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Valloch and the Dragon
by B.R. Menadue
Copyright © 2009

Chapter One – The Boy

The dead bodies of his parents lay atop the blood spattered snow. His mother’s once beautiful red hair, now blackened with dried blood, cascaded across her alabaster shoulders. Her skin was paler now than it had been in life and her sea blue eyes were now glazed over with hoarfrost. The men had hurt her after they murdered his father. Hurt her, and made him watch. Tears threatened to overwhelm him again and he turned to look upon the butchered body of his father.

The men had hurt his father as well but not before the broad-shouldered giant of a man had killed five of the men. His father’s body was covered in great gaping wounds and blood, both his own and of his attackers.

The men had taken the bodies of their dead comrades. They’d left his parents as carrion food and they’d left him to die from exposure. He’d only seen seven winters before this one but he knew what happened to people when the great winter storms caught them outside.

The boy remembered finding the frozen corpse of Old Thanok last winter. The old man was bent over the remains of his campfire. His eyes closed in sleep. He’d heard his father and some of the other men talking. They’d decided that Old Thanok had fallen asleep over his small fire and never woken up.

He was jerked out of his memory by the cawing of a very large raven. It was perched on the thick dead limb overhanging the small clearing. It cocked its head to the side and seemed to study the boy with a startling blue eye.

The boy knew ravens ate the dead. In anger he looked for a stone to throw at the specter of death perched over the fallen bodies of his parents. Did the gods have no mercy? Would his parents now suffer the ignoble fate of becoming food for the birds and wolves?

He heard the call of more ravens throughout the trees. The boy looked around the clearing and found the broken remains of an old axe. It would be useless as a weapon, but it would help him dig in the frozen ground. He couldn’t let his parents be eaten.

The digging was hard and more than once the boy broke down into tears of loss and frustration. His hands bled and ached but he didn’t stop. Anger boiled within the boy and he attacked the ground, seeing the murderers of his parents. Frozen clumps of dirt became his enemies’ heads. Roots became their arms and legs.

He looked at the graves and was crestfallen. The graves were barely a hand’s length in depth. The boy knew from talk around the village that shallow graves did nothing to stop wolves.

The ravens were gathered about the clearing. The boy was too deep in his grief to realize that the birds hadn’t made a sound since he started digging. He was also too deep in his grief to notice the sheer number of ravens gathered. What he noticed, in fact the only thing he noticed, was his mother’s lifeless body.

His mother was a small woman of delicate build and the boy was large for his age, but he still struggled to drag his mother to the grave. The snow made it easier but he collapsed in exhaustion as her bare feet slid into her grave.

He pulled the remains of her dress up to cover her breasts and he crossed her arms across her chest. He froze when his eyes met hers. The he reached up and pulled the lids closed.

When he turned to his father he sighed. The horrible realization hit him in an instant: He couldn’t move his father. The man was huge, head and shoulders above his mother, and as strong as a bear. Other men had feared his father, feared and respected him. His father was a warrior, former champion of the king. He owed it to his father to try.

He tried to drag his father by the arms, like he had his mother, but failed to budge the man. Then he remembered how his father had moved the boulder from the field where his mother’s garden had once stood. He knelt beside his father and tried to turn him over. His father flipped onto his front with a sick wet splat. The boy panted with effort. Each turn was a battle.

The boy had fallen into the blood soaked snow from many false starts and slips. When his father finally rolled into the grave he collapsed on top of him and screamed out. The scream blasted through the forest scattering all but the blue-eyed raven to the four winds. The boy wept again for some time.

Then the raven cawed, and cawed again, until the boy looked at it. Then it swooped down towards the boy, who threw up his hands to ward off the expected attack. He felt only the soft caress of the wind as the raven passed him by. He turned to follow its flight and was startled when he saw it land on a staff held by a dark cloaked figure.

Chapter Two – The Old Man

The figure rose slowly from its seated position, it would have been shorter than most of the men in the village but taller than his mother. It turned its head to the raven and said something the boy could not understand and the raven flew off into the trees.

“Such a shame”, said the figure. It was a man’s voice, calm and deep. The boy said nothing, only stared as the man walked slowly towards the graves of his parents. “A shame I wasn’t able to stop this”, the man waved his hand to indicate the clearing. “Not as quick as I used to be, too old. Joints just won’t answer the quick mind.”

The old man knelt next to the grave of the boy’s father. “Never did know how to run”, was all he said. Then he moved to the boy’s mother. He said nothing for the longest time and the boy saw a single tear drop fall from within the cowl of the cloak to land on his mother’s cheek. “They won’t leave this forest, my dear one”, the man whispered.

The man turned to look at the boy and for the first time he could make out the man’s features. His skin was tanned and heavily lined with age. The nose was slightly large and looked like it had been broken once or twice. The lips were thin but expressive. It was the eyes that the boy noticed most though, eyes the same color as his mother’s but with an inner light that betrayed the power that lurked within.

“What is your name boy?” the old man asked.

The boy said nothing. He had been raised to respect his elders, and this old man was certainly his elder, but he couldn’t find his voice. The old man stood and approached the boy quickly. The boy raised his arm to ward off the old man but the old man merely gripped his wrist gently but firmly. The boy felt a tingling sensation throughout his body like hundreds of butterflies were filling his insides.

“What is your name?” the man asked firmly.

“Valloch!” he nearly screamed, “My name is Valloch.”

The old man loosened his grip, “They call me Nallis, boy”, the man released Valloch’s arm and looked around the clearing, “We’ll need a fire”, he decided.

Valloch watched as Nallis walked to the graves, looked into both, and shook his head, “No, this won’t do at all.”

“What do you mean?” Valloch demanded.

Nallis turned to the boy, “I mean that we do not bury our dead, we burn them.”

Valloch lowered his gaze and muttered “I’ll gather some wood.”

“No, you won’t, boy, you’ll rest now,” he corrected, then “Sleep now.”

Valloch lay back on the ground and slept, the physical and emotional exhaustion and the old man’s voice overtook him nearly instantaneously. His dreams were dark and confusing. His old home was empty and he called out for his mother and father but they were nowhere to be found. He could hear them screaming and then there was nothing, just blissful sleep.

Nallis rose from beside the boy, the dreams were gone for this night and he had work to do. He turned towards the graves and raised his hands skyward. He chanted in the language of magic, calling upon the elements to answer his call. Roots emerged from the ground surrounding the graves and lifted the bodies nearly a man’s height off the cold ground. The living pyres twisted and intertwined until they were quite solid.

With that task out of the way, Nallis returned to the boy’s side and whispered more words of magic into the wind. For a time nothing happened but then the blue-eyed raven flew into view carrying a large twig and dropped it before Nallis. Soon more ravens flew in from every direction, each carrying twigs and dried beard-moss. When the pile was of a satisfactory size Nallis held his hand over the flame like a claw and whispered in the strange magic tongue. A thin tongue of flame burst into life from the center of the pile and soon the area was bathed in light and warmth. The sun sank then and with the blue-eyed raven sitting atop his staff and Valloch laying next to him Nallis closed his eyes and sighed “Too old.”