“Adventures are for the young,” Fealton groused as he sloshed through the muddy field, a pack thrown over his right shoulder. Ahead of him, a warrior led the way, followed by a few other guards. Behind him, a contingent of dwarves grumbled, having to cooperate with humans and elves.
Fealton, though human himself, was beyond the age of conscription. He was over fifty, balding, with bad knees and a back that never stopped aching, the result of an accident decades before when he fell out of a tree. Harvesting lushfruit was not an easy task. It was one he never could attempt again.
Fealton grimaced as pain shot up his leg. Everything hurt now. There was no point complaining about it. It wouldn’t change anything. The guards would only roll their eyes and whisper among themselves about the coward they were having to protect. The dwarves would mock his inability to man up. The elves, well they would be sympathetic, in their condescending ways.
He was the unlucky one, forced to into service, the last of a long line of warriors. His own father was General of the Kings Army, and Steward of the Kingdom, as was his grandfather before him. His line had served valiantly in the Army, leading battalions into battle, some dying in order to protect the kingdom and her people.
His two brothers served, and were killed in the name of the King, at the battle of Mirror Lake. Fealton was to follow in his father’s glorious footsteps, and was groomed as such, until the accident left him a cripple, his own chance of glory fading, leaving him a beggar outside the walls, pitied by everyone. Mocked by the enemies his own family had earned.
But now here he was, hunched over, weak, struggling to keep up with the guards ahead of him. True, the past week had tired him greatly, but it had also strengthened him somewhat. He had regained a sense of purpose. He was given a commission from the King, in private, in honor of his highly decorated father.
It was because of his father, who had died recently, that he was given this task. The prophets had decreed that someone from his father’s line would be the one to defeat Gresian. Gresian was a wyvern, itself the last of a proud line of serpents from the Ardian Mountains to the north. The wyverns had begun dying off even before the age of men had begun, but men had hastened their decline.
The kingdom had killed Gresian’s father almost a century before, but Gresian had come at last to seek revenge for the slaying. In his wrath, he had become even more formidable. He was in the prime of his strength, and his lifetime was many generations of men.
It was Fealton’s great-grandfather who had subdued the beast a century before. It had been decreed that only a member of the line would be able to defeat the wyvern. If he failed, no one alive, their children, or even their children’s children’s children would be free of Gresian’s terror.
But it was hopeless now. His father, too old, and who had earned a quiet retirement after a lifetime of service to the Kings, had passed away in his quarters in the castle, a rare honor for those not of noble blood. His brothers had tried at Mirror Lake, both dying in the attempt, leaving no heirs to carry on the bloodline.
Only Fealton remained. He had no children either, and no prospects for one. No one would dare take him as a husband. He could not provide for her. No father would hand their daughter over to a cripple, even if he was of the House of Thenia, heir to the Stewardship of the King.
No, Fealton was the kingdom’s last hope of defeating the winged serpent, and as Fealton believed, there was no hope at all. He would not defeat the creature. He could not. He could not take up arms, his body unable to lift any weapons that might defeat the beast. He managed to trudge along, but he had no fight in him. His youth was spent, his body broken, his health all but gone. Only his intellect remained, but against the intelligence of a wyvern, it would be like a child debating one of the city’s philosophers in the square. It was laughable.
“A shadow approaches,” the warrior cried out in warning. “Take up arms. Protect the General!”
Fealton laughed hollowly. He was given his father’s old commision of General of the King’s Armies. In reality, his Lieutenant was in charge, tasked with guarding the kingdom. This was mostly a ceremonial commision, a way to compel him to attempt the unachievable, as though he could disobey a request from the King.
“General,” the guard nearest to him took him by the arm, “we must find shelter for you. “Gresian approaches.”
“Does he?” Fealton sighed wearily. “So be it. I shall not flee.”
“I came to defeat the serpent, so shall I, here and now.”
The guard looked incredulous, as did everyone within earshot. The warrior leading the expedition came nearer to reason with the old cripple. “General, my orders was to lead you to the Ardian Mountains, to meet with Gresian there. What hope is there of defeating him here?”
“What hope is there of me defeating him there, Drax? Is there any hope at all?”
“We must accomplish this mission. We must get you to the mountains.”
“No,” Fealton said, his voice cold as steel. “No, we make our stand here.”
“Our orders…,” Drax began.
“The hell with orders. Am I or am I not the General of the King’s Armies? Am I to be obeyed or to be defied? Defy me and you are guilty of treason against the king. I assume the old laws still hold.”
Drax wavered. He knew the commision to General was mostly ceremonial, and yet being named as such was not to be dismissed. This man, this broken man, was given title and honor reserved for a select few. He was of the House of Thenia after all, heir to the stewardship of the kingdom. He was promised the Chair of the Steward should he succeed after all. Fealton had to be obeyed.
“Of course, General,” Drax bowed. “What are your orders?”
Fealton stood up, his eyes cold, following the shadow as it approached. “Put your arms away, and take your men from me.”
“General, that is madness.”
“This whole business ins madness, yet here we are. The wyvern wants revenge, and has cursed my family’s line. The serpent wants me. My father is dead, as are my brothers. I am last of the House of Thenia. I am last of the line of stewards. The king will name a new Steward, a new house will earn that honor. So be it. I lived defeated, broken by an unfortunate accident in my youth. I will not die so, a coward cowering in the shadows as scores of men fight in vain.”
“Let me stand with you, General,” Drax said, an inkling of respect welling up for the man hunched before him.
“No,” Fealton chuckled. “You have other battles to fight, other wars wherein to gain honor and glory. This is my moment, to die a man. This is my moment to earn the respect of my house. I lived discarded, but I will die proudly, the last of the House of Thenia, General of the King’s Army, successor to the Stewardship of the King. Today is good day to die.
Drax nodded, “Put away your weapons. To the hills we go.”
Without hesitation, the guards sheathed their swords. They began to march away, leaving Fealton along to face the wyvern. Once they had retreated, Gresain descended, landing quietly in front of him. He was nearly 20 feet long, golden red in color. It looked bestial, but there was intelligence in his eyes, shrewd, calculating.
Fealton stood there unafraid. That was surprising. He had spent decades contemplating his demise, fearing the moment when he would breath his last. Maybe he feared the ignobility of obscurity, of having to live as a pauper, on the fringes of society, exiled from his birthright due to one moment’s indiscretion.
But as Fealton watched as Gresain fell from the heavens, something was roused in him. The courage that had coursed through his veins as a youth surged through him once more. He stretched, feeling some measure of strength returning. Refusing to bow in front of the beast, he forced himself erect, wincing as his back protested the torture. For a moment, his sight recalled the glory of his father, and that of his line unstretched back to the dawn of the kingdom.
“Is this the champeon the king has sent to defeat me?” Gresain growled in amusement. “Is this the best the House of Thenia has to offer?”
“You mock me,” Fealton sneered, “but do not let my appearance fool you. I am, after all, of the House of Thenia. It was my the hand of my great-grandfather that your sire met his end. You shall meet yours by mine.”
“I defeated your brother’s, hale and strong, batted them away as you would a mosquito, mere pests that disturbed my rest. What are you but a shadow of their glory? Return to your nursemaid and I’ll let you live. Fight me, and I promise you pain unimaginable.”
“Pain? You promise me pain?” Fealton laughed. “I have lived in pain. Every moment is agony. I am broken, rejected, discarded. I am no use to my people except as a sacrifice it would seem. So be it. If I am to die, I welcome death happily. I offer my life as payment for the loss you suffered by my house’s hand.”
“You believe the life of a man is equal to the life of a wyvern? We are proud, created by the gods to protect their dominion.”
“And you have failed,” Fealton replied somberly. “You are the last of your race. What then? You will not escape your fate. You will die, and with you the wisdom of your race. So I ask you this, shall we part, calling a truce, or shall we battle, likely resulting in my death, but I assure you, you will not leave unscathed.”
“I have no fear of death,” the beast replied. “I’m am last of my race. What is death to me but an escape of the failures of my kind? The knowing is pain enough, of being the last of my kindred. I was the last born. My mother was the last female, who died broken after my father’s death. In the reckoning of my people, I was just a child then, left to fend for myself. I lived only to exact revenge.”
“So here we are met at last, to battle for what? There will be no victors, no last minute truce to salvage anything. Our enmity shall defeat us both.”
“It has been decreed as such,” Gresain snorted derisively.
“Then let’s get this over with. I’m ready to die.”
“No,” laughed the wyvern. “No, to see your house flounder to an ignoble end will be my revenge. To know that you suffer will suffice to cool the heat of my hatred. You will die an agonizing death, one of your making.”
“No!” Fealton shouted heatedly. “I must do this. It is my destiny!”
Fealton pulled an arrow from his quiver, in one swift motion took aim with his bow and shot at the beast. The arrow pierced Grecain’s eye and the beast howled angrily.
“Fool! Do you really wish to die?”
“To restore my honor, I will gladly die in an attempt to rid your threat from my kingdom.”
“Then I will crush you with my teeth. It’s been an age since I last tasted the flesh of man.”
Hurriedly, Fealton pulled out a pouch, dousing himself with a fine powder. Unperturbed, Grecian lunged, his neck outstretched, his maw open to devour the fool. Unflinchingly, Fealton stood, only a short sword in his hand. At the last moment he jumped into the beasts mouth as he roared, lifting the sword over his head, piercing the serpent’s tongue as it bit down.
And then, for a brief moment there was silence. From the hills, the warrior watched helplessly along with the contingent of guards. They had failed. It was a folly to hope on the hopeless. They would never be free of the winged creature.
“Look!” cried a dwarf. The warrior looked up. Gresain roared again, this time in pain. He shot up, convulsing as he took flight. He flew towards a lake, his body seemingly losing strength. Then he fell into the water, bursting into flames before the moment of impact. Steam rose from the lake, and an eerie fog covered the land.
“Come,” the warrior commanded. “We must investigate.”
By the shore, they found him. Fealton lay on his side, gasping for air. His body burned, he struggled for breath. “Is he,” he gasped, “dead? The beast?”
“The beast is no more,” the fairest elf replied. “You have slain him, but how?”
“Something I concocted ages ago,” Fealton answered weakly. “Something explosive and caustic. When he devoured me, he ingested my potion. When he tried to roast me, after taking him into his maw, it set fire to his innards, cooking him from the inside. His flame was extinguished as a result. His only chance was the lake, but that only hastened his demise. I go now, to the halls of my fathers.”
“No,” the elf smiled grimly. “The House of Thenia will not die with you. Not today. Your house shall endure. So say I, so it has been decreed. Come brethren. Let us hasten him to our house. We will mend your broken body, to the best of our abilities. You have a destiny yet to fulfill. Drax?”
“We will part here, only for a while. Send word for me to your king. Fealton lives. He succeeded. In a year’s time, he will return to claim his seat as Steward. His trial is complete.”
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