The Black Dragon, p.1W. D. Newman / Fantasy / Actions & Adventure
THE BLACK DRAGON
Book Two in the Ben Alderman Series
A Children's Fantasy
W. D. NEWMAN
Copyright © 2012 by William Dale Porter
All rights reserved.
I want to thank Jody Lindke for the cover art for The Black Dragon. Jody is a freelance illustrator based in Los Angeles, CA and is the first woman ever awarded the Charles Schulz Award by Scripps Howard.
I want to thank Barbara Alsop for proofing my manuscript and making it presentable to the reader. Barbara corrected all of my grammatical errors and misspelled words and that was no small feet feat!
I want to thank my beautiful wife and my two wonderful sons for their patience and support while I wrote this story.
I want to thank YOU, the reader, for downloading this story and going on this adventure with me.
Thank you for purchasing The Black Dragon. This story is book two in the Ben Alderman series. If you have not read the first book, The Thirteenth Unicorn, I encourage you to download it and read it first (the e-book version is free). If you enjoy the first two books, and want to continue the adventure, the last book in this series is The Final Prophecy and it’s available for $1.99. That’s three full-length novels (e-books) for less than three bucks!
All of these stories are fantasy and adventure tales for children. However, they are fun and fast paced reads for adults too. Whether you are nine years old or ninety, I hope that you enjoy them.
1 Let Sleeping Dragons Lie
2 Cave In
4 Over the River and Through the Woods
5 No Way No How
6 Thin Ice
8 Unexpected Meetings
9 Plan B
10 Stubborn Grandkids
11 Mudcrawlers, Holediggers, and Stonebreakers
12 Braving the Blizzard
13 Mueller Mudcrawler
14 A Narrow Escape
15 Head’em Off at the Pass
16 Harry and Bobo
17 Through the Tunnel
18 The Naming
20 The Challenge
21 Gnome Bones
23 A Fallen Leaf
25 The Oracle of Gazafar
26 Difficult Decisions
27 Final Preparations
28 Red Dawn
29 The Greatest Sacrifice
30 Planning a Party
31 Christmas at Castle Twilight
32 Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells
33 Deja Vu
Books in this Series
A Note to the Reader
About the Author
CRAG, 14 A.E (AFTER EVACUATION)
The evening sky burned a bright mix of oranges and pale blues as the sun set behind the Fiery Mountains of Crag. Merlin paused as the last dwarf filed through the tree. Since the beginning of time, dragons had ruled this world, forcing the dwarves to live deep underground in homes carved from the stone foundations of the mountains above them. And then the wizards came and offered them a chance for a new start in a new world with no dragons. The wizards called this new world Camelot and in this new world there were majestic mountains with deep veins of precious metals and vast caverns of sparkling jewels. There were ice cold rushing rivers, rolling meadows, and sprawling forests. But most importantly, there were no dragons. Merlin scanned the horizon, hoping to catch a glimpse of one these creatures. In a few moments his patience was rewarded as a large gold dragon sprang from a mountain top to begin its nightly hunt. The dragon climbed higher and higher until at last the light from the setting sun caught the creatures golden scales and transformed it into a brilliant comet shooting across the evening sky. Merlin shook his head in amazement and then followed the last dwarf through the tree.
The small black creature hiding in the shadows watched in fascination as the dwarves and wizard disappeared through the hole in the trunk of the funny looking tree. It was not safe here. It certainly would not be safe to follow the dwarves either, because they would hack at him with their cruel axes if they found him. However, curiosity finally overcame the infant dragon and he slowly crept from the shadows toward the tree. Why should he be afraid anyway? Black dragons were the most feared creatures on Crag and he was Zoltan, son of Zog the Terrible. He stretched out his long thin neck and sniffed at the tree. Thin tendrils of smoke curled up from his nostrils. He was not making fire yet, but it would not be long. Cautiously, he stretched a taloned claw toward the opening and watched in fascination as his arm disappeared through the tree. He pulled his arm out and examined it. Everything was intact. Nothing was harmed. He inched closer and poked his head through the opening in the tree. His barbed tail twitched back and forth like the tail of a cat that is watching a mouse. Then, suddenly, he bolted through the tree and disappeared from Crag forever.
Back on Camelot, the entire dwarven nation was assembled on a meadow that stretched to both horizons. Zoltan quickly darted away from the gathering and hid in the deeper grasses along the outskirts of the encampment. Three wizards were approaching the tree that linked this strange and exciting new world to Crag. The wizard in the lead was the one he had followed here through the tree.
“Merlin, are you certain we must do this?” Doran asked.
“Must we do this? Must we do this?" the old wizard mocked. Suddenly he spun around and pushed the floppy gray hat back on top of his head. Immediately the hat began to slide back down over his eyes. "Absolutely, without a doubt!" he answered, throwing his arms up in the air and shaking his fists. "The tree is not large enough for an adult dragon to pass through, oh no. It is not even large enough for an adolescent." Merlin paused and looked around as if checking for spying eyes. Zoltan shrank back behind deeper grasses, but stayed within earshot. Merlin then motioned for Doran and Nespar to come closer. When they were standing right in front of him, he began to whisper so low that they had to lean in to hear him.
"But a very young dragon could pass through easily, yes a very young one, and if one ever got through undetected and managed to grow to adulthood then… BAM!”
Doran and Nespar jumped.
“I wish he would not do that,” Nespar scowled.
Doran only sighed as Merlin adjusted his hat and continued.
“We would have a very serious problem on our hands. Very serious indeed, yes indeed.”
“But what are the odds of that ever happening?”
“Very serious,” Merlin muttered, scratching absently at his dirty gray beard.
“Merlin,” Nespar shouted. “What are the odds of that ever happening?”
Merlin looked up at Nespar and the floppy gray hat slid down over his eyes again. “It does not matter what the odds are. It is a possibility, yes? Yes, it is a possibility. One that must be dealt with.” He pointed his staff at the tree behind him. “What if a mating pair of dragons came through undetected?” He paused to let those words sink in and then continued, “What if a mating pair of blacks came through?”
The color drained from Nespar’s face and Doran sighed yet again, “I guess you are right.”
“I’m right, I’m right, of course I’m right” Merlin cackled.
“Carry on then,” Doran answered.
Merlin turned and faced the tree. He planted his staff into the ground in front of him and began to chant. At once the tree began to tremble, faintly at first and then more vigorously as the chant progressed. Soon, the tree began to shake and Merlin started rapping his staff upon the ground in rhythm to his chant. Buds appeared on the two short limbs and they began to flower and leaf. The leaves turned crimson, then brown, and then fell to grown. Merlin's chant became rapid and the seasons flew past in a blur of greens, reds, and browns. The hole in the tree's trunk began to close and the tree began to shrink, slowly at first and then faster and faster. Soon, the old tree was transformed into a slender young sapling. Doran and Nespar watched in fascination as the young tree continued to disappear before them, much like a melting candle. When a single green sprout was all that remained, Merlin struck the ground with his staff and the sprout vanished into the rich black soil of Camelot. The Crag tree was gone.
Zoltan stared at the spot where the tree had once stood. It suddenly dawned on him that he was stranded here in this strange new world and completely cut off from his kindred back on Crag. He considered the implications of his situation; he was the only dragon on Camelot. He turned that thought over and over in his head. HE WAS THE ONLY DRAGON ON CAMELOT. Why, in a few years he could rule this world! No one would be able to stop him. No one except for the old one named Merlin. Zoltan was still an infant, but he could sense the power in that one. He would have to deal with him later, but not now. Now, he needed to escape unnoticed. Now, he needed to learn more about this exciting new world, but he would be back. Oh yes, he would definitely be back. Once more his tail began to twitch and he could feel the fire growing in his belly. A small puff of smoke escaped his nostrils as he turned and crept away.
CAMELOT, 20 A.E. (AFTER EVACUATION)
It had been almost a year since the treachery of Mordred. Merlin wanted to leave Camelot and spend his remaining days on Earth, but something held him here. Some unfinished task that he was unable to discern lingered along the misty edges of his thoughts. It was always there and had been since the destruction of the Crag tree. He rolled his staff between his palms and admired the green jewel affixed to the top. The jewel came from Earth where it was known as an emerald. In that world it held great value and one this size would provide him with enough wealth to live out the remainder of his days on Earth in comfort. But here in Camelot there were no emeralds to be found and Merlin soon discovered that ones brought over from Earth had magical properties here in this world. He called them spell catchers, for they would catch any spell cast at somebody who was wearing one. They could also be used to maintain spells for an indefinite period of time and, in some cases, focus and increase the power of a spell that was being cast. As he reflected on the magical properties of the spell catcher, the warm afternoon sunshine streaming through his open window and the soft birdsongs of spring outside in his garden, lulled him into a troubled sleep, where he dreamt of fires and brimstones.
Sometime later, a loud knock at his door startled him awake. The house was dark now and in his chair by the window he could see the stars shining brightly in the clear night sky. Once again, someone knocked loudly on his door. Merlin muttered something under his breath and a small white orb appeared over his shoulder. The orb followed him to the fireplace, where he retrieved a small stick from the ashes and gently blew on it until it flamed. Again came the pounding at his door. This was it, he thought. Whatever task remained before him; tonight was the night. He could feel it in his bones just as surely as he could feel the heat from the flaming stick he held between his fingers. With shaking hands he lit the lantern on the mantle and tossed the stick back onto the hearth. As he trimmed the lantern, he spoke a command and the orb over his shoulder vanished. There was more frantic pounding on his door and then someone began calling to him.
"I'm coming, I'm coming, blast you, quit beating upon my door or I shall beat upon your head with my staff!" the wizard yelled. He pulled the latch and flung the door open to find Garrick standing on his porch. His pulse quickened. Garrick was brother to Marcus; the elfin mage known as The Keeper. Marcus governed the elves that lived in the Forbidden City, deep in the heart of the Twilight. Only the gravest circumstances would bring the Keeper to send his own brother to Merlin's doorstep.
"Garrick?" Merlin prompted, "What is the meaning of this?"
"Merlin, you must come at once. The Twilight is under attack."
"Attack? Who in Camelot could possibly assail your forest?"
"It is a dragon, Merlin; a black dragon."
Merlin felt his strength leave him and his heart thudded loudly in his chest. He leaned heavily upon his staff to steady himself. Garrick placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed.
"I have a horse for you. We must leave at once. If we tarry, I fear the Twilight will be lost."
"Yes, of course," Merlin answered. He snatched his hat and cloak from the peg by the door and followed the elf out into the night. As Garrick helped him up onto the back of one of the big black horses the elves favored, Merlin realized that he didn't close the door behind him. While the elf mounted his horse, the wizard looked one last time at the small stone cottage that he had called his home here on Camelot. Somehow, he knew that he would not be returning.
The horses flew like dark arrows across the fields, shooting straight for the Twilight. No one could ride an elfin horse unless the horse permitted it. Also, no one could fall from an elfin horse when riding one and that was a good thing too, because poor Merlin was no horseman. Before long, they crested a hill and there in the distance, beyond the next ridge, an eerie orange glow illuminated the night sky. Garrick called to the horses and the great animals, though strained to their limits, reached deep and found the strength to accelerate to such a speed that even Garrick was surprised. With this last burst of speed, the Twilight loomed before them in minutes and the mysterious trees raised their branches and pulled back their roots to grant them passage. The horses thundered through the smoke filled forest. The roar of a mighty fire filled the night and when they emerged from the trees onto the fields, in the midst of the Twilight, they found the Forbidden City in flames.
"Where is everyone?" Merlin shouted.
Garrick drew his horse up and hopped off. He helped Merlin down from his mount and sent the horses back into the forest away from the fires.
"Everyone has evacuated the Twilight and returned to Faerie. Marcus waits for us in the center tent. That is where we are going now."
Merlin followed Garrick through the flames. Every tent in the Forbidden City had been torched. The larger tents were still burning, but the smaller ones had been reduced to smoldering piles of ash. They passed down blackened avenues that were once lined with brightly colored tents and paved with soft grasses. They passed by charred earth where, just yesterday, bluebells and windflowers were blooming in fields of brilliant blues and whites. They made their way to the center of the city, where a small brown unadorned tent still stood among the ruins.
"How is it the center tent is not destroyed?" Merlin asked.
"When the dragon began the attack upon the city, Marcus placed an enchantment on the center tent to hide it and protect it from the flames. It could not withstand a direct attack though. Come, let us talk inside where we cannot be seen," said Garrick, holding the tent door open.
Merlin stepped into the tent and Garrick followed behind him. The center tent always amazed him. From the outside, it looked only large enough to accommodate six people comfortably. But when you stepped through the door, it was like stepping into some vast underground cavern. Behind them, the tent wall disappeared into the darkness on either side of the door and the ceiling was lost in the dim heights above them as well. The Faerie tree was inside this center tent somewhere. Merlin did not know exactly where because the tree was in a different location within the tent every time he visited Faerie. Sometimes, he only had to walk for ten or fifteen minutes to reach the tree. Other times, he walked for a couple of hours to reach it. He had never walked to the other side of the tent, though, and he wasn't even sure if that was possible. Right now they were going to the council area, just over the next hill. At least that spot always stayed in the same place. As they approached the council area, a tall hooded figure seated beside a small fire rose quickly and hurried to meet them.
"Marcus," Garrick greeted his brother with a quick embrace. "I have brought him, as you have asked. What news of the dragon?"
"The dragon has departed, but not before destroying a large portion of our forest," the Keeper answered. "The burned trees have been removed and the forest is repositioning to close up the gaps. It is fortunate for us that not many were within the Twilight at the time of attack. All were able to evacuate safely, before Zoltan discovered the city."
"Zoltan?" asked Merlin. "The dragon's name is Zoltan? How did you come by his name?"
"I have spoken with him. He is a son of Zog the Terrible. He was an infant when he followed you through the Merlin tree from Crag, before you destroyed it. Once on Camelot, he fled north to the Wild Lands to mature and grow into adulthood. He is now powerful and wicked beyond belief."
"A son of Zog," Merlin muttered, while staring into the fire. "It couldn't get much worse than that."
"Old friend," Marcus answered, with a sad smile, "I'm afraid it does. Zoltan is searching for you."
Merlin looked up from the fire with a puzzled expression on his face. His battered hat, cocked at a precarious angle on top of his head, almost made him look comical. But those glittering black eyes told another story.
"And why does Zoltan seek me?" he asked.
"He did not say," Marcus answered, "but I suspect he means to put an end to you. I could sense fear in his voice when he spoke of you, but there was excitement too. I think he perceives you as the only thing in Camelot that could threaten his rule here. I think he has grown in strength, courage, and pride to the point that he believes he can safely challenge you and win."
"And where is he now?"
"He has left here for the Black Hills. He will wait there three days and if you do not appear before him, he will come back and destroy the Twilight. He is heavily armored, Merlin. Our arrows and spears found no purchase on his hide and his magic is too strong for us to penetrate with our own. If you cannot defeat him, then we will be forced to abandon Camelot forever and return to Faerie."
"Then let me rest tonight," Merlin sighed. "Let me spend what may be my last night in the quiet forests on Faerie and then tomorrow morning we will begin our journey to the Black Hills."
Marcus nodded and took his old friend by the arm. The Faerie tree was within a stone's throw, just over the next hill. Merlin thanked the Gods for small blessings as he followed Marcus and Garrick through the tree.
The next morning, when Merlin returned to Camelot, Garrick had two fresh horses waiting for them. As he rubbed his backside, Merlin grimaced at the thought of the long ride ahead of him. At least they would not be hurried. They could travel at a nice leisurely pace and reach the Black Hills by late afternoon. Once more, Garrick helped him mount his horse. When Merlin was seated comfortably, the elf handed the wizard his staff and then leapt nimbly onto the back of his own horse. Nearby them, the strange looking trees of the Twilight raised their branches and pulled back their large sandy roots to reveal a road leading out of the enchanted forest. Garrick led his horse into the trees and Merlin nervously kept watch over his shoulder as the trees silently moved back into place, closing the path behind them.
The Black Hills were a small orphan range of the Iron Bone Mountains. There were two ways to approach the Hills. The most direct path was straight across the open fields. The other, more indirect, path was to skirt the foothills of the Iron Bones and approach through the many hills and ravines that linked the two ranges. Time did not permit the latter and although crossing the open fields in broad daylight was taxing on their nerves, they made it to the Hills without incidence. Once inside the Hills, they found a dense copse of red alders and led the horses into the thicket to hide.
"You stay here with the horses," Merlin whispered. "There is nothing you can do that would help me."
Garrick started to protest, but Merlin held up his hand for silence.
"If you accompany me, I will have to watch over you and will not be able to focus my full attention on Zoltan. Stay here. If I do not return, then flee to the Twilight and abandon this world until someone stronger than I can vanquish this dragon."
Garrick nodded and quickly embraced the old wizard.
"Gods save us all from dragons and sappy elves," Merlin muttered.
Garrick smiled as Merlin adjusted his battered hat. With his staff in one hand, the wizard hitched up his robes with his other hand and strode forth in search of the dragon. He decided to make for the highest peak and if Zoltan could not be found there, then perhaps he could summon him. After not more than an hour of hiking, still far from his destination, a deep rumbling voice with a musical lilt startled him and sent him sprawling to the ground.
"So, this is the great Merlin?"
The wizard picked himself up and dusted his robes off, then pushed his hat back so that he could see. Perched on a ledge just above him, basking in the warm sunshine, was Zoltan. Merlin despaired. Zoltan was the largest dragon he had ever seen. He was even larger than his sire, Zog the Terrible. Zoltan's downfall, however, was his ego. Unchallenged, and in his prime, he felt that he was totally indestructible and that this clumsy old man could not possibly harm him now. He was caught off guard when Merlin, with astonishing speed, pointed his staff and cast his spell. The emerald on the end of the wizard's staff flashed a brilliant green, temporarily blinding Zoltan. The dragon started to rise but felt his limbs grow heavy. His black scales began to turn gray and with a crash he fell back to the ground and lay lifeless on the ridge. Puzzled, Merlin tied his robes up into a knot at his waist and climbed to the top of the ridge to examine the dragon. The spell he cast was a sleep spell. He was hoping to put the dragon to sleep. Once asleep the elves could pry off some of the scaly armor protecting the creature's heart and end his life quickly. The dragon laying before him now was solid stone.
"It's a defense mechanism"
Merlin turned around to find Garrick standing at the bottom of the ridge.
"I thought I told you to stay behind. Do you understand what has happened here?"
"You cast a sleep spell, did you not?"
"Yes, yes, what of it?"
"Dragons," Garrick answered, nodding toward Zoltan, "turn to stone when they are sleeping. It is how they protect themselves from other dragons back on Crag. How long will the spell last?"
"Indefinitely," Merlin answered, turning back to examine the dragon. "I used the spell catcher to cast it. Can this stone be broken?"
Garrick was suddenly by his side. "The dragon cannot be harmed in this state. He will have to be wakened before we can kill him."
"I will not wake him," said Merlin. "I caught him off guard. If he wakens, it will not happen again. Well, that is that, my friend. We are finished here. There is nothing more that we can do. The spell is bound within the spell catcher. Come, help me down and let's find a place to hide my staff."
Garrick helped the wizard back down to the ground and after a brief search they found a small opening in the rocks at the base of the ridge. The elf and wizard squeezed through this opening and discovered a large chamber within the rocks and directly below the sleeping dragon.
"This shall have to do," said Merlin.
"Would it not be safer to take the stone to the Twilight and guard it? Perhaps even to Faerie?"
"No, no, heavens no! Zoltan is very powerful. I fear that if the spell catcher were moved too far away, he might be able to overcome the spell. We must leave it here."
"But someone may find it one day and if the spell catcher touches the ground the spell will be released."
"That is a possibility," Merlin answered, "but I have no better solution to offer." The wizard wedged the staff into a crack in the stone floor and spoke a command. The crack in the floor closed tightly around the staff and anchored it firmly in place.
Satisfied with the arrangement, the two companions crawled back outside and then piled rocks in front of the opening to hide it from passersby. Once sure that the staff was well hidden, they returned to the copse of alders to pass the night. The burden was lifted, the task complete. He was free to go now. Merlin slept soundly that night, his last night in Camelot.