The Hunted

Medieval man writing

Under a stormy Suffolk sky, she ran across the spongy marsh towards a dense copse of evergreen trees.  Above the whine of the wind coming off the sea she heard again the baying of the hounds, the shouts of the men pursuing them.

She glanced over her shoulder.  Her friend Karen was some distance behind her, having trouble negotiating the treacherous ground.  Christine thought of going back, urging her to hurry – but the sinister men chasing them were closing in.

“Head for the trees, Karen,” she shouted.

But her voice was carried away on the rising wind.  She ran on, ran all out, gasping for breath, with fear.  Then she was inside the shelter of the black firs.  Clad in denims and a dark green windcheater, she ran deeper inside the small wood.  The barking of the savage dogs was close.  There was no escape.

There had to be.  Hidden inside the firs she looked up at a giant spreading its branches like hands reaching out to grasp her.  Her denims were tucked in leather boots, with indented rubber soles.  She grabbed at a low branch, hauled herself up the huge trunk, forcing herself to move fast.  Her boots were wet from splashing through a creek a short distance back.  She continued her climb like an agile monkey; thanking God she was slim and fit.

Near the top of the fir, which rose above the surrounding trees, she perched herself; legs straddled over a branch, back leant against the trunk as she waited to get her breath.  Looking down, she saw she was concealed from the ground except for one small gap.  She stared out across the marsh towards the river as dusk descended.  To her horror, she saw Karen running in the open, heading for a small boat moored in a creek snaking in from the yacht basin.  Close behind her followed the hunters.  Christine heard a sound below, glanced down, stiffened with fright.

A large Alsatian, released by its handler, was sniffing round the base of the fir.  She waited for its head to lift, to stare up at her refuge.  Two of her pursuers appeared.  Tall men wearing Balaclava helmets with slits for vision, camouflage jackets tucked into military style boots.  Both men held rifles.

Christine reached quietly into her shoulder bag, took out her .32 Browning automatic.  Then she heard the sound of more men treading through the undergrowth.  She was out-numbered.  The Alsatian was moving in circles as though baffled.  It ran away out of sight, Christine remembered the creek she had splashed through by chance.  The beast had lost her scent.  The hunters moved away.  She let out a sigh of relief.

Still seated, she stretched up, gazing in the direction of Aldeburgh, the town by the sea.  Its huddle of rooftops had disappeared in the dark.  She had a brief glimpse of a belt of sea with whitecaps and then that, too, disappeared in the moonless night.

Where is Karen?  She asked herself.

As though in reply to her anxious question she heard a penetrating scream piercing the silence of the marshes.  It came from the direction where Karen had run for the boat.  The agonized scream choked off.  The return of silence sounded dreadful.  Good God!  Had they reached Karen!  What had they done to her?

Shivering with cold, she buttoned the windcheater up to her neck, checked the time by her illuminated hands of her watch.  5.30pm.  Experience warned her she must wait inside her refuge.  The hunters knew there had been two women.  And she still caught the distant sound of a dog barking.

Her legs were beginning to ache – reaction from the desperate run across the marshes, from the strain of keeping still, straddled over the branch.  The wind stirred the smaller branches, brushed her face with prickly twigs.  She waited until 11.00pm, by which time the barking had stopped and no sounds heard across the fields, except the sound of waves in the distance.

She was frozen stiff; her body ached with each move, as she lowered herself to the ground.  What happened to Karen she asked herself as she hobbled away, keeping close to the tree line… thankful to be still alive.

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The Pharoah’s Curse

2382

Valley of the Kings

Valley of the Kings stands on a narrow gorge on the west bank of the Nile, near Thebes, where most of the Pharaohs were buried in highly visible pyramids.

Each tomb lies at the end of a succession of descending corridors, punctuated by shafts to prevent grave-robbers reaching the burial area.  This would consist of a burial chamber containing a sarcophagus, and other rooms of furniture and equipment it is believed he would need in the afterlife.  Many rooms would be decorated with carved and painted hieroglyphic texts, magical and symbolic scenes depicting his life.

A flickering of light danced upon the dark walled passageways.  A man dressed in a three-quarter cotton white tunic, raised a fire torch: illuminating four golden candlesticks, standing at each corner of a raised platform, where the gold casket bearing his Pharaoh would be placed.

The eyes glanced off into infinity, gazing at the long line of stationery guards that stood in death like silence, from the chamber to the entrance.

Silence was broken, by the whispering sound as Ignatius Reator, in his strap sandals, scraped over the stone floor, moving along the tunnel to the vast gallery.  With its twenty foot high domed ceiling, and pillared arches.  Its walls laced with cavities bearing ornate gold and pottery ornaments.

Ignatius examined the large collection of wooden crates stacked to one side, checking numbers against those on a scroll he flattened out, on a small stone table.  Sweat began to show through the layers of dust blanketing his skin, in this dry and airless chamber.  Finally satisfied all was in order, rolled up the scroll and slid it into a sash about his waist.

Ignatius was not a young man, considered old for his time, reaching the age of fifty-two.  As he retraced his steps to the anti-room, he exhaled a deep sigh of regret; he would never see or touch this wonderful array of artefacts, symbolising the life of his Pharaoh.  The face heavily lined, with sunken cheeks, and the dragging of his feet, exposed his weariness.  Yet, within he felt satisfaction, the project neared its end, and a great burden would soon be lifted from his shoulders.

His Pharaoh was dying, having just day’s to live; and soon his remaining artefacts would take their place in his burial chamber.  His guard of honour would be entombed, in a time honoured tradition, with their Pharaoh.

Passing by many tunnels to other parts of the pyramid, he remembered one, which entombed thousands of slaves, who died in the construction.  For them, better to have died in the service of their Pharaoh, than suffer prolonged misery at the hands of the Empire.

His mind was elsewhere, when screams echoed through from the outside shaft, jolting him back to the present time.

Ignatius out of concern breathlessly hurried to the entrance; as he stepped out into the light, the heat rays of the sun, forced him to squint his eyes.

News rocked him that his Pharaoh had died…  Day’s later his embalmed body was placed in its Sarcophagus, and taken to his burial chamber.  Placed with him were four Canopic Jars containing his organs; as tradition states, they would assist the dead to assist through the after-life.

Over the coming weeks; two ebony effigies of the Pharaoh gold sandaled, with staff and mace, were positioned either side of his tomb.  A collection of inlaid caskets; alabaster vases, black shrines, and a gold throne were set about his chamber.  The final doorway sealing his chamber contained a hand carved seal of the Pharaoh: Tutankhamen upon it, marking his final resting place.

The legend of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen, buried with all his wealth, in the Valley of the Kings, brought many an archaeologist or treasure hunter in search of fame and fortune.

tutankhamen

Tutankhamen’s Sarcophagus

Many tried to find the fabled burial chamber, only to find entrances that led nowhere, but to an early grave.

Seven years previous, on another dig, the Mantle brothers; James and Daniel, found a Canopic Chest, containing four Canopic Jars containing the stomach – intestines – lung and liver.  A scroll found within, named the architect of Tutankhamen’s Pyramid: Ignatius Reator, along with rough plans of the build.  It was enough to put them in the general area of the Pyramid, and lead them to the biggest find ever!

“I am hot, and exhausted, can we stop for a moment,” called out Daniel in a weary voice.

James, paused and looked behind him at his brother Daniel, coming up behind him.  “It is not safe to stop here, much of the shaft is unstable.”

At that moment, a tremor was felt in the shaft, as their scaffold and boarded support vibrated violently above them.

“Do you feel it?” asked Daniel.

“Of course I do, it must be a quake, the third one this month,” James said in an uneasy voice, “wedge yourself between the poles, it is our only hope.”

“If this shaft shakes much more, it will collapse with us under it,” suggested Daniel, while sand was falling away from the sides.

Briefly and violently sand fell away from the tunnel sides, they feared the scaffolding would soon fall about them.  However, the gods must have been on their side, for as quick as the quake started, it stopped in a matter of minutes.  Slowly their gaunt faces emerged from the sand, spitting out lumps of sand, whilst clearing the grit from their eyes.

“I warned you, it would be a risky adventure, before we started this, but the profits and fame would well be worth the risks,” James reminded his brother Daniel, gazing back at him, as he brushed away the loose sand covering him.  “We have spent four years digging this tunnel, from the upper to the lower floors, in our belief of finding the fabled tomb… many believe we are wasting our time, but I know we are in the right area.  So let’s clear away the fallen sand and re-fix the scaffold.”

James expected Daniel to reply, but there were a few groaning moans.  Daniel looked in the direction of James, and lifted himself out of the sand, pushing it to the side, and re-fixing the scaffold.

As Daniel pushed the sand against the sides, his hand felt a shape protruding from the walls.  “I have found something; it could be a seal or something?”

James waited patiently as Daniel brushed away the sand, hoping it could be what they desperately craved, for he knew they were in the right area according to the map…  So many times over the last six months they thought they had found something, believing it might lead to an entrance, only to find yet another dead end.

“It is the hand carved seal of Tutankhamen, well worn, but I would know it anywhere,” Daniel laughed and smiled with joy.

“If we hadn’t had that cave in, we might have gone right past it,” suggested James.

Their life-time dream, and four years of sweat and toil was drawing to a close, when in March 1922, they made that magnificent discovery… the hand carved seal telling them they had found the burial chamber of Tutankhamen, the Egyptian Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty… This was to send the airwaves clattering around the world, for they became famous overnight, having found, what many had sought.

Their first glimpse within the burial chamber revealed; two black ebony effigies of the Pharaoh, gold sandaled, with staff and mace, stood out from the dark cloak.  The walls lined with golden coaches, caskets, alabaster vases, black shrines with a gilded snake, his gold throne, gold chariots, and much more… they were speechless.

the-gold-mask-of-tutankhamun

Tutankhamen’s Mask

At the far end another doorway, set between two guarding statues; at that point they knew they had found the final resting place, of the boy Pharaoh … untouched since the day he was laid here in his sarcophagus.

The tour guide, a young, dark-haired woman in her early twenties, crossed the wide gallery, her low heels clicking off the polished hardwood floor precise as a metronome.  When she reached the archway that led to the grand staircase, she turned and waited for the tour to file into the room.  It was a large group today, and the gallery was one of the most popular rooms.  After this room, she could expect several to drop off from the tour and head for the gift shop or even the parking lot, their curiosity had been satisfied.

She took a microphone from its hook on the wall and waited.  When the group had settled into rows of standing, waiting faces, she flashed her best tour guide smile and began.

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“Welcome to Mantle House, once the famous home of archaeologists James and Daniel Mantle …” She said, her voice amplified by several small speakers perfectly concealed about the room.  “Mantle House is one of the oldest and best preserved homes in this part of Knightsbridge.”

She waited, for someone to ask the most relevant question… there was always one on every tour.

“What about the Mantle deaths?” asked a voice from the rear.

“It all started on the 8th March 1972, the 50th anniversary of the Tutankhamen find, when the Mantle brothers were found dead.”  She looked around, all eyes and ears were on her, listening to her every word.  “An amulet from the dig lay on the coffee-table, now situated in the display case to my right,” as she pointed out.

The police were summoned, and all London was buzzing with curiosity and fear.  People questioned who had committed this dreadful deed, and the pathologist questioned how two healthy people died of natural causes on the same night, and at the exact same time.

The police received a challenging autopsy report from the pathologist.  The joint medical opinion stated they had not been poisoned, brutally murdered or killed by any known means they could find.  At the time of their death, they had been in perfect health, except now they were all dead.  Each body had the look of terror upon its face, and they had been frightened to death all at the same time.  What event caused this, is anyone’s guess … it has become one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time!

The mysterious deaths caused great concern to the police.  They had two dead bodies, and no witnesses!  If only the house could talk, its memories have been locked up within, never to be resolved.  Since that fateful day the place remained locked, never to be lived in again, that was until 1994, when according to solicitors acting on behalf of the Mantle estate, stated one Trevor Mantle, came of age.  It was he who has it brought back to its former glory, under the terms of the will, and re-opened it as a museum.

“What about the ghosts?” someone asked.

abraham-lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

The gallery is said to be haunted by several ghosts, although historical identities of the spirits are unknown.  The ghostly sightings began in 1879, shortly after the main house was built.  The first ghost to be seen at Mantle House is described as a tall man in a long coat, some say it looks like Abraham Lincoln, who died in 1865.  He is made up entirely of shadows, with burning red coal for eyes.

According to witness statements of 1892, ghostly sightings of one referred to, as the man in grey, so unnerved the master of the house at that time that he took a loaded musket from above the fireplace, and shot himself through the mouth.

The servant is said to have run from the house to a neighbour’s residence.  Her story of terror seemed too real to be a charade.  In fact, the servant suffered from the trauma for the rest of her short life.  She died mysteriously in an asylum three years later.

When neighbours rushed to investigate the servant’s wild tale, they found the remains of the master’s body stretched out on the floor; his musket lay close by.  The corpse had been burned nearly to ash, yet the remains were cool, and the rest of the house showed no signs of fire.

In the late 1930’s, the Mantle’s had an extension built on the side of the house, where we are now standing, to store their collection of artefacts from many archaeological digs.  Some years later, visitors report of seeing Tutankhamen, sitting at one end on his gold throne.

ATo this day, the ghost of The Grey Man, Tutankhamen, and the one believed to look like Abraham Lincoln look alike stalk this house, and have been seen by staff and visitors alike.

The tour guide smiled, and took her thumb from the microphone switch.  The tour group stood in a single silence, their expressions ranging from shock to peculiar exhilaration.

“If you will please move forward, we will continue to the next room.”

The group had just begun to move, when a young man to the rear of the group asked.  “What about the ghost of the Mantle brothers?”

The mention of the Mantle ghost sent cold waves through the group.  A woman screamed then collapsed.

The episode lasted only a matter of minutes, but it was enough to put everyone on edge.  The woman who fainted recovered and was helped to her feet, by other members of the tour party.

“Young man,” she spoke with a stern voice.  “Starting on the 8th March, and ending on the 22nd March, each year, numerous unexplained events would take place:  Display cases are known to crack, lights would shimmer on and off, or would explode without reason, room temperatures would drop below zero one minute, followed by a fire engulfing the far wall, hot to look at, but cold to the touch…ghost like images would openly walk the corridors.”

The faces of the group said it all … she had sent fear into each and everyone.  “That is why we don’t speak their names out loud, during those two weeks.  The mention of their names would invoke terror!”

The young man put his fingers to his face, and they came away wet.  The blood vessels in his right eye had burst, and he was weeping bloody tears.

“See what I mean,” stated the tour guide.  He nodded in response.  “There’s a first aid station next to the gift shop.”

Archaeologists James and Daniel Mantle found the ultimate prize; the Tutankhamen burial chamber … but the curse on the amulet was to cost them their lives.

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A Dragon’s Sacrifice

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Largo spread his wings, shivering in the sensuous delight of cold air rippling across the leading edge, tilting lazily to watch the sheen on the outstretched skin, the dazzle of sunlight on the scales of his legs and tail.

The world was clean and simple, and there were no questions he could not answer.  Nothing pleased him more than this, the mastery of the sky, so solitary, the joy of being dragon, under the  young sun.

Not even a dragon can exist on air and sunlight.  There were other satisfactions.  Largo found a thermal that took him spiraling effortlessly upwards, and looked down on his work, of the day.

A burnt swathe cut across pastureland and the edge of the forest, as far as the walls of the city so tiny and white below looped by the river that had shone scarlet beneath his flames.  He had heard the screams.  He had not killed – anything, beyond a few cattle, too clumsy or stupid to run.  That would come later and only if the citizens of this fair city proved impervious to his hint.

Beyond the pasture and the forest stood the mountain, clothed with trees on the lower slopes, bare as the crest before the gaping entrance, to his cavern.  Soon the citizens would come there, with treasure and with sacrifice, hoping to buy the dragon’s friendship.  But a dragon, thought largo, stretching his wings luxuriously, has no friends.

Catching a glimpse of movement among the trees, Largo slid sideways, shedding air from beneath his wings.  The forest rushed up to meet him.  Someone was riding along the upward path.  Largo made out a white horse, a white robed rider, a glint of golden hair.

He stooped like an eagle over the crest of the mountain as the horse emerged from the trees.  The air was filled with the gold – vermillion chaos of his wings.  The horse whined in terror, reared, and spun into frantic flight.  Its rider was thrown into the long grass at the edge of the trees

Largo grasped the top most boulders with his talons, balancing on the half spread wings.  He watched the prone, white clad figure, hoping the creature had not broken its neck.  That would not be amusing at all.  He felt the fire of rage building inside him, until the rider stirred, and looked up.

Largo’s jaws gasped and he let out a spurt of flame, a dragon’s laughter.

“You are not what I was expecting,” he said.

The young man half raised himself, pressing a hand to his mouth to keep back a sob of terror.  He glanced wildly from side to side, but at least he had the sense not to run, unless it was terror that kept him frozen in the grass

“They said a sacrifice would please you.”  His voice was shaking, threatening to fail on every word.  “They said you would not harm the city if I came.”

Largo settled himself more comfortably on the stones, and folded his wings along his back.  He was intrigued.  The men who came to him were generally warriors in splendid armour, or the occasional magician to conjure him with spells.  Neither the armour nor the spells worked.

“A sacrifice is generally a young beautiful maiden,” he said.

“Please…”  The young man swallowed.  “My name is Raynor.  My brother Crustor is the lord of the city.  We have no sisters.”

Largo shifted, and a few pebbles pattered down the bare crest of the hill.  His scales slid over each other with a sound like rustling silk.  Raynor flinched and whimpered.

“So he sent you instead?” the dragon said.  “Why?”

There was no answer.  The only sound was soft surge of wind in the trees, and the plashing of a tiny spring, bubbling up between two stones into a shallow pool.  Raynor looked at it longingly.

“May I – may I have a drink?”

Largo’s voice was a bass rumble deep in his chest.  “There is water.”

“You won’t…”

Largo let out a thin stream of flame that set curls of steam floating over the surface of the pool.  Was the boy witless?

“If I promise will you believe me?  If you want to drink, drink.  What have you got to lose?”

Never taking his eyes off largo, Raynor got up and stumbled the few steps to the side of the pool.  Kneeling, he bathed hands and face, and drank deeply, wiped his face on the sleeve of his robe, and stood facing the dragon.

“I’m ready now.  Only-could it be quick? Please?”

“You have not answered my question.  Why did your brother send you to me?”

Raynor let out a bubble of bitter laughter.  His mouth twisted.  “Because I’m good for nothing else.”

Largo stretched out his neck until his head hung poised inches above Raynor’s.  The boy was white and trembling, his eyes terrified.  But he did not run.  He clung to a kind of hopeless dignity, and stood fast.

“Explain.”  Largo breathed out the single word in a soft snarl.

“I – I’m no warrior.  I have no skills, except, a little, for music.  My brother wished to make a great alliance, by wedding me to the daughter of the lord of the Southland’s, but she wrote to him that she wished for a husband.  Not a sister.  There is no one in the world who cares whether I live or die”

Anger surged through Largo.  He lashed his tail.  His fiery breath scorched the grass.  Raynor cried out and fell to his knees, but even in his rage Largo had taken care not to hurt him.  He was not ready for that

“Use your wits, boy,” he growled.  “Tell me why a dragon demands a beautiful maiden, a princess, for sacrifice.  Do you think virgin flesh tastes sweeter?  Is royalty a good sauce?  Stop snivelling, boy, and speak!”

“I – I don’t know.”

Largo exhaled gently, his breath no hotter than a summer breeze.  “It is because I will have the best.

Raynor stared at him, and at least Largo saw understanding flood into his eyes.  He hid his face, his body shaken by sobbing.  “Then I am not fit, even for this.”

The dragon’s wings snapped open.  Largo mounted into the sky, scooping up Raynor with one taloned foot as he rose.  Ignoring the boy’s shrieks and struggles, he sped down the sky towards the city.

Largo the golden alighted on the top most tower of the citadel.  Far below, tiny figures ran and screamed.  The guards had fled from the battlements.  Released from the dragon’s claws, Raynor rolled out of range and dragged himself to his feet.

“What are you doing?” he asked, panic-striken.  “You will not burn us all?  They will call me a traitor?”

“In my hearing, they will not dare.

“The tower door burst open.  A man stood in the doorway.  He was tall, fair and florid, with the same golden hair as Raynor.  He was not armed, except for sword and shield.

“Defend yourself, worm!” he snarled, and then gasped as he saw Raynor.

A warrior at last.  Largo sighed out a flake of fire.  Warriors bored him.  No doubt this was the redoubtable brother, the lord of the city.

“You!” he spat at Raynor.  Have you brought the dragon down on us?  I might have known!”

Largo let a lazy tongue of flame lick across the flagstones as far as the toes of Lord Crustor’s polished riding boots.  Lord Crustor looked uneasy and took a step back.

“Lord Raynor has vanquished me,” the dragon said, forcing submission into his tones, crouching low on the flagstones.  He hoped he was convincing; dragons have little practice in grovelling.  He heard Raynor gasp, and hid a savage grin.

“I am his prisoner.”

“What!”  Lord Crustor stared at his brother.  “You vanquished a dragon?  How?”

Largo released a low growl.  “Ask not how a dragon can be vanquished.  You who meekly sent a sacrifice.  Instead of meeting me in arms on the battle field.  I am Largo the Golden, mightiest of dragons, and today I bow who never bowed before.”  He looked up at Raynor.  “Command me, Dragon Lord.”

Crustor strode forward and planted himself in front of Raynor.  His face was dusky red, his eyes bulging.  “You bought this on us!”

“No!”  Raynor held out a shaking hand.  “Truly, brother, I -”

“If you command it, get it out of here!”

Largo’s voice vibrated with suggested laughter.  He hoped that Crustor would think the quivering was fear.  “Where would you have me go lord?” he asked Raynor.

“I don’t know! I can’t – down to the meadow then.  Outside the city gates, beside the river.”

Largo stretched out a claw to Raynor’s feet.  “Mount Lord.”

Raynor stared at him, and then at the anger from his brother he set one foot on the dragon’s leg joint clutched at his shoulder to pull himself up.  Straddled across his neck, he bent low and whispered in his ear, “why are you doing this to me?”

The dragon gathered his legs under him and sprang into the air.  A cry was torn from Raynor.  Wings beating strongly, Largo turned his head and laughed into the boys white face as the tower dropped away beneath them.

“I will show your brother that he cannot trifle with Largo the Golden.”

He circled above the city, scarcely aware of Raynor’s lightweight across his neck, until he saw the gates open, and crowds of citizens spill out into the meadow.  Then, gradually, he spiralled to the ground, into a space that cleared itself for him.  Raynor, scrambled from his neck, was embraced formally by his brother, while the people gathered to gawk and wonder, and lines of singing children brought garlands of flowers to place around the dragon’s neck.

Light still lingered in the sky.  The crowds had left the meadow to the twilight and dew and Largo.  He settled uneasily in the lush grass.  He belonged on the heights, with the scent of rock and clean air, not the heavy perfume of the flowers that still garlanded him.

Before it was quite dark a single figure came pacing across the meadow from the city gates.  Raynor.  In place of the white linen he wore a velvet robe stiff with jewels and embroidery; a thin golden circlet confined with gold curls.  He sighed wearily and leant against the dragon’s foreleg.

“Well?” said Largo.

“Not well.”

“Did they not give you what you wanted?”

“Oh yes.  You know very well they did.  They call me Dragon Lord.  “Largo was used to hearing voices filled with terror, or at best defiance.  This exhausted patience was new to him.  “My brother has granted me lands of my own, beyond the river.  He has written again proposing marriage with the lord’s daughter.

“He let out a long sigh.

“Then why…?”

“Because they fear me?  I can see it in their eyes.  If the lady weds me it will be out of fear.”  He stood facing the dragon, and drew down the great head until he could see into his eyes.  “THat isn’t what I wanted.  I wanted respect – love.  But I can never have it.”  He spread his arms.  “Look at me.  I am feared and honoured and loaded with wealth.  Am I a fit sacrifice

Largo thought of fear.  Whether people fled from him or defied him or decked him with flowers, they feared him.  But in one face there was no fear.  In Raynor’s, as he faced him now.

“You have grown, boy,” he said

Raynor sighed wearily once again.  “Your doing, dragon.  Take your reward.”

Largo swung round his great head and gazed at the white walls of the city.  In a flaming pass they could be charred to rubble, the citizen’s dead or scattered.  He could taste their terror.  He looked again at Raynor.

“You would not have me kill them for you.”Largo paused.  He was not used to feeling uncertain.  He had a dragon’s power, and he used it like a dragon.  But now…

He considered his choices.  He could kill and devour Raynor, his rightful sacrifice.  And all scorned would be settled between himand Lord Crustor – until next time.  A grin drifted across Largo’s jaws as he considered the city’s terror and bewilderment when he renewed his threats and his demands.  And yet how could he devour someone who stood and looked at him with that weary resignation?  Largo rustled his wings petulantly.  It would not be amusing at all.  He could, of course, flame the city.  The shrieking, the panic as he hunted down his prey; the very thought was sweet.  But when it was over, he would still have to face Raynor.

Furious, he hissed gants of flame from beneath clenched teeth.  He would go, find another city, somewhere they played by the rules.  Somewhere he could forget the sorrowful eyes fixed on him and the bitter depths of knowledge they held.  He unfurled his wings.

“Largo?” Raynor said uncertainly.

“I will go.  Tell your brother Custor you banished me.  You have nothing to fear from me, not any longer.”

“No!” Raynor’s voice was suddenly sharp with pain.  “Don’t leave me.  Or if you must go take me with you.”

Largo rumbled a question low in his throat.  “Why?”

“They will honour me for a little.”  Raynor said.  “And then they will forget.  I will Raynor again, Dragon lord no longer.  I-I’m aftaid.”

“And you’re not afraid of trusting yourself to a dragon?  Dragons have no friends, little dragon lord, they do not love, and they cannot be trusted.

“Raynor was laughing as he spoke.  “Yes of course I’m afraid.  But not in the same way.  It would be …interesting.  Please.”

Largo smiled.  He stretched out a claw towards Raynor’s feet.  “Mount, then.”

Light flooded into Raynor’s face.  “May I? Truly?”

“If you dare.”

Eagerly now, Raynor set his foot on the leg joint and swung himself up to sit astride the dragon(s neck.  Largo’s wings stretched, their gold all but quenched in the moonlight.  He lifted slowly, leaving the meadow behind, circled the citadel once, and mounted ever higher in a tight spiral.

“Where?” he asked.

“I don’t know.  I don’t care!”

“North, then.”

He turned north.  Moonlight splashed like spring water on his scales.  His wings were shimmering silk.  He slid through theair like a fish through its familiar

But everything had changed.  Although as before he could scarcely feel Raynor’s slight weight, he could not forget that the boy was there.  Dragons, Large reflected, do not love, have no friends and cannot be trusted.  What does a dragon do, when faced with trust and love?

Largo could not answer the question.  But he had the uncomfortable feeling that he was going to find

At that moment he turned back towards the city, and dropped Raynor from his back as he flew over.  He felt he couldn’t leave them untouched and breathed fire onto the outer walls, and watched as they were turned into rubble.

Raynor watched, unable to do anything, he saw Largo fly high and turn towards the hills, never to be seen

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