It is said that everything can change in a moment. Whether that is a moment of quiet that can turn the tide of war or a fatal lapse of judgment to allow the enemy’s steel to pierce the heart. For Sir Jason Redmond, a Knight of Avonous and captain of the King’s Guard, the moment his life would change and keep changing, was hell.
Red and blue colored smoke and flames bombarded him like rouge waves in the burnt night air. The ground had turned to blistering coals beneath his feet, cracking and fuming with rage in every step he took. He had only one way to escape, one way to protect his king and country. He would have to save a dragon, and in the end become one.
As captain of the King’s Guard, the elite among the elite, Jason’s duty was to the southern region of the eastern highlands known as Avonous. When all was calm the city streets flowed with merchants from the oceanic countries to the west and the more arid countries to the south like a mountain spring after the snows had thawed where he and men remained by the King’s side day and night. They were the protectors and champions of Avonous with a reputation that the small country’s borders could not hope to hide. They were all of mankind’s heroes.
In the past, as per tradition, the armies of Avonous had fought to protect its lands from the invasions of other kings and then to invade the lands of other kings as well. If this had still the tradition, then the time Jason had been born into would have been one of the longest lasting eras of peace mankind’s history had ever known. Instead, a new threat had emerged that threaten mankind as a whole; feral dragons and their hordes.
History and legends would later tell that a dragon’s horde was a thing of beauty. Tales of sparkling gold and gems towering high above the floors they rested on or hidden within the bowels of abandoned castles and the confines of dark caves. Protecting this treasure, of course, would be a dragon, some lustful and greedy, others benevolent and wise but all a sight of majesty to behold. In Avonous, this notion was a fantasy they could only dream would come true.
Instead, dragons were savage, feral beasts that looked and smelled of decay and death that specialized in hords of armies. Armies infected men and women that had turned into ghoulish creatures known as dragbeasts. A human only had to be touched by a dragon’s fire, teeth or claws before they morphed into a mindless, gray-scaled, dragon-like beast, bound to follow the feral creature’s commands to hunt, gather and kill, until the moment they were finally allowed to die.
When, where and how the dragons and the hordes come to be were lost to time. Many believed in the rumors that the dragons had climbed out of a crack that ran across the land like a scar, deep within the eastern woods and that the sickness they spread seeped out from it like a fog. But for a small few it was theorized that at one point in time dragons had been peaceful, intelligent creatures and maybe even friends of mankind. Given the current state of things, it was a wildly unpopular theory of course. In the end, it didn’t matter which origin was true, the dragons they had now threatened to wipe out all of mankind and it was a fact that they had to be dealt with. However that “fact” was subject to change, which is what happened when a high-strung messenger came galloping in from the outpost nearest to the eastern woods with orders that would mark the death of the current world and the birth of a new one.
Peter, who was nothing more than a simple yet dedicated messenger, burst his way through the crowded, sand-colored stoned streets of the Avonous capital where King Jerrod and his castle lived. The morning had just started in the market where the warm smell of fresh bread mingled with the bright red and yellow apples. A kaleidoscope of merchants’ shops was just waking from the cool night. They sold everything from kitchenware made of hardy Avonous steel to the strangely enticing curved blades imported from the exotic countries of the Southern Alliance. It was just past the market where the main barracks were located that surrounded the main castle and King Jarrod’s home. While most of the city remained humbly close to the ground, the castle stood tall and proud, a sight that inspired awe despite being made of the same sandy stone as the rest of the city. All of its towered were embedded with stained glass windows that shone like precious stones and in the sunlight graced the city and its people with rich saturated colors from first light to nightfall. That day Jason had been stationed at the barracks gates, a pair of simple yet imposing iron laden dark hardwood. He had just arrived at his post and was still waking up before when Peter’s horse burst in, reared up in his face and nearly knocked him over.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Get that thing under control before you trample somebody!” Jason commanded Peter harshly, a bit embarrassed with himself for being caught off guard so easily while proceeding to blame it on staying up too late the previous night. Peter with Jason’s help was able to calm down the frightened horse a fawn colored mare that was still full of health and vigor despite being along in her years.
“Sorry Sir Redmond but there is no time to rest. This message came from a scout posted near the eastern woods. And I fear these may have been his last words,” Peter rambled out, his voice sounding as stressed and fearful as his lean face, watery eyes and tenuous body looked.
“The eastern woods? You’re absolutely certain?” Jason inquired, hoping that he had simply misheard. Any news from the eastern woods this time of year meant only one thing.
“Yes and there is no time to waste,” Peter quickly replied.
“I will take this to his Majesty at once,” Jason said as he immediately marched back into the barracks. With swift and practiced steps he nearly flew through the still waking barracks and to the King’s study where His Majesty spent his early morning hours before attending to his royal duties. Through the garden hallways, Jason’s creamy white Torvis forged boots and armor lightly clanged and echoed throughout the small space, still smelling of dew on what would have been an otherwise peaceful fall morning. His armor was specially forged Torvis armor and was the only armor that could withstand a dragon’s flame, claws, and teeth. It also bore the special ability to ward off the dragbeast illness and turned ebony black when one with its horde was near.
It took next to no time to arrive at the King’s study from the garden entrance where he swiftly banged his armored hand on the door, also embedded with stained glass that embraced a light gold and deep blue hawk that was Avonous’s crest.
Jason called out, “Your Highness, a message from the eastern woods has just arrived.”
From inside the quiet scrape of a wooden chair being pushed back against the stone floor could be heard and was followed by a set of steadily paced footsteps that stopped at the door which opened with a small creak. Behind the door stood an aged and proud man with fierce gray eyes, a strong square face with a short, trimmed deep gray beard and hair. He was draped in rich, thick navy blue robes donned with golden embroidery that resembled the ebb and flow of ocean waves.
Jason promptly kneeled before the king and presented the message from the scout, still sealed with deep blue wax bearing the crest of Avonous.
Though he kept himself fit and he was only twenty-five, Jason’s many battles were beginning to show. His neat, short, dark black-brown hair lightly salted with silver strands of gray and crow’s feet had begun to form at the edges of his sharp, hazel-green eyes which only added to his already stern face and demeanor. Otherwise, he was fit and well-toned with copper-colored skin that looked like he needed to take better care of, which he admitted to himself that he did.
With a motion that seemed almost too calm and leisurely given the urgency of the situation, the King took the letter from Jason’s hand and broke the seal. Jason continued to kneel before the King, wishing his knees didn’t feel quite so old until he was beckoned to stand.
“It says our main eastern outpost was consumed in flame. The only survivor was a badly injured scout sent to pass on this message,” the King read in a quiet, stern voice, “The scout had left the eastern outpost uninjured but was attacked shortly before arriving by dragbeasts. ‘There are clear signs of infection and gray scaling. He will write his last words and rites…if there is time. We request the service of the King’s Guard, The Dragon’s Brand, immediately’,” the King looked up from the message to Jason, already readying his mind for battle.
“What will be your orders you’re Majesty?” Jason asked, knowing there could only be one.
“Well, I can’t let a feral dragon and its horde continue roaming around my lands so rudely uninvited. Except for two to protect myself here, all of the King’s Guard are ordered to slay the beasts. I trust you know what to do from here Sir Redmond,” King Jarrod said with the knowing smile a father would give to his son.
“Of course Your Highness. We will leave at once,” Jason curtly replied with a proud smile of his own before giving the King one last bow and turning on heel to head back to the stables.
“Good hunting,” the King called after with great faith in Jason whom he had handpicked to join the King's Guard. He was only fifteen at the time and still a just a blacksmith’s apprentice in the small northern mountain town of Torvis, where the armor the King's Guard wore was forged. Now ten years later Jason had become Captain of the King's Guard, the notorious Dragon's Brand.
By the time the King had walked back into his study and was seated back at his desk, Jason had already gathered the Guard, shouting orders through the sleepy barracks which turned into a maelstrom of servants flying back and forth gathering food, weapons, and armor, knights inspecting and selecting the best of their weapons, and stable boys readying the finest of their horses, all of them tall and thickly built with coats as black as raven wings and a gallop as swift. For the two King’s Guard that would be left behind to guard, Jason had selected the brothers Locket and Pierce.
Locket and Pierce were by no means any less qualified than Jason and the other nine knights, in fact, they were among the best of the best. Both had grown up in Torvis as well and came from a line of tall, buff, strong-jawed, sturdy men that had been members of the King’s Guard for centuries now. But if the rest of them were to fall, they would be the only two who had the intelligence, skills, and knowledge to rebuild the King’s Guard from scratch and the only other ones who knew the location of Torvis aside from the King and Jason.
A young stable boy with a bowl-ish cut of blond hair quickly but nervously approached Jason. He recalled that his name may have been Flint, there were many stable boys that had come and gone in the last year alone and Jason admitted to himself that he was weary of learning new names. He stopped just short of bumping into Jason and held out a rugged, leather-bound package in his hands, “Here are you new daggers, Sir Redmond. Delivered by your Father. He sends his regards and wishes you well.”
“Thank you…Flint. I trust my father seemed well?” Jason inquired giving him a cheerful smile to hopefully either put him at ease or forgive him if that wasn’t his name. He had recalled that his father previously had been ill with a worrisome fever that had set his mother into a panic until the doctor assured her he would be fine. But then again she was the sort to worry about everything, so much so that most of what he did as the King’s Guard he left out altogether.
“Yes, much better than he was last month. He requested that you visit sometime soon and that the water there would help with your…gray hair,” he replied with the last bit coming out a bit shaky as he unconsciously gnawed at his lip.
Jason just shrugged his shoulders in good humor, “Heh, just like him to say that. If he’s still in town tell him I’ll believe that when his finally grows back.”
With a wave of his hand, Jason dismissed the stable boy to his other duties, relieved to hear his father was well and still had his humor about him, and proceeded to join the rest of Dragon’s Brand, a namesake that had given to them by the people thanks to Jason and his daggers.
Rather than fighting with a broadsword, though he had one of those too, Jason relied on two curved daggers and specially made Torvis gauntlets so he could fight any dragon with his fists. They were made to climb up their mountainous, scaly hides and purge their fire sacks of the golden liquid that created their fire and happened to also be their source of life, even more than their heart or brain. And as his finishing signature, while their fire still dripped like molten gold from his gloves, Jason would brand their hides with his right glove that had the Avonous’s hawk carved into the palm and brand them the way you would with cattle. Of all of the Torvis armor’s unique qualities, being able to burn a dragon’s hide was by far his favorite.
With the sun just barely in the sky to mark the beginning of the day, Jason and the other knights raced off with the townspeople wishing them farewell and for a swift victory with cheers, applause and music as they pounded in unison through the iron gates.
For hours they rode on, only breaking to eat, drink and give their horses some rest until it was late into the night with only the wind and the steady gallop of forty hooves pounding the hard dirt roads to sing to them now. As the moon slowly rose into the sky and they were only a short ways off from the messenger’s outpost Peter had ridden out from, one of Jason’s men, named Charles Bedmonte, rode up to him. He was only five years older than Jason but looked much older thanks to his once black hair that had turned white early and three deep pitted scars around his left sky blue colored eye. The other had been lost in battle and instead, a plain, thick leather patch took its place.
Charles slapped a hand down on Jason’s shoulder and teased, “You’re actually looking eager this time Jason. Last time you looked half asleep taking out the dragbeasts.”
Jason batted the unwelcomed hand off his shoulder before he replied, “Well last time we were all still half-drunk thanks to that greasy, loose cannon you call your brother,” trying to sound humored rather than annoyed. He had no desire to have that petty trite clouding his mind when he was trying focus on the battle just ahead.