Once Upon A Time...

Reads: 520  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 3

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

A short story about a Prince, the fourth son of a King, and his rite of passage.

Once upon a time...

That's how all the old stories start, isn't it? Well, this story isn't really like those. 

This is the tale of Prince Jasper Grosvenor, the fourth son of King Nicolas Grosvenor IV...

 

"Jasper, time to get up!" came a soft voice from outside his room. He groaned to himself, and pushed his large, goose-down blanket from his face. Sunlight was already streaming through the window, making it clear the sun was full up. He'd managed to sleep in today and that brought a small smile to his lips.

"Jasper!" came the voice again, a bit more insistant this time. It was his mother, Queen Helena, he realized as his wits came back to him. He knew if he didn't answer quickly she would enter the room to rouse him, and upon seeing the state of the place would give him quite a talking to. Princes were supposed to tidy, she would say to him. How else would he hope to one day keep a Queen happy? 

"I'm up mother. I'll be down stairs soon." He called back in the most positive voice he could muster. He got to his feet as he heard his mother walk down the hall and knock on his brothers door. "Good, I'm not the only one sleeping in", he thought to himself. He walked over to the large window across the room from the door, gingerly stepping over piles of clothes and rolls of parchment along the way. He gazed out across the forrested valley his father ruled, drinking in the sunlight and birdsong.

As he looked down at the small town below their humble keep, he noticed that this morning it was festooned with banners and pennants. The town square was adorned in flowers, and even the Shaman's temple had brightly colored cords wrapped around the Great Tree that grew from its center. "Well, isn't that unusual" Jasper thought to himself. Something tickled the back of his mind. "Wait" he thought, the gears of his mind truly beginning to churn as the last whisps of sleep left him. 

"Oh no... It's my birthday" he whispered aloud. Any other year this would be a very joyous occasion. A grand festival would be held, and the whole town would join in. There would be games and drink, and at the end of the day a great feast in the center of town. This year was special for Jasper though, it was more. It was his 18th birthday and that meant that his rite of passage had finally come. 

 

The Kingdom of Barad wan't all that old, only a half dozen generations. It was founded when a legendary Prince Hunter by the name of Armenius Grosvenor hiked through a long abandoned valley, climbed the slopes of a mountain, and slew a great dragon in an old keep, high upon the mountain. Upon hearing of his mighty deed the far-off Emperor Islanius Markus Regalius gifted the valley to Armenius and his family for all time. With the wealth the dragon had hoarded the mighty Armenius built a new keep low down the valley several miles from the slopes of that very mountain, with a sweeping view of the valley that was now his home. He named his newly formed Kingdom Barad after a legendary land of plenty.

Villagers came from neighboring kingdoms to populate his new village. The combination of the prowess and fame of their king, and lush, untouched forest, brought great prosperity to the people of Barad. Even still, the Kings of Barad believed in humility and self reliance so much so that they didn't even employ servants. From the time of Armenius onward it was tradition that all sons of each King of Barad, upon their 18th birthday, would go on a hunt into the wilderness and bring back a game animal which would become their personal sigil. It was believed that what the Prince returned with would then define the Prince, and the type of man he was to become. And so it had been, for generations.

 

As Jasper pulled out his chair to sit at the table in the great hall his father entered the room. Nicolas was an imposing man. Standing over six feet tall, he was a wall of muscle and sinew with a long beard and icy blue eyes. Jasper knew that foreign traders and nobility saw his father as practically terrifying. Jasper was never fooled though, he could plainly see the deep laugh lines worn into his fathers face from frequent usage. His father wasn't grinning this morning though. Instead, he wore a look of concern. 

After only a moment of looking at his fathers great frame, he looked down at himself as he usually did. Ever since his youth, Jasper had been a smart but skinny boy. He never really fit in with his family and village of hunters, trappers, and soldiers. It was ok though, he fit the only role tradition could have chosen for him. As was the standard throughout the Empire, the first born son would be King after his father passed, and his heroic brother Lawrence fit that to perfectly. Tall and statuesque, Lawrence had brought home a mighty elk on his hunt, only further confirming everyone's thoughts that he would make a powerful King one day. 

As he sat down and pulled a biscuit from a basket his second and third brothers entered the room from the opposite side. His second brother, Nathaniel, was leaner and shorter but no less imposing. Nathaniel's obligation to the family would be control of Barad's meager military, and to march to war if the Emperor every called on them. He had brought home a wolf from his hunt. The third brother was named James, and his duty was to play the diplomat. He was thin and as tall as Lawrence. He had come home from his hunt with an eagle. 

Jasper piled a large amount of food on his plate. He'd need all his strength today, which was asking a lot because he didn't have much. His brothers sat down at the table, laughing about some joke James had made, but Jasper hadn't heard. He looked up again at his father and saw behind him the great stuffed bear that stood at the head of the room. That was what his father had brought home, single handedly, from his hunt. As usual Jasper felt the pangs of inadequacy. As the fourth son of a minor King, Jasper didn't have a lot to look forward to. There wasn't much tradition in this regard as having four sons was fairly rare. As such, Jaspers duty would be to uphold the keep. He would spend his days filing paperwork and counting taxes and revenue from hunting and trapping. He felt that this fit him though, as he was not strong or brave or swift like his brothers. 

As his father sat at the table, not saying a word but grabbing some food for himself, Helena and Lawrence entered from the main doors. It seems they'd come in from the market as his mother carried a basket of fresh apples, Jaspers favorite. His mother was a lean, beautiful woman. Jasper felt she looked out of place here, among the forests and rough people. She had all the bearing of a woman from the Imperial Capital. Though she never really talked about it, Jasper knew it had been an arranged marriage for an alliance between King Nicolas and some distant great King. Still, it was obvious the two shared a great love for each other. 

As Lawrence passed Jasper he placed a hand on his younger brothers shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Despite the dramatic differences between Jasper and the rest of his family, he knew there was no lack of respect or love. Out here in the wilds, with dangerous animals, where things lurked in the woods, they all relied on each other. For that, Jasper could not be more grateful. Though he felt like an outsider, he knew this was home, and he knew too that not all odd Prince's shared such lucky fate. 

"Ahem" Nicolas cleared his thoat as everyone was finally seated at the table. "As you all know, today is Jaspers 18th birthday" He continued in his deep, gravelly voice. Helena beamed at him, and he could practically feel the wave of confidence in him she projected.

"As such, after our meal, you will be given provisions and left to hunt what you will" his father said, looking him dead in the eye. "You will have two days to complete your hunt." 

Jasper knew how this worked. He'd been through it three times already with his elder brothers. He knew what his father was up to though, it was meant to be reassurance that he only needed to be out there two days. He had no idea what would happen if he failed to bring anything back. Expectations were not high for him though, and he pondered to himself whether or not it would be acceptable to simply trap a rabbit. It would be fitting after all.

"Nathaniel, make sure to keep the guard by the town gates, in case Jasper needs help bringing in his catch" Nicolas said, turning. Everyone knew that this was not likely to happen, and that the guard was there to protect Jasper, but Nicolas was too kind to shame his son so. 

Nathaniel replied "Of course father" as turned to Jasper and give him a small nod. The gesture, plus the look in his eye, told Jasper what Nathaniel was thinking: "I will not let you come to harm little brother" it said. Jasper almost wish he would. Perhaps he would feel a little more worthy of his family. The rest of the meal carried on with idle chatter.

As the meal wound down, his father stood. "I have another announcement". Helena wore a small smile. "Jasper, I've secured a match for you. She's a princess from the Kingdom of Arkena to the south." Jaspers jaw dropped open. "She's a pretty little lass, and the trade agreements we've secured will help quite a bit. She should arrive before the end of your hunt, so be sure to do your best." The room had fallen into dead silence.

Certainly no one had expected Jasper to be the first to wed. But as the gears in his head churned, he wasn't surprised. His older brothers would be very valulable for marriage and so would only really marry for military alliances or if the rewards were truly great. Jasper was to be wed for a lesser trade pact. He never really expected any different, but had always fancied the idea of meeting a princess as intelligent as himself, falling in love, and having his parents condone the partnership. He shouldn't have been surprised that the reality wasn't so.

"Lets get you ready for your hunt" his father boomed. This seemed to rouse his brothers from their shock as they each began their preparations.

 

Jasper stood in the archway of town gates. He looked behind him at the town. The banners flew bright in the noon sun, snapping in the light wind. Above the keeps main gate he could see the mounted skull of the great dragon his ancestor slew, hanging as it always had. It filled him with courage. There was a crowd around the gate to see him off. The townspeople cheered him on, wishing him luck. He'd been gifted a rabbits foot, three eagle feathers, and a carven stone on his way through the town, to wish him luck. In front of the crowd stood his family. They'd already said their short goodbye's and good lucks. They now stood smiling at him, and he did his best to imprint this on his memory. He gave them all a big wave, to which the crowd cheered, and he stepped through to the wilderness beyond. The gates promptly shut behind him. 

His first choice would be which direction to go. He could head North, into the foothills, but he would quickly get to craggy terrain, which he didn't want to camp on. He could head East, out of the valley, but there would likely not be as much game as the valley widened out to the plains beyond. Or he could head West, toward the mountain. It would be more dangerous, but would have the highest likelyhood of success. Thinking of his family, his pride, and his bride to be, he promptly turned toward the moutain and began his journey.

Once he was deeply ensconced in the tree line, Jasper stopped to review his supplies. Beyond his lucky talismans he had food and water for a few days, camping gear, a small medical kit, and a few snare traps. Strapped to his waist he had a short sword, and strung over his shoulder a hunting bow and quiver of arrows. He wore a dark brown, thin cloak and a green tunic with wide pants, as most traditional hunters wore in his village. As he hunkered down in the ferns and low lying vegitation he would become all but impossible to see. 

He replaced everything in his pack and started following the main hunting trail up towards the mountain. After four hours of trekking he sat down on a large stone slab. The whole area under the mountain was littered with them. Remnants of the kingdom that was once here, long since ravaged by dragons fire and left to ash and overgrowth. He even thought he could see faint gouge marks left by the beasts claws. He leaned back against tree, relaxing a bit after his long walk. He hadn't yet even spotted game, which was a little odd he thought to himself. Perhaps the local animals had learned to stear clear of the hunting path. That must be it he pondered as he lost himself in thought. 

He felt a tremor go through him. "An earthquake?", he asked himself. Something in his gut told him this was not the case, but what else could it be. He heard the cry of birds lifting off from the forest canopy. So there certainly was game about, however shy. He got to his feet and checked his supplies before heading back out on the trail. After a short time the trail began to wind north, into a small dale that Jasper knew the local hunters preferred. Instead of following it, he decided to break out into the wild. He knew this was far more dangerous, but he wished for nothing more than to bring back something his father could be proud of. The King had never let his son feel inadequate, but Jasper knew that deep down, Nicolas must wish for something more from him. How could he not.

 

A few hours later, night began to fall as the sun started to dip beyond the edge of the mountain, casting the valley in deepening shadow. Jasper started to ernestly look for somewhere to bed down for the night. He certainly didn't want to sleep out in the open. Though he's spotted no signs of wolves, he knew they frequented the area, and he wasn't about to become any animals lunch. Within short order he found a large overhang of a stone slab. Possibly some grand arch in an age gone by. As he moved aside the loam that had somewhat crowded the entrance he heard a scrabbling inside. He quickly withdrew his sword, preparing for a mountain lion. Or, Gods forbid, a Goblin like straight out of the old tales. He knew such things still lurked in dark places. 

Out of the hole came shooting a small rabbit. Jasper swung his sword wildly at it, but missed completely. The animal sprinted off into the woods. "I can't even defeat a rabbit." Jasper muttered to himself. He lowered himself down into the cavity as full night fell around him. He lit a small fire to heat some of his rations and watched as the smoke curled up near the ceiling of his tiny cave and slowly slipped beyond its edge into the cooling night air. As he ate, he tried to the think of an actual plan. Game should be more plentiful the closer he got to the mountain, as those areas were hunted less. It was more dangerous, far more prone to wolves and bears, but it was also his greatest chance to prove himself. He resolved to treck as close to the old castle as he dared when he woke, and began to curl up for sleep. 

As he did, somthing pinched his side. He dug around in the earth beneath him and found a small, perfectly round stone disk. He sat up brushing it off and leaned into his dying fire light. Upon the stone was a carving of a crown surrounded in flame. Around the edge of the disk was a beautiful pattern that looked familliar. Jasper pulled out the carven good luck stone he'd been given. It was the same pattern. An old one, used by hunters, though no one was really sure where it came from. This must be it, he thought. It must have come from the old kingdom. He felt this was a clear sign that he was on the right path. and placed the stone back in his pack, and the disk in his shirt pocket.

 

Boom. Crash. Jasper woke with a start. The earth was heaving beneath him in one sharp jerk. In the distance he could hear trees snapping and crashing to the ground. He grabbed his pack and scrabbled out of the hold he was in. By the time he got to his feet, the ground had stilled. He could hear the sound of birds taken flight, they being just as rudely awakend as he was. He peered into the forest, his only light being the stars as his little fire had burned to ashes hours ago. The hackles on the back of his neck rose and he had the sensation of something watching him. It suddenly seemed insane to crawl back into his hole.

He set out in the direction of the crash, looking to at least determine what had happened. I big enough rock slide could potentially cause damage for the town, and he couldn't imagine what else that noise could have been. As dawns light began to peek above the horizon, spilling cold light into the valley, Jasper arrived at the scene of devestation. A small swath of forest had been ripped apart, the earth shattered. This was still inside the forest, it couldn't have been a rock slide, he reasoned to himself. As he began to circle around the newly created clearing, he saw movement at the far western side.

He crept closer, staying just within the treeline, staying out of sight and as quiet as possible. With luck, there would be a large wounded animal for him to claim. As he got closer though, he saw that it was no animal, but a man. The man was moving, but not much. 

"Hello! Are you ok?" Jasper called out as he rushed to the mans side. The man was of medium build with a shock of jet black hair. He was clothed only in loose furs around his waist. Jasper marvelled, the man was tattoo'd head to toe in the style of the ancient barbarians that had long been defeated by the Empire at its founding. The man was badly wounded, bleeding in several locations. One of his arms was torn off at the elbow and he was bleeding badly. Jasper quickly dropped to a knee, slinging his pack from his back. He withdrew his medical kit and quickly began to tie a tournequet around the mans stump of an arm, praying a quick thanks to the Gods that he grew up in a place where common animal attacks made such training neccessary for all youths. 

After binding the wound as tight as he could, and bandaging some of the other more obvious wounds, Jasper set about building a fire. There was plentiful wood around from whatever had happened here, but starting the fire was still difficult due to how green it was. When the fire was going strong, he withdrew his short sword and let it heat upon the coals. When it was good and hot, he used the flat of the blade to cuarterize the mans arm. He then gather together as much fresh resin as he could and sealed the stump. The cool resin would help with pain slightly, but more importantly would help prevent green rot. Jasper then sat by the fire and waited for the man to rouse, periodically giving him small amounts of water.

 

A little into the afternoon the man awoke. He suddenly sat bolt upright staring around him as if expecting attack.

"Hello" said Jasper. "My name is Prince Jasper Grosvenor. May I ask who you are?"

The man stared at him for a few seconds. "Alkurok" he muttered. "I suppose you were the one who saved my life."

"I am." Said Jasper levelly. "How did you come to be in this place? Do you remember what happened to you?"

"Perhaps it would have been better had you not." Said Alkurok, ignoring Jaspers questions.

"You should come back to the keep with me" said Jasper. "There are doctors that could help you."

"No" said the man simply. He tried to rise from the ground, forgetting that he had a missing piece of arm and promptly collapsed. He groaned and lolled his head.

"Here" said Jasper, extending his arm. "We should go while it's still light. By nightfall predators will be coming for you. We should go."

The man looked up at him and Jasper noticed for the first time that the mans eyes were a light shade of red, and the pupils were elongated, almost to being vertical slits. It was unnerving. "Alright" said the man. "But I can't stay long." He accepted Jaspers outstretched hand and was pulled to his feet. 

 

They immediatly set out, Alkurok leaning heavily on Jasper for support. It was slow going and the sun was not far from the mountain when they reached the main gaming trail. They sat to rest and share a meal. Jasper's supplies were quickly running out. He felt bad about returning home without completing his hunt, but knew that upon seeing Alkurok, his family would understand. Perhaps he would be allowed another try. Who could blame him?

"We'll bed down here for the night" said Jasper quietly. "And set out again at first light."

"No!" Alkurok insisted. "I don't want to feel hunted through the night. If possible we should push on."

"Alright, we can do that." This made Jasper very nervous, but he understood the resoning. Something about Alkurok was making him feel very ill at ease. The man looked only in his late thirties - early forties, but something about him felt much older. Also, every time Alkurok looked at him, he couldn't help feeling like he was being sized up by a predator. Still, he'd committed to helping the man, and Alkurok had done nothing wrong yet. Jasper chalked his feelings up his worry about the hunt, and his upcoming nuptuals to a woman he'd never met. 

As soon as they were done eating, they set out again. The journey was much easier now that they were on the trail, but the going was still slower than either of them would have liked. Shortly, the sun began to set behind the mountain, casting their shadows long down the trail and throwing the forest into twilight. 

Before long, full dark had fallen. Jasper offered Alkurok his cloak, but the man refused. He was used to the cold of the night air he said. As they travelled along, Jasper once again got the feeling of being watched. He kept thinking he was seeing shapes moving in the dark. His instincs made him wary that a wolf pack was hunting them. Waiting on the edge of the forest for any sign that they should attack. 

Jasper checked and rechecked that his sword was at the ready as the minutes rolled into hours and still no attack came. He began to grow paranoid as he swore he could hear a loud droning sound from far above him. It reminded him of the great swarms of insects over the lakes at the edge of the plains during the summer. The kind of buzzing that was constant, that you could feel in your bones. Except this one kept getting louder then quieter like the swarm was coming and going. Jasper decided to himself that the whole forest had gone completely mad. 

The walked on for hours like this. Alkurok leaning against Jasper for support. Neither of them so much as whispering a word for fear of it attracting the attention of something lurking in the dark. Then, deep in the dead of night, is when Jasper first heard it. A deep throaty growl. Like a beast of massive size. Jasper stopped dead, and look at Alkurok. The color had drained from the mans face, and he slowly turned to look back at Jasper.

"We must hurry" Alkurok whispered. Jasper nodded in response. They began to shuffle faster, making their way through the twists and turns of the trail. It was tough going, it was a natural trail and they had only moonlight to guide them. After some time the growl came again, off from a different direction this time. Jasper pictured in his mind the sheer size the animal must be. It has to be a bear he reasoned. But how had it moved around the woods so stealthily he asked himself. 

The third time the growl came they decided to pick up the pace. It seemed closer this time, though off to a different side again. Somewhere behind them. There was still no sign of the animal that was making the noise, but they did not let that deter them from hurrying. The both of them were practically jogging at this point, and Jasper was beginning to tire. He had gone on hunts before, but none that required this much prolonged journeying.

When the fourth growl sounded it was almost on top of them. "How could this be?"" Jasper wondered to himself. He decided he didn't care much at this point. Alkurok and Jasper began to run. The older man was clearly being run ragged, but his will to survive was strong enough it seemed. Jasper himself was gasping for breath. As they rounded a corner in the path, Jasper noticed three things at once. Firstly was the light of dawn was just beginning to touch the horizon. Second was the faint lights of the Barad township. Third was a great big green eye, suspended way up in the air. It was hard to tell just how big or how far away it was, but it seemed impossible to Jasper. After a brief moment the eye began to move, sweeping down at them. The sound of the buzzing and wind boomed above them as whatever it was passed overhead. It practically knocked Jasper to the ground. 

As dawns pale light crept back into the world Jasper marvelled at what had just happend. "Was that a dragon?" He asked Alkurok in wonderment. He turned to look at the man, and noticed he was on the ground, breathing shallowly. Jasper rushed to his side and noticed that the run and re-opened some of the mans wounds. "Hang on" Jasper said. He hoisted Alkurok to his feet and slung the man over his back. He was surprised at how heavy the man was. Still, he was flushed with adrenaline though, and managed to bear the weight. 

Jasper made his way as quickly as he could to the town. He felt every breath and every step as if they took an age. He'd never worked so hard in his life. As he approached the town, Alkurok whispered faintly in his ear, "I'm not going to make it boy."

"Don't say that" Jasper replied. "We're amost there. They'll see us soon." 

"This is the end of my journey boy. Such a pity, so much left undone." Alkurok sounded delirious. Jasper could feel the mans blood running down his back and leg. 

As they approached the wall, the sound of a horn split the air. "Oh thank the Gods" Jasper proclaimed. Just then he stumbled and collapsed, Alkurok rolling from his shoulders. The older man looked up at Jasper with half lidded eyes. 

"Thank you" he said. As his head dipped he stopped, staring at the ground between them. There, Jasper noticed, lay the small stone disk he had found the night before. "I see" said Alkurok, seemingly to the stone. He looked back at Jasper and said "I'm sorry, boy."

"You have nothing to be sorry for" Jasper said. Alkurok reached out a hand and touched Jasper, placing his palm flat over Jaspers chest. He closed his eyes, then his hand clenched, digging his fingers into Jaspers chest. Pain shot through Jasper, his every vein felt on fire. He thought all his bones must surely be breaking. Then, after a moment, it was all over. The mans hand fell away limply. As Jasper lost consciousness, the last thing he saw was the towns soldiers rushing to him, his brother Nathaniel in the lead.

 

Jasper awoke. Pain filled his every sensation. He swore he could smell pain. As his eyes opened, he found he was in his own bed. Light was pouring through the window and he could hear birdsong outside. As his faculties came back to him, the pain faded, and he began to inspect himself. A few scratches and bruises, but nothing major. Thoughts of his flight through the forest came back to him. He'd had no game to bring back, and he was pretty sure Alkurok hadn't made it alive. Nothing to show for his rite of passage. A dissappointment as always.

He looked around the room. It had been tidied. Likely his mothers work. He felt like a child. His parchments of maps and old tales and legends had been neatly stacked away on his desk. His piles of clothes had been put away. Fresh linens were on his bed. He wasn't sure it was possible to feel worse.

Just then his door opened. In came Helena, looking a little worn. As she noticed that Jasper was sitting up she immediately brightened. "You're ok!" She exclaimed in joy as she rushed over and wrapped him in a hug. 

"How long have I been asleep?" He asked.

"Four days" she replied solemnly. "We were afraid the fever would take you. Rest now, the worst has passed."

As she withdrew, Jasper lay back and quickly drifted off to sleep. He dreamed of fire. Everything aflame. In his dream he walked out of his keep as it burned behind him and the whole town was already aflame. He could not explain his calm, but he did not try. He felt as if he was in the center of a great storm. There in the center of the town he saw a young woman. She was slender, but strong. She stood tall and confident, her long blonde hair cascading past her shoulders. Her deep blue eyes were boring into his, and she wore a look of concern upon her face. Jasper knew that she was concerned for him, and she didn't even seem to notice the firestorm raging around her. Something large swooped above him, and as he looked up, there, in the black roiling smoke was the eye again. For a second that felt like a day they stared at each other, then he awoke. 

His dream dissipated quickly as he opened his eyes. he immediately felt hunger and weakness. As he rose, he looked to the window to see that the sun was beginning to set. Perfect timing for dinner he thought. He quickly changed from his sleeping robe to a set of comfortable every day clothes. Well, every day for a Prince that is. He headed down stairs to the great hall as his family was just sitting down to eat. To his fathers left sat his mother, as usual. Today however, to his right sat not his eldest brother, as was usual, but instead was the woman from his dream. She was dressed regally in a green and purple dress. Next to her was an empty seat.

His mother rose from her seat, gesturing to the empty chair. "Jasper" she said, a small smile on her lips, "I'm glad you're feeling well enough to join us. We would like you to meet Princess Celyn of Arkena."

Celyn stood and faced Jasper with a shy smile on her face, and gave him a deep cursty. Jasper could feel his face flushing. He'd anticipated being a bit more composed about this, but upon actually seeing her he was struck dumb. He was concerned that he was about to make a fool of himself, when suddenly he was wracked with pain. His back arched as he felt fire spread along his spine. He collapsed to the ground writhing. Before he knew it he was gathered up in his fathers arms. He may be an adult now, but he couldn't deny it was comforting. Within moments, he was in blackness again.

 

As he awoke once more it was full dark. He glanced around the room. On his bedside table sat a cold meat roll and an apple. Certainly from his mother. Seated next to the bedside table was Celyn. She was fast asleep, resting against the high back of the chair. On her lap sat a copy of A History of The Regalius Empire. His eyes momentarily traced the Crown And Spear sigil on the cover. For a brief moment he thought it was his copy, based on how worn it was, but a quick glance at his desk showed that it appeared to be hers. A smile spread across his face, perhaps this would be lucky match after all. He was about to wake her when he felt an overwhelming compulsion not to. Suddenly he didn't quite feel like he was acting under his own power. 

He grabbed the roll and apple and slowly, quietly made his way toward the keep entrance. By the time he was outside, he had finished the roll, and was was on the last bites of his apple. As he passed the night guard he waved to them. They smiled back at him, seemingly genuinly happy to see their young lord up and about. "Are you alright m'lord. Do you need anything?" One of them asked. "I'm fine, just taking the night air" he responded as he walked past out to towards the town proper. Before he knew it, he was turning towards the town gates. Before he got that far however, he felt his own willpower returning to him. He was in a small path around the side of the village where there was a bench under an old oak tree. 

He sat down on the bench, wrapping his arms around himself for warmth. As he did so, he felt somthing unusual on his sides. He lifted his night shirt to find that the skin of his entire midsection was rough, almost scaly. His flesh was also festooned with dark marks that he couldn't make out in wan moonlight. 

"Are you OK?" Jasper heard Celyn say. He looked up, dropping his shirt at the same time. She was there, having just come around the path. "Do you want some company?"

"I'm alright" he said. "And I'd love some."

She walked over to the bench, taking a seat next to him. To Jasper she seemed reserved, but not shy, and with a strong air of confidence. She was quiet for a moment, Jasper could feel the tension. "I thought you would be different" she said after a while. "When my father announced that he had found a suitor for me from your kingdom, I immediately read up on your history. Generations of hunters. You all seemed not far removed from the wild men. I was furious and had a huge argument with my father. I thought I would have to live in a ragged hole, butchering animals for the rest of my life. We need the trade to survive though, so I gave in." She turned to face him and smiled. 

Jasper had no idea how to feel. He felt almost insulted, but at the same time, he felt totally mesmerized. "What do you think now?" he asked.

"Like I was completely wrong!" She laughed. He almost melted. "Your father is kind and welcoming. Your mother is strong. Your brothers are noble. And you... You have the biggest collection of maps and tales I've ever seen." She was grinning now, and seemed positively giddy.

Jasper felt instantly more comfortable. This was a subject he could go on about for days, if given the opportunity. And here was the opportunity. "Well, I have maps from every era of the Empire, and even a few from before it if you believe that. And if you like those, I've also got several tomes of legends from the first era." Once he began, the only thing that stopped him talking is when she would go on about her own collection. 

 

Jasper and Celyn entered the great hall hand in hand just as Helena was bustling through. She stopped mid stride and looked at the pair, the full dawn light streaming in behind them. A huge grin split Helena's face. "There you two are. I was worried when I found your bed empty when I came to check on you this morning. I see Celyn had you in good care."

"I'm feeling much better, thank you" Jasper said, blushing deeply. He took Celyn by the hand and they entered into the great hall to join the rest of his family for breakfast. 

"Father, did Alkurok survive?" Jasper asked Nicolas as he sat at the table. 

"Was that the man you had with you?" Celyn asked.

Jasper nodded and turned back towards his father. Nicolas slowly shook his head no. "The man had passed by the time Nicolas recovered you. Did you know anythign about him? I'm not sure how such an old man survived out there in any case."

"Old?" Jasper asked, confused. "He seemed not older than forty years. However, no, I didn't know him. He didn't talk much. I found him wounded in the woods. There was a great crash and a clearing had been opened in the forest. It was there I found him, near the foothills leading to the old castle. I bound his wounds as best I could and helped him down the trail. He seemed very unusual to me, and his tattoos were very odd. Still, I'm glad that he was strong enough to walk despite the arm."

"Certainly the fever must have already been taking you." Lawrence cut in, his brow furrowed in confusion. "The old man, Alkurok you said? He was frail, and had no tattoos. We would show you his body, but it's already been gifted back to the Gods in flame. It seems you almost saved his life though. Why were you running from the forest?"

"We were being hunted. I'm not sure what it was, or even if there was only one. As soon as night fell things began to move in the forest. There was a loud buzzing sound, and a growling like I've never heard before." Celyn slipped her hand into his beneath the table as he continued. "Perhaps it was a fever, but as we began to clear the forest I saw a great eye up in the sky. As dawn broke though, it was gone."

Nicolas had grown quiet and still as Jasper told his tale. "Rest up my son. You gave up your rite to perform a good deed. You tried to save the life of another, and for that I am proud. When you are fully recovered you may try again. As for your betrothal to Lady Celyn, you will have a ceremony after your rite is complete." He smiled then and placed a large, calloused hand on Jaspers shoulder. "I'm glad you two already seem to be finding comfort and strength in each other. I feel this union will be good for all."

Jasper was elated by the news of a second try at his rite, and more than a little embarrased by his father's forthrightness. The rest of the meal went well, as they all talked about the days activities and the upcoming festivities for Jaspers rite. Even Celyn joined in with some anecdotes from her home town. 

After the meal Celyn offered to help Helena clean up, affording Jasper a few moments to himself. He retired to his room, and immediatly pulled up his shirt. The scaly skin around his midsection had spread to his whole torso. The marks he could barely see in the dim moonlight were completely visible in the strong sunlight. It was the tattoos from Alkurok. 

"What's happening to me? What did he do to me?" Jasper muttered to himself. 

Suddenly there was a knock. "Hey, you alright in there?" James' said through the door. 

"Yeah, I'm fine!" Jasper called back, a little shakily as he let his shirt drop back into place. James came through the door anyway.

"You sure, little brother?" James asked in a concerned tone. "You don't seem yourself. I'm not surprised with all that's happened."

"It's all been a bit much" Jasper responded. "But yeah, I think I'm OK."

"Well, maybe you should take a walk and clear your head. Seems like things wont be calming down for a while" James laughed.

"I think I'll do just that" Jasper said as James turned and left the room. As Jasper returned to his self inspection he could tell that the scales around his chest were thickening, hardening. It was beginning to spread to his arms, legs, and and neck now too. He donned some longer clothing and immediately headed out of the keep, staying to side passages so as not to be noticed.

As he got outside, he looked up at the ancient skull of the slain dragon. For just a brief moment, he could swear he was seeing pits of glowing coals in those long dead eye sockets. He had to hurry now though. He could feel the scales spreading down his arms. He barely made it to the tree line outside of town before the pain was back. He brought his hands up to his face to find that they were completely covered in scales that were rapidly growing thicker.

Jasper began to sprint through the woods, trying to get as far away from the town and the keep as possible. He wasn't sure what was going on, but he knew it wouldn't end well. The pain grew and grew until his vision began to grow fuzzy. He couldn't focus, suddenly everything would be as sharp as a knife point, then it would blur out and split. His hearing was doing similar things. 

After what felt like hours of running he collapsed upon the ground. His vision blacked out and it felt like his skin was ripping away, his bones cracking and breaking, his veins filling with fire. He fell unconscious. 

 

Jasper awoke. His first thought was how he could possibly have been asleep with the sheer racket that was going on around him. It sounded like every animal in the forest was surrounding him, making noise. He tried to move, but his limbs felt too heavy. His eyes opened, but he quickly shut them again, the sun was so bright it stung them. Not to mention his perspective seemed skewed. Almost as if he was looking in two directions at once.

His gathered his wits. What had happened? Why did he hurt? And why was he so very, very hungry? Then it came back to him in a flash. His eyes popped open to see his arms splayed out in front of him were elongated and covered in large dusky red scales. He raised his head and tried to get to his feet. Within a moment his head cleared the treetops. 

His shoulders flexed and great, leathery wings spread wide. He could feel the gentle breeze filling them like sails. He dug his clawed fingers and toes into the dirt. He looked down to see the great gouges he left in the forest floor. Then he smelled it. A wild deer.

Jasper struggled to keep his own mind afloat. He felt he was losing his grip and was being carried away by the animal instincts. He could practically smell the blood of deer as it grazed on forest ferns, totally unaware of the fate that was soon to befall it. His body began to move, seemeingly without his permission, stalking between the wide set trees. Then he saw it, and he started to lose control. The last thing he remembered was lunging at the terror stricken deer. 

 

When he regained control of himself he wasn't sure where he was. Night had fallen, not that that affected his vision any more. Judging by the scraps of flesh around him he had found more to sate his hunger than the single deer. He took the time to feel out his limbs. To stretch his legs, all four of them. He swung his tail around and sliced a small tree in half. He stretched his wings wide and let the wind fill them.

"I have wings! I have a tail! I'm a dragon!" Jasper exclaimed aloud. Though, judging by the echo the rest of the forest heard it as a mighty roar. Birds took flight at the sound and the forest quickly fell to silence. Even the insects quieted down.

Jasper couldn't pin down how he felt. At first he was excited, then empowered, then terrified. What did this mean for him? His life was basically over. His family would never accept that Jasper had become a dragon. He couldn't be sure he wasn't a danger to them. Not to mention if anyone in the outside world learned of his new form certainly a hero would arise to hunt him down.

Then another thought occurred to Jasper. "So what?" he growled. "I AM A DRAGON. I HUNT THE HUNTERS NOW. I AM POWER INCARNATE!" His roar shook the valley. He needed to move now. It wouldn't be long before his father and brothers came to see what was going on in their forest. He spread his wings wide and lifted off from the ground. The trees beneath him whipped in the wind from his takeoff. He swung his head around looking East then West, surveying the valley beneath him. He was currently deep in the West side of the valley.

An idea struck him, and he started flying towards the old castle up on the mountain side. He made sure not to rise above the peaks of the mountains that framed valley, lest wandering eyes spot him. Within minutes he made the journey that would have taken a day on foot. He lowered his new bulk into the courtyard of the decrepit castle. It had been a mighty bastion once, housing a large army in the days when all lands to the south were still barbarian. The castle had been unassailable high as it was in the mountainside, and from this tactical vantage point it had disgorged soldiers at the command of ancient Emperors to subdue barbarian tribes.

That was, until that ancient dragon had arrived. The main army was away countering a barbarian horde that had set it's eyes on a city North of the valley. The dragon simply dropped into the castle and filled it with dragonsfire. It wasn't a battle, the castle's fall was almost instant. Now it was a husk. Ancient carven stone still blackened by fire that had died out an age ago. In some places Jasper could see where the stone had heated to melting and had pooled in places. 

After a quick look around Jasper found the hole that had been torn into the interior of the castle. As he began to crawl inside the first drops of rain began to fall. Water started drizzling down the walls as he observed the state of the place. To his knowledge, no one had entered the old castle in at least one hundred years. Most of the inside was gutted by fire and claw. The center of the keep had been dug out to form a sort of nest. Jasper could imagine the pit of gold that must have made up the old beasts nest. Now though, it was empty, cold, and dark. The rain began to pour outside, a full summer downpour. 

Inside, the water began to pool in the age-old pit. Within moments it was clear that it was simply becoming a mud hole. Jasper began to turn to leave, thinking this place might have been a bad idea when something caught his eye. In the back of a hall, in a torn out room there was another, smaller hole. He moved as gently as he could, afraid to damage the place any more than it had already suffered. He crawled down into the hole, just able to fit his folded wings inside.

After a short winding path through hewn stone the tunnel opened up into a very large open room. Large pillars supported the ceiling. Vines and other vegitation had managed to make their way into place and were growing up through the flagstone floor. In the center of the floor lay the skeletal remains of the old dragon. The skeleton was curled up on itself as if it had died in its sleep. From the shape of the room, Jasper could only surmise that this room had been the old castle's vault.

"So, this is where you died old wurm. I wonder if you truly were slain or if you died on your own. No wonder the tale glosses over that part." he growled to the long dead dragon. He gathered the old bones, piling them reverently in one corner. "This must have been the vault" Jasper thought as he moved about the room. He curled his tail around him and settled in for the night.

 

Jasper awoke as bits of dawns light filtered into his dim room. As he stretched his stiff muscles more elated than concerned to see that his form had not reverted. As he slithered his way back out to the courtyard he could see that the rain had broken. The forest smelled glorious. Jasper knew he needed to see what was going on in the valley. He moved as cautiously as he could to the back of the keep and began to climb. As his head cleared the topmost battlements he had a full, sweeping view of the entire valley. 

He was taken aback as he realized just how good his eye sight had become. He could focus in on animals as they flitted through the woods. He could even focus on, he found, on the people in the village below. Something was up. The people were moving about urgently. Then he saw, riding out on horseback from the keep, Nicolas, Lawrence, and Celyn. They were lightly equipped with at most a days provisions. Jasper wondered to himself why Celyn would ride with his father and brother. Was she truly concerned for him? He could think of no other reason. The thought of this brought a smile to his scaly lips. Within a moment his mood dropped though. How could she possibly react to his new form? Fear, terror, disgust? 

Jasper knew he needed to act. He had to try to get a message to his father. He had to make sure that if hew was spotted, he wouldn't be hunted down in his sleep. Possibly most important to him, he had to make sure Celyn wasn't simply sent home when his body didn't turn up for a while. He knew what he needed to do. With one mighty flap of his wings he lifted off. His wings beat the air pulling him up, then he spread them wide swooping down the valley, just clearing the treetops. It struck him for a brief moment just how quickly he took to flight.

When the three riders were about a mile from the town walls they spotted Jasper gliding silently over the trees toward them. Before they could fully react he landed in front of them, his claws sinking deep in the mud. For a tense moment, they stared at each other. Nicolas and Lawrence looked as brave as Jasper expected them to, despite them not being any where near equipped to fight a dragon. What suprised him the most though, was how Celyn reacted. He could smell the fear from her, but she didn't give in to it. Instead, she sat upright in her horse, right along side his father and brother. She was certainly a strong one.

Suddenly Jasper knew what he was going to do. Slowly he lifted one giant clawed hand, easily large enough to crush one of the horses. Lawrence tensed while Nicolas' hand immediatly went to the sword at his hip. Jasper turned his head slightly to look directly at Celyn and reached forward and with one claw carved into the mud the Crown And Spear sigil from the cover of A History of The Regalius Empire. Without further ado he spread his wings and took off again. As he soared back into the air he could swear he heard Celyn ask herself "Jasper?"

 

Jasper spent the next day hunting and watching the keep. Since the three had returned to the keep, the town had turned into a ghost town. The villagers hardly left their homes, and no hunting parties ventured beyond the wall. As night began to fall he climbed down from the high parapet into the main hall to test his dragons fire in its muddy pit. He figured that if his father brothers must march against him, then he would flee, and to survive in the world he'd have to use his fire. He backed up against a wall and unleashed a torrent of dragons fire into the pit. As with flight, he couldn't quite explain why he knew how to do it, it simply came natural. 

The first thing he realized about his fire was that it wasn't simply that. Instead, it was some sort of jelly like liquid that sprayed out in a stream and coated the ground. The fire that ignited upon it didn't quickly dissappear as he expected. It stayed burning and burning. Jasper was thankful that the thin grey smoke it gave off would be covered up by the fallen night. After a while the flames finally gave out. The pit of what had been mud had dried and hardened almost to the strength of stone. He imagined what it would do to steel, and he grinned. Well, at least he felt that he was grinning.

He climbed back outside, clawing his way to the top of the outer wall in preparation for another hunt. He took a moment to look along the length of the valley and was surprised to see a single cloaked rider setting out from the town. He wondered who would have the guts to enter the woods at night, alone, with a known dragon on the loose. His curiosity got the better of him. He slid down the outer wall and moved down the hillside, disturbing as few rocks as possible. He slipped into the tree line, silently thankful they were wide set enough to accommodate his form. 

As he approached within a mile of the rider, his accute sense of smell told him exactly who it was. He wasn't sure what Celyn hoped to accomplish by riding out into the woods alone. Jasper moved quickly to intercept her, placing himself between her and the old castle, so that she could flee if she wished. As he stepped out onto the path, her horse reared, bucking her clear off. Jasper shot his front hand out, careful not to let the claws come near her. He was surprised by his own reaction speed as he gently caught her in mid air. The horse bolted back towards the town as he set her gently to her feet. 

"It really is you." Celyn whispered in awe. "How did this happen? Are you alright?" 

Jasper lay down upon the ground to seem as unthreatening as possible. He took a moment to try and wrap his new tounge around the words he knew. "I'm OK" he tried to say. Her eyebrows arched, had she understood?

"You're ok?" She asked shakily. "So you're still you? What are you going to do? Your father was sure it was you, he's talking about curses. The town shaman had seen you just after you came back from your rite and he spoke of curses as well. I believe they're sending for a wizard, they want to break this curse. You're going to be alright!" She was smiling at him with a look of almost pity.

He thought about these turns of events. He lay his head down upon the ground and Celyn walked over to him, placing a hand on the ridge above his right eye. He looked up at her and felt a mix of emotions. She truly was a lovely woman, and he knew right then and there that he was taken with her. She was strong willed, clearly brave, and surprisingly well read. He weighed his infatuation against the alternative though. His new form gave him all he'd wanted in life. He could be brave and powerful like his father and brothers, and the lifespan of a dragon imagine the knowledge he could amass. He felt a conflict in him that he'd never experienced in his life. 

He sighed slowly. A decision forming in his mind. He lifted his head from the ground and extended an open hand, palm up, towards Celyn. 

She looked up at him for a moment, the looked to his hand. "Do you want me to come with you?" She asked. He nodded, happy with her perception. She sad down on his palm and he slowly and carefully rose to his feet, spread his winds, and with a pulse of his wings that bent back trees he lifted into the air. After a short flight he set down into the courtyard of the overgrown castle on the mountain. He lifted up his clawed hand and set Celyn gently upon the battlements of the outer wall. She turned, gazing out at the valley below. Jasper lifted his head to gaze over the wall.

The valley was steeped in shadow with only the light of a waning moon to illuminate it. The torchlight from the town could be seen as if a reflection of the bright stars above. Celyn wrapped her arms around her to protect from the brisk cold wind up this high. Jasper felt a pang of guilt. He hadn't even realized how cold it was, his dragons body seemingly immune to it. He looked around and soon found what he wanted. An ancient brazier lay nearby. He picked it up and set it next to her. Then he found an old fallen log and crushed it in his hand. Placing the splintered log carfully into the bowl and with a quick burst of fire, there was soon a small, roaring bonfire. She looked up at him grinning while warming her hands over the flames. 

They stayed like this until dawn. She told him all about his families plan to "cure" his curse. He kept her well supplied with warmth and company. As the sun rose, she turned to face it and the valley below. As she looked down at the valley now lit with pale light Jasper heard a sharp intake of breath. 

"It's beautiful" she said, hardly above a whisper. "This view is just amazing. If we could restore this old place it would be incredible!" Celyn exclaimed giddily. 

Jasper felt ecstatic. Not only was she not outright terrified of his new form, but she seemed willing to accept him as he was now. She turned her back on the valley, looking Jasper in his boulder sized eye with a very serious look on her face. She took few steps forward and sat down on the inside edge of the wall. "I don't know what the future will hold, or if trying to set up here in this castle will even work." She looked down towards the overgrown courtyard. "I don't know how I feel about you being... you know... a dragon. I can't blame you if you don't want to try to change back, but I don't know if I'll be happy with you like this forever." She paused for a few seconds and Jasper backed down into fully into the courtyard. 

"That being said, I'm want to explore the future with you. I want to see where this all leads. It'll certainly be a more interesting life!" she said with a laugh. "For now though, I think I need to let your family know that I'm alive and that you're doing OK. I don't know if they'll respect your decision, but we can deal with that later. Is that alright?" She asked somewhat sheepishly. 

Jasper nodded his head ephatically, barely able to contain his excitement. Celyn laughed. For the first time in his life he felt like everything was going his way. He knew there were concerns and dangers ahead, but he felt fully willing to emprace this path. Unable to show his happiness any any other meaningful way he took off into flight, spiraling up and up into the air. His caution thrown to the wind he flew well above the caps of the mountains bordering the valley. He took a moment to scan the land around their little mountain range, able to see far through the thin, clear air.

And what he saw made his heart drop. He was so dumbfounded he could barely remember to keep himself aloft. Miles off to the south, just past the kingdoms that bordered Barad, the land was black. His eyes focused in, and once again he was glad that his vision was so vastly improved. "What does this mean?" He asked himself. As he stared off in the distance he could see the blackness moving, and suddenly he understood. 

It wasn't the earth itself that had turned dark. It was an army. One so vast that the ground could not be seen beneath them. The land behind the army had been scorched clean as they burned all in their wake. Smokey ashes were all that remained of two towns that he could just make out. They must have been taken in the night. From his maps, Jasper knew, the next Kingdom in line for this mysterious army was Arkena, Celyn's home.

This was going to be a dangerous future indeed...


Submitted: May 20, 2014

© Copyright 2022 Ixadias. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:

Comments

ShakeilKanish

I'm totally gonna read this!! But you lied and said it was a short story!! haha this is like the never ending story!! But I will def read this tonight! :)

Tue, May 20th, 2014 9:42pm

Author
Reply

haha, Google told me a "short story" is between 1500 and 30000 words, I'm at 10500 ish. What else should I call it? :P

Tue, May 20th, 2014 2:47pm

ShakeilKanish

Alright so I've read a pretty big chunk of it and I'm almost haflway through so I guess I can leave a comment before I have to leave. The story so far seems pretty freaking great I think it's hilarious how you are an engineer student and kept saying "gears in his head started turing" it just goes to show how much real life has little effects on our writing! Anyways I like the lore the names are SOOOOOOOOO long but whatever mainly just the names at the beginning but for a piece like this I guess that makes sense. I love how the different animals they bring home, seem to fit their occupation and roles in the castle quite well! That's smart writing on your part, I also like how he couldn't kill the rabbit! Ha all these talks of dragons has me thinking that, that is probably what he is going to be fighting! But don't tell me I'll read the rest when I get back! Also your attention to detail is amazing! When you said you weren't a writer I didn't believe you and now I still don't! You're def a writer! Anyways keep up the awesomeness and I will review the rest when I get back! p.s your character is very relatable it seems like through the book he is going to go through a personal journey as well and i LOVE those lol have a bunch of them in my own novel lol!

Tue, May 20th, 2014 9:53pm

Author
Reply

Hey, curious if you finished it and what you thought? Feedback is really appreciated :)

Wed, May 21st, 2014 3:52pm

ShakeilKanish

That was an awesome cliffhanger at the end! And I soon as I saw your friend requests I was like OH CRAP i forgot to finish it when I said that I would! But now I totally did I promise! haha Um I love the relationship between Celyn and Jasper they are so cute together! And every man/dragon or magon! Needs a good woman behind her and lemme tell you that is one right there! I think it sucks though that she seemed so interested in maps and regions and warfare and whatnot that she didn't mention God's army was coming for her town that would have been the first thing I said to him! I would have been like look I accepted your dragoness status so I need you to kill an army that could pretty much give everyone and their mom/dragon a run for their money!

Mon, May 26th, 2014 3:40pm

Author
Reply

I'm really glad you like the characters! The idea was that she didn't know about the army, or what threatened her home, otherwise she totally would have! I kinda know where I want the story to go. I'm just having a hard time feeling inspired and motivated to write more XD

Wed, May 28th, 2014 10:25am

Facebook Comments

More Fantasy Short Stories

Other Content by Ixadias

Short Story / Fantasy