must seek are the Sword of Sapentia, the Armor of Fortis, and the Shield of Aequant. All four are essential in order to defeat this foe. She cannot stand against them.”
Scanning the map fragment, Lukas noticed some strange symbols along the bottom edge.
“What are these markings? I don’t recognize them. I don’t know this language.”
“It’s an ancient dialect of the dwarves. The first word is kogah, ‘power’ or ‘strength.’ It’s part of a message that can only be completed by the other three fragments. The message will reveal how to use the weapons against the dragon.”
“How do you know this?” Lukas finally asked.
For a moment King Lundin appeared to look away in shame. Stumbling over his words, he said, “That . . . story will require too much time. I believe that the dragon took Lilia because she is my only daughter and heir to the throne. The Trallian kings of old slew the dragon’s children and consorts, and she has returned to exact her revenge. She expects me to pursue her, but I cannot do so for reasons that may not be revealed.” Staring through Lukas with piercing brown eyes, King Lundin clasped Lukas’s shoulders and said, “Do not fail again, lad. Lilia’s life and Trallia’s hope are in your hands.”
Lukas swallowed hard. Many more questions rushed through his mind, but the image of the yellow serpent escaping with Lilia called him to haste. He slid the map into his pocket and announced, “I am leaving right away, my lord. I shall find these four weapons and return with your daughter . . . or I will not return at all.”
The king’s voice lowered to a whisper, and his eyes narrowed to slits. “Beware of the Valley of Validaan. The region is cursed with dark desire and men have become mad with hunger, lust, and greed. Those who stumble into its deep ravines rarely return, and those who escape are never the same again.”
“Yes, my lord,” Lukas answered. He turned to leave, but the king called to him once again.
“Lukas, my lad, there are scores of men both noble and base seeking these same four weapons. You must succeed where others have failed and make great haste before any other man succeeds. For they have no interest in valor, wisdom, courage, or justice. They care nothing for defeating Haarlok or restoring security. They seek these weapons only as treasures for their own kingdoms and their own personal glory.”
“But my lord,” Lukas answered, “I am seeking only one treasure and neither will a thousand flaming dragons nor vain warriors keep me from Lilia.”
As Lukas rushed from the secret room, the king sighed heavily and nodded. “He loves her indeed, perhaps too much. He cannot fathom what lays ahead, dangers no man has been able to overcome for centuries . . . not even I.” With those words King Lundin opened the wooden chest again and stared in shame at a large apple of solid gold. Closing his eyes, he said, “Let him not make the same mistake as I.”