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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2. Chapter 2

 

 

Dr Grey and Blackburne stood before the double carriage that they had arrived in the previous night. The side of one of the carriages swung open to release a mechanism that slid a secret panel out which contained all sorts of unusual looking weapons that were strapped into place. There were hunting knives, swords, pistols, clamps and saws, but the thing that required the most respect was the long double barrelled flintlock blunderbuss that had been modified to Dr Grey’s requirements. He unbuckled the blunderbuss and held it in his hands, testing its weight. Blackburne retrieved his from a similar panel on the other side of the carriage door.

‘Be careful not to damage the barrel,’ instructed Dr Grey as if he was warning a child. ‘The slightest dent could prevent it firing successfully.’

‘What’s so special about it?’ Blackburne asked.

‘When the trigger is released, two thin metal rods project from the barrel simultaneously, but they are connected by a fine web of silk. One of the rods is heavier than the other so that it does not travel as far. As the two rods begin to move apart the web expands, trapping and tangling the dragon.’

‘Impressive,’ said Blackburne. ‘When did you get the chance to test it?’

Dr Grey turned away from Blackburne as if he was tightening up one of the buckles that strapped some of the metal armour plating to his chest. ‘You really should have a little more faith in me Blackburne. When I design something I know it will work perfectly well. Testing is for people who cannot visualise the mechanics of how things they draw could work. I, on the other hand can. Mathematics and a clear mind can determine the velocity, trajectory and force without physically testing it.’

‘As much as I trust in your design skills,’ Blackburne replied with a smirk across his face, ‘I think I’ll take a couple of other weapons, just in case.’

Trying to avoid the disapproving look that Dr Grey was giving him, Blackburne slid two long swords out from within the panel and into a crossed scabbard that was strapped to his back so that only the handgrips could be seen above each shoulder.

‘The blunderbuss is loaded with two pairs of rods,’ Dr Grey said back to his companion, ‘just in case you should miss with your first.’

At the bottom of the panel was a switch that when pressed released a thin piece of the silver trim that decorated the side of the carriage. Dr Grey pulled gently and a long shiny sheet of metal slid effortlessly from within the carriage.

‘I see you got Wade to remould the shields after our encounter with the Athabascan Whip Tongue?’, stated Blackburne.

‘Indeed I did,’ replied Dr Grey as he ran his gloved hand down the metal. It seemed to shimmer and twist as if the metal itself were alive. ‘I think you will find this one far superior to our previous efforts. At enormous expense I had him roll and fold six layers of silver and steel until it was as thin as a sovereign; not an easy task at all. But then I told him to melt a layer of diamond dust onto the front, giving it unrivalled strength and the ability to withstand immense heat.’

Whilst they had been preparing themselves, a small crowd of villagers had begun to accumulate around them, unaccustomed to seeing men getting dressed in the street, especially ones that were strapping themselves into black leather and armour.

Dr Grey dramatically turned around and spread his arms as if he was addressing an audience and glad of the attention he was attracting.

‘You can fear no longer good people for Doctor Gabriel Grey; the famous Dragon Slayer has arrived to rid you of your red dragon.’ As he spoke, two of the horses that had pulled the carriage the night before were being led out of the stables and over towards the two men. The horses had also been dressed for the days sport with thin plates of metal protecting the front of their faces, chest and legs.

Blackburne turned his face away with an embarrassed grin. He doubted that any of the villagers had ever heard of Dr Grey, most could probably not read and relied on hearsay and stories told from one person to another, which were often highly inaccurate. But Dr Grey liked to act like a flamboyant showman to everyone, so insisted on providing a commentary to those he thought inferior.

One of the bystanders began to clap, encouraging Dr Grey’s bravery, but quickly stopped as he realised that no one else was joining in.

It began to rain.

The two men climbed onto the backs of their horses, shield and blunderbuss in hand and began to ride along the unmade road. Droplets of rain chased each other down the horse’s silky coat, gathering speed as they channelled down the skinny legs to join the rest of the water that pooled beneath the imprints that the heavy hooves left in the mud. The crowd rapidly disappeared to leave just one man watching the two horses as they turned off the road and into a small clearing that was hidden by trees. The man wore thick furs wrapped tightly around his body while a thin white beard waxed to a point hung greasily beneath his chin. On the top of his head a thick fur hat made him appear taller than he actually was.

The two horses walked steadily along the well trodden and muddy path that led between the trees and hawthorn bushes along the border of the field that would eventually lead them up towards what remained of the charred cottage where they had spotted the dragon the previous night.

‘The boy said the cottage was used by an old lady who, at one point, was Lord Mansforth’s mother's maid. She would have had no chance to escape once the Half Horns fiery breathe touched the dry hay of the thatch,’ Blackburne said conversationally.

‘Do not waste your pity on the dead, think of the lives of the others that will suffer if we do not find the dragon,’ replied Dr Grey who seemed a little distracted. He began to sniff the air noisily, but all Blackburne could smell was the bitterness of the burnt wood from the cottage that still hung heavily in the air.

‘Have you had any more thoughts about where the dragon came from in the first place?’

‘I know exactly where it came from, and I know how it got here, but what I don’t know is why it’s here.’

Dr Grey stopped his horse and began examining some of the plants that surrounded them, sniffing at each. He then pulled at one of the branches from the overhanging oak tree and peeled a leaf from it. Once again he sniffed deeply before opening his mouth and licking the dry brown surface, moving his tongue around inside his mouth as he assessed the finer aspects of what he was tasting. After several seconds he spat out as much as his mouth contained, desperate to remove the acidic taste he was experiencing. Blackburne watched, intrigued to know what Dr Grey was actually doing.

Suddenly, Dr Grey pulled his horse over to the right and began walking it through a small gap in the trees.

‘This way I believe,’ he called to Blackburne, instructing him to follow.

‘But I thought we were going up to the cottage?’, Blackburne called to Dr Grey's back.

‘Not any more.’

Blackburne let out a sigh of frustration but had no option other than to follow Dr Grey. He steered his horse through the trees onto a less trodden single file track where the undergrowth was so thick it blocked the rain that still came down from the heavy clouds.

Almost as soon as he had gone into the undergrowth it opened up into a secluded clearing where the green grass banked down sharply towards a field that was surrounded by tall trees on all sides.

Dr Grey had already dismounted and was examining some round black clumps of earth. Blackburne took his horse over towards his companion.

‘What have you found?’

‘Dragon dung,’ Dr Grey replied, ‘and it’s pretty fresh, still slightly warm.’

‘Have you seen what’s down the hill?’

‘Yes, probably one of Lord Mansforth’s deer, the remains of its last kill.’

‘Then it must be hiding somewhere close by.’

‘Indeed,’ agreed Dr Grey. ‘It would protect its food by keeping it close. All around here the dragon has marked its territory.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Dragon urine has a particularly acidic taste. The rain had begun to wash it down from the trees above.’

‘You mean you licked dragon piss off that leaf back there?’, said Blackburne disgusted but never surprised by his employers techniques in finding dragons.

‘We need to get down there, but it will be too slippery for the horses. Let’s take them back onto the path where they will be sheltered by the trees, I don’t want them to become the Half Horns next meal.’

Once the horses had been secured to a tree, they made their way on foot back into the clearing. Because of the rain the grass was slippery underfoot, made worse by the weight of the additional equipment they now carried. Cautiously they made their way down, using what branches and projecting roots they could find to hold and grip onto as best they could. Eventually the slope levelled out and they could clearly see the bony and bloody carcass of what remained of a small deer. Around the field were deep claw marks cut into the grass as if a plough had carved troughs into the soil ready for seeding. There were also scorch marks.

Dr Grey was now crouched over some of the deer remains, examining what was left of them.

'A young fallow deer, probably only about one year old. An easy target. From the chunks of flesh that have been torn from the carcass, I would say the Half Horn had a narrow snout, but powerful jaws, probably about the width of a foot with two rows of teeth. It's concentrated on eating the thicker muscular areas around the legs and buttocks, but left the major organs as well as the belly meat,' explained Dr Grey as much to himself as to Blackburne.

Blackburne looked around the clearing nervously. Apart from the gentle sound of rain drops hitting millions of leaves at the same time, he had begun to notice a low rumbling sound like a thunderstorm was raging far in the distance.

'But with such powerful jaws it could easily have finished a small deer like this with no effort,' continued Dr Grey. 'So why leave it here unfinished in the open?'

'In that book of yours, what colour were the Half Horns eyes?', Blackburne asked, calmly kicking Dr Grey on the side of the leg to get his attention.

'Unless?', continued Dr Grey who was lost in his own thoughts and oblivious to Blackburne. A frightening thought jumped into his mind. 'Unless it's to attract other sources of food, which means….' Dr Grey looked up from the carcass to his companion. 'The deer is not just food. It's bait,' he said as he began to look in the same direction as Blackburne.

From one side of the trees the rumbling sound increased until it began to make the earth beneath their feet vibrate. Dr Grey's subconscious slowly caught up with what Blackburne had asked about eyes, realising what he was talking about. From between the trees a pair of large snakelike eyes looked back at them. They were the deepest red with a black slit in the centre; a thin white membrane momentarily flickered across the glassy eye ball as it watched its prey.

Blackburne pulled his metal visor down over his face and prepared his blunderbuss. Dr Grey slowly bent down to reach for one of the bones around his feet. He then threw it towards the undergrowth.

'What are you doing?', whispered Blackburne between gritted teeth. 'We can’t fight it by throwing its dinner at it!'

'We can’t capture it at all if it’s hidden within the trees,' replied Dr Grey. 'We need to draw it out.' He picked up another bone and threw it towards the undergrowth once again, this time aiming higher and further than before. The eyes narrowed and a deep hissing sound echoed angrily from within the trees.

A small orange light shone amongst the trees that rapidly got larger until it formed a ball of fire that shot out directly at the two men. They both crouched down and hid their bodies behind their shields, but the force of the fireball knocked them backwards, nearer to the ground.

'I don’t think it likes you,' shouted Blackburne as the fireball evaporated into the air, leaving the glassy surface of the shields with ghostly black scorch marks on them. Although the shields had protected them and not melted under the heat, the surface began to spit and hiss as rain drops landed on the hot surface.

The dragon was now crashing its way from between the trees towards the two men, crushing and snapping any branches that got in its way. The head was supported on a long thick muscular neck and it launched into the clearing lashing at Dr Grey and his clerk with open jaws. Its attack was deflected off their shields and the two men quickly found themselves separated from each other. The dragon moved quickly, matching the men as they dodged and jumped out of the way. The dragon didn't have a very large body, just big enough to support the muscles needed to manoeuvre the long papery wings that curved and flapped walls of air into Blackburne, knocking him to the ground. The tail, which whipped dangerously around it, was as long and muscular as the neck, giving the dragon the overall appearance of a serpent with wings. The characteristic Half Horns were short, stunted projections above the nostrils along the snout, not a danger themselves, but the sharp curved teeth that filled the mouth below it certainly were.

'Get ready to fire your blunderbuss,' shouted Dr Grey to Blackburne who was on his back continuously blocking the dragons snout as its jaws tried desperately to get some sort of hold on the shiny surface of his shield whilst keeping away from one of the swords that Blackburne had managed to pull from behind him.

'I’m a little busy right now,' Blackburne shouted sarcastically back.

Dr Grey aimed the blunderbuss towards the wings of the dragon and squeezed the trigger. A small explosion burst from the barrel of the gun as two metal rods shot from the gun into the air, but the force of the explosion had taken him by surprise and caused his hands to move slightly. The rods were now travelling towards the dragon's head and neck.

Blackburne was trying desperately to get up off the floor, but the dragon continued to lash at him. He saw a flash of something metallic in the air that seemed to be coming in his direction and managed to scrabble backwards across the ground before feeling a thud in the ground between his legs. One of the metal rods from Dr Grey's blunderbuss had landed exactly where Blackburne's head had been only a few seconds before. The dragon momentarily had its neck and head pulled down to the ground, trapped beneath the net, but it didn’t hold for long. Blackburne jumped up and aimed his blunderbuss with both hands at the dragon’s wings. He had better control of the gun than Dr Grey and the rods landed either side of the dragon, its wings caught in the net. By now the head was back in action and angrier than before. It searched for its attackers, this time concentrating on Dr Grey who had plucked a small bag from his waist and was getting ready to throw. He waited and waited until the dragon's snout was within touching distance then launched the bag at the nose of the dragon, but it was too late. The dragon clamped its teeth around Dr Grey's arm lifting him effortlessly from the ground and into the air.

Then it sneezed.

Dr Grey fell to the ground, his arm a mess of twisted and dented metal armour with some bleeding coming from between the plates.

Blackburne fired the blunderbuss again whilst the dragon continued to sneeze. It appeared to have its eyes closed too, protecting them from the pepper and chilli powder that Dr Grey had thrown in its face. Again the net fell over the wings, making them useless to the dragon. Without being able to see or use its wings to keep it steady, the dragon began to stumble and trip. Blackburne wasted no time in swinging a chain with a series of metal balls attached to it, above his head. As he let it go it cut through the air, whistling as it went, and spun itself around the dragon’s two larger back legs, knocking it down with a ground shaking thud.

‘I told you the blunderbuss would work,’ Dr Grey shouted to Blackburne over the hissing and roaring coming from the stranded dragon.

‘You nearly skewered me with one,’ Blackburne shouted back in reply.

‘That was a test shot to direct the dragon’s attention from you.’

‘Well next time try clapping your hands.’ Blackburne pulled a length of rope from across his body and tied it into a loop. He then cautiously approached the dragon's head from the side. Its eyes remained closed, but its hearing still detected the approaching figure and swung the thick neck towards him. Blackburne harmlessly stepped backward out of range, but threw the hoop he had made, attempting to lasso the dragon's head. On the third attempt the rope went round the snout of the dragon and with a sharp pull the knot tightened, preventing the dragon from opening his mouth.

‘What shall we do with him?’ Blackburne asked Dr Grey who had now approached the dragon, supporting his injured arm with his other hand.

‘I don’t know. It’s longer than I thought it would be so we can’t fit it into the extra carriage; we would need to send for more transport if we were to get it down to Dover securely.’

Suddenly they both became aware of an orange glow in the clearing at the top of the slope where Dr Grey had found the dragon droppings. Some of the villagers appeared to have formed a mob and were shaking flaming torches, scythes and wooden clubs in the air, cheering at the fall of the dragon.

Dr Grey turned to his companion with a concerned look on his face.

‘They will rip the creature to shreds before we can arrange to have it returned to Russia. I can’t let it suffer that fate, but if we release it the villagers could turn on us. Blackburne, I need you to kill it with one stroke of your sword, make it quick and make it painless.’

Blackburne understood what Dr Grey was asking him and knew that it was not a decision he would have taken easily.

The Half Horn had grown still and become tired which made Blackburne’s job easier. With both hands on the hilt of his sword he thrust the blade between the scales of skin above the eyes and directly into the brain. The dragon’s body immediately slumped lifelessly against the sodden ground, sinking slightly into the churned up mud and rainwater.

This had only been the third time they had ever had to kill a dragon that they had captured. Usually Dr Grey arranged transport on a network of freight ships to re-home the dragons back to their natural habitats or into areas where they would not be at danger from humans. There were rare occasions that a dragon was too dangerous to transport or had sustained injuries during its capture that killing it was the kindest thing to do.

Dr Grey turned away from the dragon’s body and began walking up the slope towards where they left the horses. He hated himself for giving the order to kill the dragon, but if he hadn’t it would have been beaten and tortured, tormented and degraded and that was not the life for such a grand and magical beast as the Patagonian Half Horned Dragon.

 

They packed up the carriages immediately and began making their way back to London, arriving in Westminster during the night. The feeling of failure that Dr Grey felt prevented him from saying a single word for the entire journey, remaining in a depressed mood which left Blackburne to doze quietly in the corner of the carriage, wrapped warmly beneath numerous clothes and blankets.

Dr Grey walked into his house and immediately began making his way up the stairs towards his bedroom. The house was silent and dark, only the loud clunking of the clock broke the silence.

‘Dr Grey?’, said a quiet voice. A short woman, dressed in nightwear and holding a candle holder stood framed in a yellow light within the kitchen door.

‘Good evening Mrs Jackson? I hope I haven’t disturbed you, but I’m very tired and would like to go straight to bed.’

‘Sorry sir, but a gentleman called today and left you this card,’ the housekeeper walked up to Dr Grey and passed a distinctive black coloured calling card to him. ‘Very unusually dressed he was, not from around here I would say.’

‘Thank you,’ he said. On the front of the card was some ornate writing printed in red ink with the name “Count Ludwig von Hesling, Proprietor and Showman of The Most Amazing and Wondrous Travelling Show on Earth.” He turned the card over, written by hand on the back was a curious invitation. ‘Dr Grey,’ he read, ‘meet me at the Thames Frost Fair, tomorrow 6pm and I guarantee that the whole world will know your name. LVH’

 

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