Before I begin, I want you to know that the effort involved in cutting these stories down so that they fit their submission limits is becoming more and more impossible for me. So, I’m not going to try any more. If you find that a story is too long and you don’t want to read it all the way through, oh well. I probably won’t know about it, anyway. However, if you do read all the way through one of the long ones and you like what you read, please at least click the “like” button, so I know. As far as this story goes, I’ve cut it into pieces more for entertainment value and suspense than for readability. I’ve posted them in reverse order so that they could be read chronologically.
This story was supposed to be one of those exercises in which you are given a nonsense word and have to decide what it means and then write a story about it. In this instance, if you click the above link, you’ll find that there were ten sets of initials (four and, in one case, seven letters long). I was able to come up with meanings for about half of the sets of initials. Two of them (DESU and NSDL) had something to do with dragons, which I confess I’m fond of, see my other blog. So, rather than just pick one, I decided to incorporate them both in a struggle that is more modern than is normally seen in stories of this genre.
One more thing. There are a lot of peculiar, made-up names in this, so I’ve included a pronunciation guide, which you can use or not at your discretion. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it. ‒ Cimmy.
Thirty-nine years had passed since the first time Captain Ale’asi Morkell /ă’lĕ·ă‘sē mōr·kĕl‘/ had seen a dragon. He’d been twelve years old when his father, a farmer, woke with a horrible fever. That meant that Ale’asi had to go to the fields alone that morning. At the time, the kingdom of Ar’kimo /ăr· kē‘mō/, where he’d lived, was as close to infested with dragons as it was possible to be. So, when Ale’asi saw a dragon fly over the field, he’d done what his father had told him to do in that situation.
“You’re my only son, Ale’,” he’d said. “I can’t afford to lose you. So, if you see a dragon anywhere, don’t try to be a hero, boy. You run!”
And run he had. Ale’asi had run until his legs collapsed underneath him. When he finally got his breath back, however, he began to worry. He sneaked back home under cover of darkness, but, when he reached it, he found that he was far too late. The farm house was nothing but a charred, smoking wreck with five blackened skeletons inside it that used to be his parents and sisters.
At twelve and newly orphaned, Ale’asi felt that he was too old for adoption and, instead, hired himself out as a migrant farm worker. With each job, Ale’asi had worked himself into exhaustion every night, always with the hope that he’d be able to escape the horrifying nightmares that plagued him, dreams about burning houses with his family pleading to him for rescue from within.
When he was sixteen, he’d grown tired of farm work. Sheer exhaustion no longer beat back the nightmares. Instead, he joined a mercenary company called the Golden Eagles, where they trained him in the arts of war. The Golden Eagles were often hired by kings, noblemen and rich merchants to battle monsters, brigands and other armies. Inevitably, however, a broken hip when he was twenty had ended his mercenary career permanently.
Time had since made her mark upon Ale’asi. He hadn’t stopped fighting. He’d just found a more peaceful way to do it. At twenty, he’d moved to Ibany /ĭ‘bǝ·nē/, which was further north than Ar’kimo. The kingdom of Ibany hadn’t seen the attack of a dragon in over a hundred years. He’d joined the city guard in Vessam /vĕs‘ ǝm/, the kingdom’s capital and, though the work was rather mundane compared with being a mercenary and his hip regularly hurt him when it was cold or wet, it was still good work, work he’d come to enjoy. He still had nightmares about burning houses, but they were less frequent, now that he, Ale’asi Morkell, was captain of the Vessam city guard. His life, barring the usual city scuffles and crimes, was reasonably peaceful.
That is, until about four months ago when a farmer came to Vessam and practically demanded to see King Thraiz /thrīz/. The man was clad in charred rags, his hair was ragged and unusually short in places. He was hysterical and had serious burns in several areas on his body. He’d been in the middle of trying to force his way through the guards at the palace gate and in to see the king when Ale’asi happened by. The swarthy captain only needed a single look to know that the farmer had suffered an attack by a dragon. He’d made it his business to bring the man to the king’s personal attention. After that, slowly but surely, more people began to trickle into Vessam, refugees of the dragon’s depredations. It had been then that Ale’asi himself had suggested that the king invite the DESU to come to Ibany.
The Dragon Extermination Services Union (DESU) had been formed by a number of experienced adventurers, knights and other mercenary types, specifically to deal with issues arising from attempts to kill dragons. They had expanded their services later to include all other kinds of monsters, but the organization’s name had remained unchanged. Ale’asi had worked with them from time to time with the Golden Eagles. Their job, as they saw it, was to assure that the pay offers coming to people being hired to eliminate monstrous nuisances would be reasonable and fair and that appropriately experienced people would be hired to handle the available assignments. However, at the same time, they were also there to guarantee that, should those people get killed in the line of duty, their families and friends would be compensated for their loss.
The DESU had been given an old building not too far from the center of town where they’d set up a notice board advertising the location of the dragon and the need for adventurers, either single or in groups, who were willing to put their lives on the line in order to end the kingdom’s dragon problem. Shortly after that happened, though, things began to get even worse. A number of “concerned citizens” got together and formed a protest group that they called, interestingly enough, the National Sympathy for Dragons League (NSDL).
The NSDL’s stated purpose, one member told him, was to defend the innocent dragon population from the depredations of man who, they claimed, were the real monsters. When Ale’asi heard that, considering all he’d been through in his life, he didn’t know whether to laugh or punch the man. In the end, it was only his strong desire to keep his job that stopped him from doing either.
“Dragons,” their members bawled to shoppers in the marketplace, “are few in number! Before man, these beautiful creatures were kings of the earth! Now, their numbers are dwindling and all because of man and his selfish desire to own the world! The real monsters aren’t the dragons but the men who murder them and the people who insist on hiring them for the job!” Ale’asi was willing to bet that not a single NSDL member had ever so much as seen a dragon, except as an illustration in a book or some such thing.
Even with the NSDL shouting slogans at passing shoppers and merchants in the streets, things wouldn’t have been so bad. Then one day, the dragon-lovers started showing up at the DESU office building carrying crudely painted wooden signs which had things like: “Die Murderers!” and “Dragons are people, too!” written on them. They began marching back and forth in front of the building and yelling at people who chose to enter it, calling them “murderers” and “rapers of the natural world,” and throwing rotten fruit and vegetables at them. Inevitably, a few scuffles broke out between the adventurers and the dragon-lovers and Ale’asi had to assign guards in the marketplace and at the DESU office building to keep the peace.
“We have to do something about this,” Ale’asi muttered, half to himself and half to his second-in-command, Lieutenant Lerdan Kanun /lǝr‘ dǝn kā‘ nǝn/, seated across the desk from him. “If things keep going the way they have been, someone’s going to get seriously hurt and maybe killed.”
“Well,” Lt. Kanun grinned, “we could always gather them all up, put them into a wagon and send them to the dragon as a peace offering.”
Ale’asi glared at the lieutenant in such an unfriendly way, that the young guard’s smile practically fell off his face. Ever since becoming captain of the Vessam guards, nearly eight years ago, Ale’asi had often been described as a man who wouldn’t know a smile if it walked up and kissed him; a man whose idea of a good time had to do with inspecting troops. Strictly speaking, this wasn’t really true. Ale’asi enjoyed levity just the same as any other living man. The only difference was that he didn’t think that work was the place for frivolity, particularly for the city guard of Vessam.
“Okay, then,” said the lieutenant, clearing his throat uncomfortably, “what if we send one of the guards in plain clothes and have him tell one of the dragon-lovers that a group of adventurers just went to kill the dragon and suggest they go after them to the cave and picket there.”
“Can’t you be serious?” Ale’asi grumped in his quiet voice. “You know perfectly well that the king wouldn’t approve of any plan with a high likelihood of killing citizens.”
“But captain,” Kanun replied, “weren’t you just saying that the main problem with these NSDL wackos is that none of them has probably ever seen a dragon? So, shouldn’t we arrange for them to see it, if for no better reason than to convince them that the danger is real?”
Ale’asi scratched at a dry place on his cheek as he thought. “You may have a point, Lieutenant. Actually, I think you may have given me an idea. I’ll have to run it past the king first, though. Can you hold down the fort until I get back?”
“Do ogres have bad breath?” the lieutenant grinned, earning another flat look from his captain as the man left.
It didn’t take Ale’asi long to reach the palace. Along the way, he was pleased to see that his guardsmen were following his orders verbatim. There was still plenty of name-calling and fruit-throwing, but there was no fighting, at least for now. Hopefully, his men could keep them busy while he put his plan into motion. At the palace, Ale’asi told the guard at the gate that he needed to see the king on urgent business. The guard didn’t hesitate but pushed the gate open immediately.
“You’ll find his majesty in the gardens this afternoon, captain.” said the guard, saluting crisply.
“Thank you, corporal,” Ale’asi replied, returning the salute just as crisply. The palace guards weren’t his men, but, as long as they continued to treat him with due respect, he continued to reciprocate.
Walking quickly, Ale’asi headed right, past the stables into the palace gardens. Here was the king’s sanctuary, his place of peace. Here, no less than five marble fountains of varying sizes and designs constantly poured out water in a steady, calming trickle while breezes blew through the leaves of fruit trees, low hedges, flowering bushes and rose arbors from all corners of the kingdom. A quartet of guards in burnished gold plate, the king’s personal body guard, stood about thirty feet from the king at each of the compass points. King Thraiz was sitting on a marble bench stroking the head of one of his beloved hunting dogs.
“Ah, Captain Morkell,” sad Thraiz, looking up. “What brings you here this afternoon?”
“Your majesty,” Ale’asi replied, bowing low. “You’ve heard about the fights in the marketplace, I assume.”
“Yes,” the king replied, a concerned look taking over his features as he began to massage the dog’s ears.
“I think I may have a plan that has a chance of making the fighting stop,” the captain added, “but I need your approval.”
“Tell me,” said the king.
“It’s simple, sire,” Ale’asi replied, grinning tightly, the way one might while discussing a battle strategy with no possible chance of failure. He knelt at the king’s side and carefully explained his idea.
“It’s an interesting plan, captain,” the king smiled, opening his hands so that the dog in his lap could jump down and join his fellows in an impromptu wrestling match. “Can you make it work?”
“God willing,” Ale’asi replied.
“It’s not God you have to worry about this time, captain,” the king frowned.
“Yes, sire,” Ale’asi returned evenly, and, with another low bow, he turned and walked away again.