Doctor Gabriel Grey, The Finest Dragon Slayer in Westminster

London 1665.
Doctor Gabriel Grey is one of the last dragon slayers remaining in England, for rent to the highest bidder. His fame and fortune provides him with a privedged lifestyle, mixing in society with the royalty and aristocracy of seventeenth century London. All that changes when Count Ludwig von Hesling, a traveling showman, destroys Grey's life and family. Assuming Grey was dead, Hesling attempts to capture and collect dragons himself for a brand new exhibit to be shown in london. The greatest show on earth would be the London Dracotorium. Grey, barely alive, homeless and disfigured, is shunned from society. In a twist of fate, Grey accidentally saves Hesling from a fatel accident and becomes an exhibit himself within Hesling's traveling show. He is quickly promoted to train the dragons within the Dracotorium, but Grey's thirst for revenge eventually seals Hesling's fate.

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1. Chapter 1

London, 1665

 

‘But sir, I have an infestation of dragons,’ said the man as he screwed a grubby cloth that was a poor excuse for a cap between his hands making it dirtier by the minute. ‘They steal what little food we can find and if we have another bad winter we will never have enough to last us. Our children are not of an age for working yet and my youngest daughter’s skin is red and itchy. I’m sure it’s because of the Dragons. I’m desperate sir. I must be rid of them and you are so well known as being the best Dragon Catcher in all of London.’

‘Indeed I am but if you do not have the means to pay me then I regret to say that I will not be able to come and remove them,’ replied the tall, well clothed gentleman who stood looking out of the large framed window in the expensively furnished room.

Another man was also in the room. His fingers were stained black from ink, betraying the volume of writing that he did. He looked from one man to the other and sighed.

‘What do the dragons look like, Mr Lyttle?’ he asked.

‘Small and black, long tails, short stubby wings, skinny bodies,’ the rejected figure seemed so out of place as he stood in the centre of the decorated room. He turned towards the clerk behind the desk, relieved that someone was willing to listen to him. ‘They run around the edges of the room and squeeze between the cracks in the walls. We’ve tried to catch them ourselves but they’re too fast.’

‘They sound like Midnovian Water Dragons, wouldn’t you agree Dr Grey?’ said the clerk to the man at the window. When he received no response he turned once again towards Mr Lyttle; ‘where is your house?’

‘At the bottom of Saint Andrews Hill, near Puddle Docks.’

‘The cold weather must have driven them away from the Thames and into the city,’ the clerk replied to no one in particular. ‘Usually they live around the banks of the river feeding on waste.’ He paused, then directed his speech towards the man at the window, ‘only the other day sir, I heard the cook mention to your wife’s maid that she had seen a water dragon in the street, feeding on the waste.’ The clerk appealed to his employer for some understanding, but all that remained was an uncomfortable silence.

The man finally turned from the window and studied Mr Lyttle for the first time.

‘You are correct Mr Lyttle, I am thought of very highly in certain circles. Indeed King Charles himself only recently called upon my services to deal with a delicate matter he was experiencing, as have many other gentlemen and ladies that live in some of the grandest houses in the City of Westminster. I am Doctor Gabriel Grey, the greatest Dragon Slayer alive today and my services come at a high cost. If I came to rid you of your water dragons without proper payment I would have to rid your neighbours of theirs and before I knew it I would become a laughing stock within my social class. Would you have me known as someone who merely removes pests from the poorest parts of the city like a simple rat catcher? I too have a family to feed and clothe. And besides, there are many more dangerous dragons in England than vermin that merely hide within walls, feed off human waste and cause a child’s skin to itch. For all I know, the itching is probably due to fleas or lice and a general lack of washing. Blackburne, see this man out, I have more important work to do.’ Dr Grey turned his back on Mr Lyttle once again to stare back out of the window.

Blackburne, the clerk, stood up from behind the desk and opened the doors that led out of the reception room. Mr Lyttle paused before following Blackburne and looked over once again to the figure of Dr Grey silhouetted against the bright winter sky. He was considering whether it was worth asking for his help one more time or appeal to a so far invisible generous side, but thought better of it.

‘Good day to you Mr Lyttle,’ Dr Grey said, sensing Mr Lyttle’s hesitation to leave, without bothering to turn around.

As soon as he heard the front door close he turned away from the window and sat in a comfortable chair with the palms of his hands pressed together as if in prayer, thinking intently and waiting for his clerk to return.

‘Mrs Ellis,’ he shouted to someone in another room somewhere, ‘I am in need of some tea.’

Blackburne walked through the door and sat down opposite his employer.

‘Did you give him a chunk of calming wax before he went?’ Dr Grey asked his clerk abruptly.

‘I did. I told him it was what we used if we got small burns or skin irritations, but don’t worry your reputation is still intact. He doesn’t know I gave it to him under your instruction, he thought you were arrogant and self important.’

‘Good,’ Dr Grey seemed oblivious to the insulting observations that Mr Lyttle had made to Blackburne about his employer.

‘Every week there seems to be more reports of small dragons moving into the city away from Thames. They must be breeding rapidly on the waste and filth that accumulates in the streets. I heard that a colony of European Green’s had taken over an area around Aldgate to the east of the city wall. They say some of the houses along White Chapel Street have been abandoned altogether.’

‘I’ve been thinking about getting Wade to make something I have called an Automated Trap that could catch some of these smaller dragons while we concentrate on the larger, more dangerous ones. It would have to be cheaply made so that people like our friend Mr Lyttle could afford it. It could be quite a profitable sideline for us,’ he said with delight. ‘Did you give him some money?’

‘I gave him a Florin; I thought it more appropriate since you insulted his daughter’s cleanliness.’

At that point the maid that Dr Grey had shouted his instruction to walked in the room and placed a tray on the small table that separated Blackburn from Dr Grey.

‘Did you tell him about burning pepper and stuffing it into the cracks in the walls? Always does the trick in my experience, they loath the smell of pepper.’

   ‘Yes I told him that,’ replied Blackburne as he poured the tea into the two cups, passing one to Dr Grey. ‘I think we need to help these people more, even if they don’t have the money to pay,’ Blackburne hesitantly said.

   Dr Grey, who had just raised his cup to his lips, flicked a look of annoyance at his clerk.

   ‘We have been through this already. If we take these small jobs and get paid very little, if anything, we would loose our bigger and more important clients. It is their custom that pays for the ship that takes the dragons to Bulgaria and Romania where they can live unharmed. Without them, we would have to kill every dragon we encounter and I refuse to do that.’ He blew gently across the surface of his tea then ventured to take a small sip. ‘Besides,’ he continued, ‘we do what we can for those who cannot pay. We help them without them realising it.’

   He stood once again and impatiently started to walk around the room, bored with the conversation.

   ‘Tell me once more about Lord Mansforth’s dragon.’

   ‘Different altogether to Mr Lyttle’s water dragon. Lord Mansforth has a red Patagonian Half Horned Dragon that has been attacking his livestock on his hunting grounds in the weald of Kent. He’s not happy at all. It’s affected the number of deer he can run around killing. There’s even been a report of a young baby being taken by the dragon, but you know how these stories can so easily get out of hand.’

   ‘Indeed. But where did a dragon like that come from, that’s the intriguing part. There’s only ever been one other definite sighting of a Half Horn and that was beyond the border in Scotland more than a century ago.’ Dr Grey walked over to a large book shelf that completely covered one wall and contained numerous black, tan and white leather bound books. He reached for the largest on the shelf, slid it out and laid it gently onto the desk where Blackburne had been sat during their meeting with Mr Lyttle. The brass clasps that held it together released the pages of the book with a sigh of relief, the cover springing up under the pressure caused by the number of additional loose sheets of notes that were stuffed between the pages.

   ‘Maybe his description of it is wrong?’ Blackburne suggested.

   ‘While you have been speculating I have been working, my friend. I have here three letters from Kent describing the same beast; “red like the colour of dried blood”, “stunted horns around its mouth”, “papery thin wings wider than a mountain” all suggesting the same dragon that Lord Mansforth describes.’

   Dr Grey slapped a page with the palm of his hand.

   ‘Also known as Draco Dimidium Ceratias. Last seen on this island in 1524. It should not be here at all. They normally only live around the shelves of active volcanoes in Russia.’

   ‘However it got to England, Lord Mansforth is willing to pay a small fortune to have it removed from his lands,’ said Blackburne. ‘The money could pay to have this automated trap of yours produced.’

   ‘Wade is certainly a skilled blacksmith. He has been busy on a new design for me, intended to help with the capture of larger dragons such as the Half Horn and this trip provides us with the perfect opportunity to test it out.’

   Dr Grey closed the book he was looking at with force causing a small cloud of aged dust to burst into the air.

   ‘Prepare the carriage,’ he said, ‘we set off for Kent immediately.’

 

   The black, oddly shaped double carriage pulled up outside the Saint George tavern in the village of Elham, twenty miles north-west of Dover. The four horses that were needed to pull the extra long carriage were as black as the night sky and were quickly taken into the stables away from the freezing night temperature to be given a bed of hay and fresh water. The two occupants of the carriage, cloaked and hidden from the cold, stepped out and passed some coins to the stable boy before pushing open the tavern door.

   Inside there was a large central fire that filled the room with a heat that was so intense in comparison to the night temperature, that it stuck their cheeks. Neither of the men removed their cloaks, but pulled them down to gather around their necks revealing the faces of two well groomed gentlemen.

   ‘Landlord,’ called the taller of the two men to the fat bellied man behind the thick wooden bar. Blackburne looked around the room. Unlike Dr Grey, who always seemed to like to announce his arrival where ever he was, Blackburne had always exercised caution when entering a tavern that he did not know, aware that there could be thieves that would be all too eager to take money from two London gents by the sharp end of a sword.

‘Doctor Gabriel Grey and his clerk have arrived, kindly make up our room. We have a thirst after our long journey and a hunger for some food,’ Dr Grey announced loudly.

‘Sit yourselves down gents,’ the landlord waved a hand towards a table near to the fire.

‘And make it decent meat,’ added Dr Grey to the fat landlord who was now waddling out towards the kitchen, ‘none of that Pottage.’

Blackburne glanced around the room, apart from themselves and the landlord, there were only three other people in the bar that night. Two men sat near to the bar whilst the third and most unusual, was a man sitting close to the fire hugging his beer close to his chest as if someone was shortly going to take it away from him. Only his eyes showed, sandwiched between the collar of his coat and a foreign looking fur hat on his head.

‘It’s a cold night to be travelling,’ said one of the men near the bar.

‘Indeed it is,’ Blackburne said trying to make conversation with the man before Dr Grey had the chance to offend anyone. ‘We have come from London. We have some business with Lord Mansforth.’

‘They say it’s so cold in London that the Thames has frozen solid again.’

‘It has. It can be quite a sight sir. Seeing so many traders and entertainers standing where in the summer the water runs freely,’ replied Blackburne excitedly.

 At that point the landlord reappeared and placed a bowl with two legs of lamb half submerged in watery gravy into the centre of the table together with a large chunk of bread. He then returned with two tankards of beer.

‘Thank you,’ Blackburne said politely to the landlord who had noticed Dr Grey suspiciously inspecting one of the legs of lamb.

Suddenly, the front door swung in and banged against a stool. The orange glow from the fire danced erratically round the room disturbed by the cold breeze that now blew in from outside. Everyone turned to see who had entered the tavern so dramatically, but instead of seeing someone standing in the doorway, a weakened figure of a boy crawling on all fours had managed to pull himself into the room.

The landlord moved quickly for such a large man and closed the door. The boy on the floor lifted his head.

‘It’s back,’ he stuttered, ‘the devils dragon.’

‘It’s Ellis Featherston’s son,’ said one of the men at the bar recognising the boy. He stepped over and helped lift the boy onto a chair.

They could now see that his clothes were scorched and tattered and there was a deep and bloody gash across his chest.

‘Where is the dragon now boy,’ asked Dr Grey impatiently standing up.

The landlord turned towards Dr Grey.

‘You said you were a doctor sir,’ he said, ‘can you help the boy?’

‘I am a doctor, a doctor of Zoology. Animals are far more interesting than humans. Now where is the dragon?’

‘It’s taken more of the herd and the cottage on the hill is burning,’ replied the boy as he cupped his chest in his hands, trying to ease the pain from his wound.

‘Come Blackburne,’ Dr Grey dramatically said.

‘Don’t go out there,’ instructed the boy, ‘it’s searching for food.’

‘Here,’ replied Dr Grey as he passed the boy his leg of lamb, ‘eat this. Get your strength back.’

Dr Grey patted the boy on his head, wiped his hand on his coat, then strode out of the tavern and began searching the night sky furiously for any sign of the dragon. On the hill behind the tavern he could see an old thatched cottage burning easily, pouring orange coloured smoke into the sky, but there was no sign of the dragon. Blackburne stood beside him and pulled his cloak up to his nose to keep the cold night air out.

‘There!’ said Dr Grey pointing excitedly as a dark shape flashed in front of the orange smoke.

‘I didn’t see anything,’ said Blackburne.

They continued to stare into the black sky looking for the dragon.

‘Keep watching the burning cottage,’ instructed Dr Grey, ‘the Half Horn will be drawn towards the fire.’

The black sky was suddenly and unexpectedly carved in two by a jet of fire that seemed to appear from nowhere and spread like liquid over a large tree next to the cottage. In the intense but momentary light that was produced from the fire, the dragon was clearly silhouetted hovering weightlessly in the sky, like an eagle searching for its prey. It had long thin wings and the elegant curved body of a serpent. Around the mouth two flattened horns stuck out just above the nostrils. As quickly as it had appeared, with one flap of the long wings it instantly vanished from the orange glow in a swirl of smoke.

‘It seems that your reports are true, my friend,’ muttered Blackburne to Dr Grey, who had an excited look in his eyes that his clerk had seen on other occasions when there was danger on the horizon.

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