~ Raided: A Mericcup Story: Chapter 03: Dragons
“Mum, can I talk to you?” Asked Merida to the woman in a glittery green dress sitting at the table reading through some letters.
Queen Elinor glanced up regally and said, “Yes, dear. What is it?” but her eyes returned to the letter she was reading.
Merida glanced up at the crown sitting on her mother’s head and then tried again. “Queen Elinor. I’d like to speak with my mum, please.”
Elinor blinked and glanced at her daughter. Then she nodded, put down the letter, took off her crown and turned to face her daughter. “I’m sorry, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?”
“I was going over the harvest reports like you asked and this year’s crop was very good, but there are a lot of people saying it’s going to be a cold winter, and are looking to stockpile firewood. How can they know that?”
Elinor paused for a moment, frowning slightly, that seemed more of a report for the queen but she needed to be a mother for her daughter and needed that practice. “There are a number of techniques that seem to indicate what the weather will be like, the thickness of the skins on onions, caterpillar banding and the like. I’m not sure if I trust any one of them but if most of them are indicating cold then it is best to be prepared. I know a man who can tell us more. I’d better change, though.”
Elinor stood and they walk up to the royal apartments.
“You have some good wood skills, Merida but farmers have different skills again for trying to understand the weather.”
“Yes, mum.’ Said Merida as they changed the queen from her glittery queen dress to a simpler and looser blue riding dress.
As Merida finished buttoning her mum into her dress, Elinor let out a breath and Merida could see her mother change more completely into herself. “Mum?”
“Can you tell me something? When you put me in that princess dress and said I looked perfect, you changed. Like you just did again. I was seeing you, mum, for the first time in years and I was wondering about that.”
Elinor smiled slightly as she turned around. “I’m sorry. I told you how I had become my crown and warned you about your crown and your bow. I thought you really were perfect for once and you really were the dream I had for you. But there was some regret for not really being there for you. I wanted to tell you that I loved you and was proud of you, but I chickened out and hid myself behind the queen again.” Elinor reached under Merida’s red curls and cupped her daughter’s cheek.
“I love you too, mum.” Said Merida, hugging her mum’s hand.
# # #
It was the depths of winter, the fires roared trying to keep the cold at bay, and King Fergus, Queen Elinor, Princess Merida and the boys were all wearing bearskin cloaks to hold off the freezing cold. This winter has been good weather until the Winter Solstice. Then the temperature had plunged, and it was frigid all the time now. It was a bone-gnawing cold.
The cold and snow made travel hard, but a party of heavily cloaked travelers were spotted coming up the road, so they had prepared to greet the travelers.
Lord MacGuffin and a small entourage entered the throne room, several looked to have burns. His son, Kevin MacGuffin, was carrying a large burlap-wrapped bundle.
“Sire, we have a problem. We have been invaded from the West, from over the waters of the Sea of Celts,” announced Lord MacGuffin.
“Who is it this time? We had Vikings from the East over the summer.” Fergus asked, rubbing his cold hands together. He loved a good fight, but what kind of crazies attacked in the middle of such a cold winter.
“Not who, sire. What.” Lord MacGuffin gestured to his son who unrolled the bundle before the thrones. It looked like a four-clawed foot with iridescent scales.
Fergus rose from his throne.
“We’ve been attacked, by dragons,” stated Lord MacGuffin.
# # #
“We haven’t killed even one of the dragons, though I am proud to say that my son was able to lop off that leg, even though it flew away.” Lord MacGuffin finished, after relating the story about the dragon attack.
“Dragons?” Fergus asked again. He didn’t want to believe in magic but it was so obvious from the past few months that there was magic. Magic could make fighting complicated.
“Yes, sire, dragons. They have taken sheep and other livestock. They burn our houses and their hides are tougher then our arrows. Heavy wooden shields are able to deflect their fire and shouting seems to confuse them. We don’t know very much about them,” said Lord MacGuffin.
“There are several types of dragons. They all breathe fire. Red ones breathe a fire that flows like water. There are blue dragons that can loose spikes at targets. A lumpy brown one eats rocks and spits explosive fire. And a green one with two heads that makes things explode,” summarized Lord MacGuffin.
Fergus looked to his wife, it had been a terribly cold winter and they had been wondering how to care for the people, fuel for the fires was getting to be an issue. Now there was a new war on, but not with people.
“Okay, we’ll alert the other clans and take men to reinforce your lands. We’ll need to send supplies as well. Get some food while we get things ready,” decided Fergus.
“Thank you, sire.” The clan lord and his men went to the kitchens.
“What are you going to do Fergus?” asked Elinor.
“Go and fight them,” said King Fergus simply.
“Fight dragons!?” Merida exclaimed.
“Can’t be any worse then Mor’du,” said Fergus with a shrug.
“I killed Mor’du and I was a bear and I had to drop a giant rock on him!” Elinor explained with a grim look.
“I know.” Fergus said, dejectedly.
“How are you going to fight dragons?” asked Merida.
“I don’t know, but I’m the king and fighting is what I do. Young MacGuffin showed they could be hurt. That gives us a weakness to exploit.”
“He’s one of the strongest men in the kingdom. That would be him, you and that hunk of Dingwall’s that is visiting Maudie.” pointed out Queen Elinor.
Merida sighed a little at the memory of him.
“No, that is not really enough to fight so many,” agreed Fergus.
“I want to come too,” said Merida, seriously.
Fergus was about to crush that idea; battle was no place for a lady.
“Yes. We both need to come,” stated Elinor.
“What?” Father and daughter said together in surprise.
“We are the two most powerful archers you have. We should be able to penetrate that thick hide of theirs. That is an advantage we cannot afford to do without right now.”
Fergus wanted to dispute that, but knew his wife was right. He loved her too much to want to put her at risk, but they needed to stop these new invaders. He nodded.
“Do you want to take Maudie too?” He said sarcastically.
The queen considered, “Of course, someone needs to watch the boys.”
Fergus rolled his eyes as he stood and clomped off to send messages.
# # #
Fergus, young Kevin MacGuffin and the hulking Hunk Dingwall were scattered across the snow covered field in front of Castle MacGuffin with a large number of men. They were attempting a zone defense in the darkness; each man had a number of warriors to assist in the fight against the dragons.
They were engaging the dragons and driving them off. Groups of MacGuffin’s warriors were doing their best to defend the flocks and homes but the dragons were very large and heavily armored. Unless they attacked in a large group, too often the dragons would just flick the men away and keep attacking.
Elinor and Merida were back-to-back on top of the castle’s tallest tower protecting that vital asset. Fergus had placed them there with a squad of men to protect them. They were shooting dragons individually as dragons came into range. They were scoring solid hits. They could hear the hollow thunk of the arrows hitting home on the dragons but all it seemed to do was drive the dragons away from them, which had to be good enough for now.
“Brown dragon from the North,” shouted one of the men beside the women.
Merida and Elinor spun as one as they were lit by the rising dawn.
The heavy bulbous dragon was coming in low and fast; it’s maw glowing with a prepared flame as it approached the group around Fergus.
Lungs and hearts moving as one the mother and daughter took aim at the monster bearing down on them.
Their bows thwanged in unison.
The dragon reared as it prepared to expel its flame. The twin arrows entered the beast’s eyes, caught it in its tiny brain and it came down in an explosive crash.
The sun peaked over the horizon and the remaining dragons fled the field; each with a screaming sheep dangling in their claws.
The warriors gathered around the smoldering carcass of the downed dragon, and their breath condensed before them in the cold air.
“Well done, ladies!” Lord MacGuffin shouted congratulations to the ladies on the tower.
“Yes, they were the only ones to bring down a dragon,” said King Fergus, waving to the women.
“At least someone did. It means they can be killed. My men were getting worried about them being unkillable,” said Lord MacGuffin.
“We’ll need to examine what’s left of the body for weaknesses, but let’s go inside and get warmed up,” said Fergus.
“You know how to show a guest a good time for their first night over. So how often do these attacks come?” asked Fergus.
“They come about every 2-3 weeks. They’ve taken a lot of sheep,” said Lord MacGuffin.
The men helped the wounded back to the castle, as women came searching for their sons and husbands.
# # #
“Well, Fergus, any weak points?” asked Elinor clutching her cloak closely around her against the stiff breeze. The smell of burnt dragon flesh was slightly disturbing.
The warriors had warmed up in the great hall with mulled wine and bowls of hot oatmeal and now were back out in the field before the castle where the lumpy brown dragon had crashed.
“You already figured out the eyes, not that we can see that here.” Which was true, the flame had detonated in the mouth of the dragon and the front of it was badly burnt, said Fergus.
“It looks like the base of the wings are vulnerable. They are a major joint like the legs and have to move easily. The hide is thinner there.” Pointed out Lord MacGuffin.
They sawed open the hide and looked inside for the vital organs.
“Okay, this is different, here in the center there are a couple of stomachs. At a guess the one with the rocks is the one it flames with. The heart is way back here and the lungs up here,” said Fergus.
“Great. I’ve been shooting it in the wrong places,” moaned Merida.
“It’s okay, dear, so have I. We didn’t know. The hardest part is that we can barely see well enough to shoot. We need more light so we can shoot accurately. We need more torches or something.” said Elinor.
Just then the wind came up, chilling the group.
“Come on, let’s get inside. It’s too cold to stand out here for long,” said Fergus.
“What are we going to do with the body?” asked Lord MacGuffin.
“I’m not sure. We saw that big red one lit itself on fire, so I don’t think that we can burn it. It’s so big, it’s going to be hard to move,” Said King Fergus as they walked back to the castle, he moved to place his body so his wife and daughter were protected a little from the wind.
# # #
Merida felt herself dozing over her plate after dinner in MacGuffin’s Great Hall. Her parents and Lord MacGuffin had gone off to talk somewhere.
She could hear Kevin MacGuffin speaking at the other end of the table with a blacksmith. They were pointing at a piece of paper between them.
Merida had gotten to know him, as he and the other suitors came to her home to try to win her heart over the summer. But none of them had done a good job of it.
Wee Dingwall was clumsy and forward, like an eager puppy. She tried to be kind to him but she often just had to run from him. They tried to talk but Wee just wasn’t very smart and the conversation would fall apart pretty quickly. He was good with the boys though. She would quite often see them playing together and would find herself thinking that Wee would make a good younger brother. Then she would sigh, but he would not make a good king or husband.
Young MacIntosh, he was a smooth one. He could cast a spell on her and be so close and she would find herself near to kissing him. She wanted to be so close to him, to let him hold her and more. She would back off, but it was so hard. However, she would see the anger in his eyes when she denied him. That concerned her. He had a certain amount of self control, but it taxed him. He didn’t change who he was. He had his fangirls in her castle among the staff and mum told her how he would have his way with them and then ignore them once he was done with them, all while courting her. No, he wasn’t a good choice, he would marry her and then his interest in her would disappear and he would chase after some other flipskirt. No, The kingdom needed a king that was focused on the things of the kingdom, and not his own interests.
Kevin was completely different. He was shy and reserved. It felt more like she was doing the courting then him. She would have to draw him out of his shell. He really did not feel confident in himself. He was very strong, not used to his new found strength and so was a little scared of it. He was gentle in a way she wasn’t used to, and very courteous. He would see to her needs and wants. He was too shy and uncertain to be a good king, but she could see potential in him.
She had spend enough time with Kevin that if she concentrated she could usually understand what Kevin was saying through his dialect, but right now she was too tired to figure it out.
She felt so heavy and tired after the battle, and it didn’t help she had been woken out of a sound sleep after a long, cold journey.
It had taken nearly twice as long to travel to the MacGuffin’s lands as it would have in summer. They had had to wait out a storm before they could even leave in the first place, but the weather had been clear, if very cold, for the trip. They had two teams of men leapfrogging the main group building fires and melting snow for water for the people and beasts. They had also had to leave behind several men along the way because of sickness and frostbite.
Then before they could recover, the dragons had attacked the night they arrived. Merida was exhausted. She was thinking about excusing herself to her room to sleep, but didn’t have the energy just yet. She munched on a sausage to try and give her a bit more so she could walk to her room.
Merida looked over to Kevin and the blacksmith again. Kevin was getting loud as the blacksmith was shaking his head. “Aye, I can make it, but it’ll be too heavy to lift.”
Kevin said something her mind translated as “Oh yeah, too heavy for me!?”
With reflexes honed by years of living with her brothers she grabbed her plate and twisted out of the way as Kevin grabbed the table and lifted it over her head. Several tankards spilled and dripped on some of the others on one side, rousing some protests from the other diners.
“Alright, I’ll forge it for ye. But don’t complain to me if ye can’t last the day swinging it around.” The blacksmith waved his finger at the son of the clan-lord.
Kevin put the table down as the blacksmith stomped off.
“What was that all about?” Merida asked the large boy. He came over and placed the paper in front of her as she put her plate back on the table.
Kevin said some words but she knew a sword when she saw it. It looked simple enough on paper, a long sword with a leaf head taking up the top third of the blade. Not much of a crosspiece and a basic round pommel but the handle seemed to be quite long at almost a quarter of the length of the overall sword.
“A sword. But what was the big deal the blacksmith was making?”
Kevin spoke enthusiastically and spread his arms wide.
“You’re right that is a big sword. To take on the dragons with?” Merida asked.
Kevin nodded his face serious and said something Merida understood as “To protect my people.”
“Yes, I am sure you will. But if you will excuse me, I think I better go to my room to rest before I fall over.”
Kevin looked concerned, stood and offered his arm.
“Thank you. I appreciate that.” Merida smiled as she put her arm through his, as he gently guided her back to her room.
# # #
“Your Majesty, wake up!” said the servant.
“Whazzit!” groaned Fergus. He was feeling old, stiff all over from fighting those dragons. They had gone to bed early exhausted from the battle. He glanced at the window and groaned, it was still dark outside.
“Lord MacGuffin asked me to wake you. There is something flying over the castle and he knew you would want to know,” the servant told to the King.
“Grand, tell him I’ll be right there.” Fergus told the servant, who ran off.
“Okay, I can do this,” Fergus said as he rolled out of bed and reached for his peg leg.
“I’ll wake up Merida,” said Elinor, also getting out of bed.
“Oh, leave her be, woman. She needs her rest,” Fergus said as he fitted his leg on.
“We all do, but if it’s another dragon I will need her to help take it down,” said Elinor picking up her bow.
“Do you think you can bring it down?”
“Aye, but only one or two shots tonight,” Elinor said, slowly and carefully stretching her arm trying to warm it up.
# # #
King Fergus and his family, Lord MacGuffin and his son crept quietly onto the roof of the tallest tower. There was the shadow of something flying above them that blacked out the stars in the sky. Then it landed near the body of the brown dragon; a dark mass on the white snow.
Everyone was surprised to see what looked like a rider dismount and walk to the body. Was this some kind of Dragon-lord; someone who controlled the dragons and sent them after the MacGuffins?
Fergus pointed at the women’s bows and then the dragon. Merida and Elinor fitted arrows to their bows.
The man remounted the low-slung dragon and they flew toward the castle. The women looked to the king, who nodded. Mother and daughter rose beside the battlements, and aimed for the center of the black shadow. It was too dark for anything else.
As one, the two women set themselves, and loosed, but a badly tied fletching on Merida’s arrow made a loud buzzing sound in the darkness. The dragon banked and twisted but there was the solid sound of the arrows striking home.
The dragon screeched in pain and wobbled into the forest beyond the castle.
“Quickly, men! Torches and weapons!” shouted Lord MacGuffin. Doors crashed open as warriors streamed out of the hold of the castle and out the gates. They ran into the forest searching for the downed dragon.
# # #
Merida followed her Mum and Da into the night wrapped forest; she had an arrow out for her bow, but she was slipping as they dashed through the snow. Warriors held up torches searching for the dragon and rider they had taken down.
A warrior near the end of the line called and waved his torch, they followed the line of broken trees to a large black lump at the base of a snow, and moss covered boulder. The smaller figure was moving near the wing of the dragon.
“It’s going to be okay, buddy,” Merida heard a muffled voice.
As the warriors with their swords and shields surrounded the two figures, the smaller black figured turned.
Merida yanked the arrow to her cheek. She could hear her mum’s bow creak as it too was fully drawn. The creature looked like a troll from the old stories, in the flickering torchlight. It had dark leathery skin, a wide gaping mouth and dark hooded eyes. It’s hands only had a thumb and one large finger that was holding a wound on it’s arm.
“What are you?” rumbled Da, his sword leveled at the smaller creature.
Merida almost loosed her arrow as the creature grabbed its mouth and flipped its head back, but it only revealed a teenager with a horned helmet. “I’m a Viking. My name is Hiccup and I won’t hurt you.”
Fergus put his hands out to lower the bows of Elinor and Merida who were on each side of him.
“Why have you been attacking us?” growled Fergus.
“I haven’t. I was taking a survey of the new dragon nests and found one that had gone missing. I’ve been searching for them for some time.” said Hiccup.
“What are the meaning of these attacks?” asked Fergus.
“I have not been attacking you. I’ve been tracing changes in dragon migrations. The cold has been forcing dragons away from their normal feeding grounds. This winter has been much harsher then normal, and they are going further afield to find food,” said the boy, Hiccup.
“How did you know that they had been here?” asked Fergus.
“I didn’t know. Toothless saw that Gronkle carcass in the field, back there,” Hiccup gestured.
“Why were you looking?” asked Elinor.
“There are a number of dragon nests we have found, but there are more dragons then we have resources to deal with all at once. We're training them as fast as we can.”
“Training them?” Fergus asked aggressively, stepping forward.
“To not attack humans,” explained Hiccup quickly, putting his mittened hands out. He could see that the leader was thinking about using them for war. “They aren’t really all that dangerous. They just want food and to make more dragons, just like everyone else. I was keeping an eye on some nests and found one that had disappeared. I’ve been searching for weeks, looking for the nest or a new feeding ground.”
“Well, you’ve found their new feeding ground, at least,” rumbled Lord MacGuffin sarcastically.
“Well, that’s good, though I am sorry they are feeding off your people. I’m also sorry for scaring you. It looked dark.” Hiccup responded.
“I’m sorry for injuring you and your dragon. It seems like you are trying to do good,” said the brunette woman.
“I am trying. They fed off my people for three hundred years and it isn’t something we would wish on our worst enemies,” said Hiccup.
“You can help stop these attacks?” Fergus asked incredulous.
“I should be able to,” said the teen.
Merida looked to her parents. She thought the teen seemed quite sincere. She could see her Da gazing at the boy, weighing him. Da looked at Mum, who nodded.
“I’m King Fergus, this is Queen Elinor and our daughter Merida. Over there is Lord MacGuffin, whose lands these are. Let’s get inside where we can care for your injuries.”
“Thank you.” The teen turned to his dragon and helped it limp forward, “It’s going to be okay, Toothless.”