The Dragonslayer’s Tribe
The congregation met every fortnight at an old, abandoned shack. On these nights, the self-styled important men and women, who were the members of this clandestine congregation, would wait patiently and made sure their children and counterparts were all resting safe and sound before they set out.
The Full Moon shone brightly upon the grim woods tonight. Except for a grey, little cloud that clung to the moon, the sky was inky black but unnaturally clear. A cool mist hung in the air. The clumps of plants that grew abandoned cowered in the nippy night air and cast ghostly long shadows on the cold forest ground. The trees, which were once strong and able, were now leafless and barren. Their branches were bare and the trunks dry and parched. The boughs rose gloomily from the shrivelled trunk and interlaced with the acrid branches of another tree into a cold, painful embrace.
People waited until the moon was high in the sky. They stepped out dressed in black, billowy robes that quaked and quivered in the cold air. Lanterns at hand, they made their way towards the shack- walking noiselessly, slowly-all scattered across the whole settlement.
They walked into the shack one after the other and after filling in their names on a register, they were asked to take their seats. When all the formalities were done and all the seats filled, the door was closed and some of the lanterns put off.
The silent hall burst into muffled murmurs and strangled whispers which ceased when an old man emerged on the dais and gave a subdued cough. The audience alarmed, immediately fell silent. The usual gossip was relinquished instantly; stooping backs turned straight amidst the cold air and ears grew sharp with attention.
The old man didn’t quite say anything yet. He was fair with a sagging, ageing skin. His face sported shabby stubble. His hair- a mop of grey and white on the head-had been cropped. He wore a black robe too but his had an emblem of a flaming piece of wood emblazoned on it. He walked in silence and paused in front of the furnace- everyone’s full attention on him. Firewood in place, he sighed and lifted his wand out from his pocket and pointing it towards the wood, he enunciated, ‘Ignis.’
A spark was generated and the wood was kindled and a few seconds later, the crackling sound of the fire made everyone warm and comfy.
The old man spoke out. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he paused for effect and continued, ‘without further ado, let us begin.’
His steely grey eyes turned to the audience and after a searching, studying gaze, they remained fixed. ‘I believe Quentin has—’ he began.
‘Greetings, High Lord Dunbar.’ A young, dark-haired man wearing gold-rimmed glasses spoke out from the crowd. He was already standing. He gave a curt nod after the interruption and almost managed to smile when heads turned to him. ‘I would like to draw your attention towards the issue at hand. As you see, from a while, we have witnessed an erratic trend in the sales of dragon-products.’
‘What do you intend to say?’ An elderly man from the front asked.
‘There is something disastrously wrong. Although Draycott’s company has assured us that full payments have been made, the records say otherwise,’ Quentin replied.
‘I say that scavenger’s been lying to us. Conning us, making us believe in his ridiculous ideas—convincing us to sell those dragon-products wholesale while he reaps the profits. I say we go there and make ourselves clear!’ said a short-tempered, middle-aged man from the side.
A group consisting of young men sitting at the back erupted into cheers and shouts of approval.
‘We—’ Quentin’s voice croaked. He was sweating and his legs which remained still were now turning into jelly. ‘We have reason to believe that someone on the inside is doing this-siphoning off all the money.’
Dunbar, who remained still on the dais, wiped a trickle of sweat off his brow. ‘Thank you, Quentin for enlightening us with your observation,’ he said irritated. ‘As for the corrupt practices that continue to prevail, I assure we will take severe action against the wrongdoers. We will find them. The Council will deliberate and set everything straight,’ he announced.
Silence filled the hall revealing the satisfaction that lingered in their minds.
‘Lord Dunbar, last week the cotton factory caught fire because of a—’ A dark, thin woman said.
‘Yes, yes,’ Dunbar interrupted. ‘An Algerian Firebreath had trespassed our territory. We have assessed the damage. Losses incurred are being paid by insurance. Also, I have personally taken charge and sent a handful of valiant, strong man to hunt down the beast that dared to set foot on our sacred ground.’ He spoke with a distinct coldness- a cruel, unkind sort of coldness. ‘Oh well,’ he snapped out of his thoughts. ‘I believe that matter is taken care now.’
Dunbar paused again. He collected his thoughts. ‘I would like to discuss something crucial,’ he said gazing at the audience. But immediately he was distracted by a short, frizzy-haired man who hobbled his way onto the wooden dais. He almost fell over Dunbar and when he managed to calm his nerves, he handed Dunbar an old, torn photograph.
Dunbar nodded and watched the little man go back- excited as ever. He looked at the photograph for a moment. After thrusting the photograph into his pocket, he returned to his audience.
‘We have received news- a new prophecy, predicted by Seer Francis the Third, speaks of the heir,’ said Dunbar and his words were followed by a loud burst of grim murmurs and shouts and gasps.
‘Dunbar.’ Everyone kept aside their discussions and looked searching for the person who dared to address the High Lord, the Chief of the Dragonslayers- by his name.
‘Dunbar!’ It was a woman- quite older than Dunbar himself. She had a thick voice and a plump body. It was eighty-three year old Elizabeth Morley- the oldest yet perhaps the most agile member of the congregation. ‘Don’t go on further with your silly ramblings. The last time you talked about the prophecy claiming the heir take over the Land of Dragons, we witnessed eight murders, three suicides and not to mention twenty six others who defected into the humans’ side.’
‘That was most unfortunate,’ Dunbar said –mostly to himself. ‘But this time,’ he said looking up –a strange glint filling his grey eyes. ‘We have a really good chance at getting back at them. I believe the time is right to strike back. While Land of Dragons has its own troubles to take care of, we can, provided the resources, take control of what was, what is and what will be always rightfully ours. It’s time to establish our rightful supremacy in the Land of Dragons—’
‘But Dunbar,’ Elizabeth Morley repeated again but this time no one bothered to even flinch. Everyone’s attention remained on Dunbar and their eyes pleading him to continue.
‘The Dragonlovers have had their chance. Millennia of friendly, peaceful yet powerful rule. But we must not let them forget that we too are a part of this realm. They have ignored us, gone against us and even, banished us. Every second filled with pain and humiliation must be reminded. They must pay back for everything they’ve done to us—’ Dunbar paused. The glint in his eyes turning into madness.
Everyone including Mrs. Morley remained silent for a moment. A loud roar of approval ruptured from the back which was followed by a thunderous applause that reverberated in the hall. Everyone cheered –their minds clear –now having a goal to achieve. Dunbar’s words inspired them, stirred them out of their stupor and renewed their strength. Everyone except Mrs. Morley.
She sat, amidst the entire racket, with an apprehensive look on her aged face.
Dunbar nodded slowly and spoke again. ‘We must not let this chance slip between our fingers. The Council has received news about the boy. He is on the run –last spotted at Bembridge,’ he said. ‘We must pool in our resources and we must begin work immediately. We must begin at dawn. The Council will issue a circular regarding the details. We must plan to take the Dragonlovers by surprise.’
He looked around and said, ‘Let us not waste precious time. I advise you to go home and get some rest. We have a big day in front of us.’
Everyone remained still for a moment. They eyed each mutely and then, rose up and began leaving.
Dunbar walked back and stood staring at the blazing fire in the fireplace.
‘Gregory Aldrich Dunbar.’ He turned back and saw Mrs. Morley at the threshold. Everyone else had left. ‘Others may believe your words but frankly I don’t think this ploy of yours is going to work. You seem to have forgotten your history. Don’t forget, if anything goes wrong, you will be responsible for that,’ she said indignantly.
‘This time,’ said Dunbar self-assuredly, ‘nothing will go wrong.’
Mrs. Morley’s face turned furiously red. She looked irked by his confidence.
‘We’ll see that, Dunbar. All in good time,’ she clenched her teeth and remarked. Unable to continue her conversation with him, she walked away.
Dunbar returned to the fire. He extracted the photograph from his pocket and observed carefully.
There was a boy in the picture. He was fair, about fifteen years old and he wore rectangular-framed glasses. His blue eyes seemed lost and it looked like he wasn’t aware that his picture was being taken when it was.
Dunbar studied the picture carefully. He was distracted again by his little assistant who came running excitedly.
‘Sir, sir…’ he gasped.
‘What is it, Frohike?’ Dunbar turned to him.
‘Sir, those men you sent to get the dragon—’
‘What about them?’
‘They have returned.’
Without wasting any more time, Dunbar and his excited-as-a-puppy assistant rushed to the forest.
Hefty men with strong, toned muscles stood at the edge of the forest. They had chained the Algerian Firebreath –a grey dragon with ridges and scales on its rough back without any wings. The creature lay on the ground. When it would protest the men would pull the chains that were secured around its ankles-all at the same time –almost crushing it. If one of the men even neared the dragon, the dragon would rebel and shake violently.
Dunbar examined the dragon.
‘We found it near the creek,’ one of them remarked.
But Dunbar pretended not to have heard him. He touched the dragon’s scales –his fingers feeling the irregular features that covered the beast. The dragon sensing his presence flinched and tried to shake away unsuccessfully. Dunbar walked around the dragon for a while and stopped near its head. He eyed the dragon coldly and tried to touch its head. The dragon instantly made a snorting sound, letting out fire into the open. Dunbar stepped back- his hand protectively placed over his head. The dragon chortled again and shrunk back as the men restrained it. Dunbar bravely stepped forward –a strange burning sensation gripped his hand. It wasn’t because of the fire.
Dunbar let the same hand touch the dragon’s face again. The pain in his hand grew stronger. He thought of the crackling fire in the furnace. Warm and comforting. Suddenly the image of the boy popped into his mind –unlocking some hidden emotion trapped in him. Dunbar stared furiously at the dragon –oblivious to the repulsive, painful sensation in his hand. The dragon writhed in pain.
He was killing the dragon.
And the dragon was killing him.
The cold, unkind glint in his eyes turned into fiery anger. For a moment, his eyes reflected the fire in the fireplace.
The moon looked calm and underneath the canopy of trees, Dunbar gasped.
His hand was trembling and unable to bear it, he fell backwards just a yard away from the dead dragon.