Chapter One

Deep in the Silvermist forest, surrounded by massive mountains and farmlands, lies the prosperous kingdom of Dukane. Within the massive stone walls, trumpets rang out which caused its citizens to hustle to the main courtyard to hear from Seagon, King of Dukane. All who lived either within the walls or the surrounding farms knew that each week that there would be an announcement from King Seagon and it usually revolved around collecting more gold to fund his ever growing conquest to claim other realms and make himself richer in the process.

The last seven announcements revealed an increase in taxes and at this point, the citizens were beginning to cringe when the trumpets sounded. Though the kingdom itself prospered, the citizens would say otherwise because they barely had money to feed themselves at times. Unless one worked as a guard or within the palace, you paid heavily. As the citizens flooded into the main courtyard, the guards took positions along the walls and entrances, each one clad in chain mail with a green uniform that had the royal crest, a flaming orange bird flying over three black mountain tops embroidered on the chest.        

The palace guards normally would be patrolling the grounds, but lately there had been some grumblings from the citizens, rumors of a revolt if the taxes got too high. King Seagon decreed that a show of force would be sufficient of a deterrent. As King Seagon approached his proclamation balcony, everyone fell silent. He looked down at his people with a smug smile as he called out, “People of Dukane, I’m happy to report that your hard earned taxes have yielded another crushing victory! The realm of Slovoc has fallen and is now paying tribute to us for protection. As you may or may not know, Slovoc has a great deal of resources like raw metals and materials that they’ve mined for years. These are part of the tribute they shall pay us as well as a hefty amount of gold for not surrendering when they were given the chance. My son Aric has dethroned their king and has taken the throne for himself to ensure the realm’s stability. This will now give us protection from any invaders coming from the south.”

“So does this mean that you will lower our taxes?” a man cried out from the crowd.

“Please refrain from asking any question until I’ve finished.” King Seagon commanded, his irritation flared inside him. Why do these people worry so much about money? I provided them all food, shelter and protection with everything they give me. Is that not enough for my people?

As King Seagon continued to speak, Maria pushed her way through the crowd with her daughter Gwynn so she could hear the king better. Maria was a widow because her husband had been killed during one of the king’s conquest six months ago. Her family had been living well from the money he earned as a bowman, but once he fell in combat the money no longer came. The king declared that if his soldiers fall in battle, then why should the Crown continue to pay the family when he could keep it for his next soldier.

Maria knew the king was greedy, but how could he do this to her family after her husband served in his army? She had to know if her and Gwynn were going to be able to stay within the city walls. If the king increased the taxes, we are out of here whether we like it or not, Maria thought as dread crept into her mind. Gwynn held onto her hand and asked, “Why do we have to come here and listen to this boring speech, mama?”

“It’s our duty to hear the king’s speeches because they impact us in many ways. I know it seems boring to you but when you’re older, you will understand.”

“Since I’m too young to understand, can I go play in the forest?” Gwynn pleaded as she shuffled her feet. Gwynn was only nine and was a free spirit that had the curiosity bug that screamed for her to explore and have fun in the forest. Maria leaned down and scooped Gwynn up into her arms and said, “I know this my dear, but mama needs to know if the king’s going to need more gold from us. I hope with his latest campaign victory, he will ease up on the taxes.”

“What will happen if he doesn’t ease up?” Gwynn asked with concern.

“We will have to leave here and find a new home to live.” Maria replied with worry in her eyes.

Gwynn gasped, “That’s not fair! The king needs to be good to his people. Why would he want us to leave here?”

“I’m afraid greed rules his heart, Gwynn. That’s all he loves. He uses these pointless campaigns to extort more money from us all.” Maria whispered into Gwynn’s ear, not wanting others to hear her speaking ill of the king. “He should’ve kept our family taken care of after your father died, but dying in the service to him means nothing. You can be loyal to the king your whole life and he wouldn’t bat an eye to grant you anything in return.”

Gwynn scoffed, “The king sounds like a spoiled, ungrateful fecal face!”

The people surrounding snickered as they covered their mouths. Maria cheeks flushed as others looked at her, wanting to be as far away from everyone at the moment. Though what her daughter said was true and the people around her would agree, that wouldn’t stop one of the guards from stepping in. Maria was certain that they wouldn’t do anything to her daughter since she was so young, but that didn’t mean the king wouldn’t have her lashed for what Gwynn said, or possibly executed. Maria turned her gazed up at the king when she heard him utter the word taxes and listened intently.

“My good citizens of Dukane, I know you’re all wondering if there will be any increase in the weekly taxes. Let me say that due diligence is needed in these hard times. Know that all your contributions have paved the way for the protection and safety for your children and their children’s children. It may not seem like it right now and I know that times are hard on all of you. We are all feeling the burden, including myself which is why I say with a heavy heart that I must ask that you give just a bit more. The taxes shall in increase by two gold and -”

The crowd booed and hissed at the king’s tax increase, causing the guards to snap to attention. Maria clutched Gwynn close to her bosom so she wouldn’t have to witness any violence that could occur. She was just as angered as everyone else because now she and Gwynn would have to leave the confines of the kingdom walls and search for a new home far from King Seagon’s reach. But with all the realms he’s been taking over, it would be long journey and winter was fast approaching. Why does he need so much money? The king already said that they were going to get a large payment of gold from Slovoc as well as their resources, so why increase what we had to pay? Couldn’t the tax increase wait until spring?

A man angrily shouted, “You know nothing of our burdens! You sit in the lap of luxury while my family has to scrape by with nothing! Don’t you dare claim you’re in a financial burden! What more do you wish from us?”

“Guards, remove this man at once.” King Seagon snarled.

The guards pushed forward into the crowd with their weapons drawn. The citizens were still yelling and screaming, but parted the way for the guards. The angry man turned his attention to the oncoming guards and shouted, “You see! This is how he treats the ones who keep his war machine going! Give him gold or you will be punished! If that’s what he wants then why not leave and never return? Hurt him where it hurts and DON’T give him anymore taxes!”

The angry man took several swings at the guards but never connected with any of his punches. The guard closest to the man grabbed him by his arm and slung him towards the waiting hands of the other guards, where he was dragged from the crowd. The king glared at the man and proclaimed, “For trying to incite a riot and threatening the Crown, this man shall be executed at once! A sad day it is, but the law is clear in this matter.”

A woman wailed from somewhere in the crowd, pleading the king to be merciful. There was no grand ceremony or walking the angry man up to the execution scaffolding, the guards took turns in stabbing the man with their swords. They let the man drop onto the cold, hard cobblestone to bleed out. Most of the crowd fell silent as the hysterical woman bulled her way over to her dead husband. She held and rocked his limp body in her arms, snarling at the king, “You monster! How could you do this?”

“It was his choice to threaten the Crown. I had no choice in the matter but to obey the law of the land, something he failed to do. Now will there be any more disagreements on this matter?” King Seagon retorted coldly, daring anyone else to oppose his will.

Maria pushed her way through the stunned crown while holding Gwynn close to her, hoping she wouldn’t see the dead man from their vantage point. As she neared the edge of the crowd, an older man came screaming into the courtyard. The guards instinctively grabbed and tackled him, fearing that he was going to incite another riot.

“Please let me go! I have grave news to deliver to the king! Unhand me…Joseph?” the older man looked over and saw the bloodied body still being rocked by his widow. “Look, I’m no threat just let me speak with the king at once.”

One of the guards looked up at the king and called out, “This man claims to have grave news for you, sire.”

“Then let the man come forward to speak. If it concerns the safety of our realm then I want to hear it.”

The guards lifted the man up by his arms and then released him. He rubbed his arms as he wearily looked at the guards. He moved forward but kept glancing over at Joseph, wondering how the king would take the news he had for him.

“What is your name?” King Seagon asked indifferently.

“M-my name is Philip, sire.”

“State your business. What is it you wish to tell your king?”

Philip rubbed his hands nervously as he shifted his feet as he spoke, “Well sire, I’m one of your many livestock owners and I live close to the base of the mountains. I’ve been noticing some of my livestock has been going missing recently and I’m not the only one that this has been happening too. Many of my neighbors have been having the same troubles as I.”

“So you’re saying someone is stealing livestock?”

“Yes sire.”

“I will send out patrols to find these thieves and have them brought to justice for their crimes against the crown and all of us.” King Seagon announced, which everyone cheered except for Philip.

He waved his arms emphatically and shaking his head. The king noticed this and did his best to quieten down the crowd as he said, “Settle down, settle down. Apparently Philip has more to say on this matter.”

“Yes sire I do, but…” Phillip rubbed the back of his neck as he looked around at all the other citizens, feeling his whole body heat up under their collective gaze. Then he looked up at King Seagon, who stood there with a cocked eyebrow and an impatient glare.

“I wouldn’t have believed this if I hadn’t witnessed the theft myself. Sire this wasn’t some band of bandits nor was it any rogue scouts from a nearby plundered realm. It took three of my cows but not before it killed two and ate them on the spot…it was a frightening sight, to say the least!”

“So you saw the one responsible, you say?” King Seagon asked with annoyance, “Get to the point and say what it was you saw!”

“It-it was a-a dragon!” Phillip said with a shaky voice, his lips quivering in fear as he looked to the sky, praying that the beast didn’t hear him and come take him away like his cattle. The courtyard was in utter silence and then people all around Phillip billowed in laughing fits.

Gwynn looked up at her mom and asked, “What’s a dragon and why is it so funny?”

“A monstrous, mythical creature that breaths fire and can fly in the air like a bird.”

“So it’s like a big bird?”

“Sort of, dear. It like those lizards that scurry around in the royal gardens, only much bigger and they have scales so hard that no weapon can hurt them.”

Confused, Gwynn asked, “So why is everyone laughing if it’s so bad?”

“I’m afraid they are laughing at poor Phillip. They don’t believe him.”

The laughter filled the courtyard but the only one not laughing was King Seagon. He stared at Phillip as he stroked his scruffy beard, wondering if what the man was claiming to be true. Why would anyone want to burst into my courtyard and make such an outrageous claim unless it was true? If this dragon was real, would it get bolder and attack my kingdom? Another thought occurred to Seagon. How old was the beast and did it live nearby. Did it move in recently or had it been living here before the realm was founded? One thing that he knew to be true about dragons was that they hoarded lots and lots of gold and precious gems. This caused an uncontrollable smile to creep across the king’s visage.

“It’s true! I saw it! It left its hellish tracks in my pasture. Because of all the rain we had yesterday, it left its monstrous imprints in the mud! Go to my farm and see for yourselves! It flew off to the east of my farm!” Phillip snarled as he looked at the crowd, “I followed the stream that runs in that direction and found a massive cave within the forest and…”

“You referring to Hell’s Gate?” one guard asked, silencing the crowd.

“I’m not sure if it’s the same one or not.” Phillip replied.

“Was the cave entrance blackened and covered in moss? Could you see steam spewing from it in different areas on the mound?”

“Yes! I was so frightened by it because I knew that it had to be the place where the beast called home and I could hear my poor cows inside there too…”

The crowd was murmuring about this news and a wave of anxiety swept through as the king could hear the people commenting, “What if it comes here?”, “Are we safe within these walls? It flies so I doubt it!”, “I don’t know about any of you, but I say we flee from here at once!”

“Everyone please, settle down!” King Seagon bellowed out over the commotion. As the crowd quieted down, the king asked, “I must know, has anyone else lost any livestock to this beast? I’m sure it would go after the bigger livestock so give me a show of hands.”

About thirty hands went up at once and then twelve more hesitantly followed suit. The beast is eating our food and once it runs out, it will come for us, the king mused.

 King Seagon nodded curtly as he announced, “I see that this creature has been filling its belly with our food, your own livelihood. This is something I can’t ignore for winter is drawing near. If we can’t keep the dragon from eating all our livestock, then we will all starve! Therefore, I shall send out a small group of our best knights to slay this foul creature.”

Next Chapter: Chapter Two