It had caught them all by surprise. Owain stood in the grave, spade held loosely in his hand, as their discussion continued. His father stood beside him, talking to his wife- Owain’s mother.
“What are we going to do now?”
On the ground above, his sister spoke. “We’ll have to find someone else, we’ll have to try and find someone who can.”
His father sighed, resting both hands on the wooden handle of the spade. “And what if there isn’t anyone? Why kid ourselves- we’re never going to find someone who can kill this thing. We need to end it now, as a group, before anyone else gets hurt.”
“No. No, I won’t let you,” she continued, “We won’t let you. Right, Mother? Owain?”
“Well… Father… does have a point…” He muttered, glancing up at the man beside him.
Ellen glared at him, huffing. “No, he doesn’t. I won’t let either of you go. The same goes for you, Mister Walkden.”
The third man in their small party- Humphrey Walkden- sighed, sitting down on the edge of the grave. “Yeah, but what if we don’t have a choice? The legend turned out to be a lie. No surprise there. It isn’t some undead dragon slayer that’s buried here- it’s just a pile of old bones.”
“There is always another way.” Their mother spoke finally, her voice quiet but determined, and she cast her husband and son a stern glare. Owain shuddered, meeting her gaze for a second before looking away.
“There!” Grace yelled, her gasp loud enough to be heard across the hole. She stood furthest from the tree, above the skeleton’s skull. She pointed down at it, her hand covering her mouth. She spoke through it, “I- it… it moved. It moved its head.”
The ground shifted slightly beneath Owain’s feet, and he yelped, jumping backwards, dropping the spade. They all turned to look, Ellen making a face, fidgeting uncomfortably. “There’s… there’s magic.”
Their father looked toward her, his voice quiet. “Magic? Where?”
“Down there. From the skeleton. It started when we finished… I didn’t notice it at first.”
Owain gulped, and took a step closer. The skeleton had shifted its head again, raising it slightly to look at them. He knelt down beside it, and curiosity started to replace his fading feelings of fear.
“Please, can you help us?” He asked, unsure of what else to say. Everyone in their group was silent, watching him carefully. His father stood behind him, spade held ready to swing at any moment. They’d heard the stories.
The skeleton opened his jaw, and to their surprise, said something. It spoke quietly, in a language they did not understand, teeth clashing together with a snap each time it shut its mouth, mimicking the motions used to form the syllables of the words. It stopped speaking, and shifted again. Owain stumbled back, into his father’s legs.
“What’s it saying?” He asked, to no one in particular.
Ellen shrugged, watching it with interest. “Should we dig it out?” She asked, looking between her brother and father.
Oswyn stabbed the spade into the ground, roughly where its ribcage was. “Might as well.” He said gruffly, lifting up some of the mud, and pushing it out of the way.
After a bit more digging, they had uncovered much of it, along with the tattered and decomposing remains of the clothes it had worn. There were chains still wrapped around its bones, restraining it. This time was spent in silence, the skeleton lying still, making it easier for them to judge where to put the spades. A further few minutes were spent breaking the chains, and at this point Ellen had run back to their home, in search of some sort of spell that could help close the gap between their differences in language.
Finally, the skeleton sat up, and raised one bony hand in front of its skull, looking at the joints with interest.
Owain and Oswyn climbed out of the grave, and watched as it pulled itself up, standing so its skull was just above the ground. The skeleton was mostly intact, but had a large amount of fractures and even breaks around its spine, concentrated just beneath the ribcage. It was also missing a good number of its ribs. It stood there, still for a moment, as it looked around, noting with interest the large tree that had grown on the edge of the hole, its tall branches spreading out to create a green canopy.
A few muttered words were exchanged between the others, Walkden’s wife muttering something to Owain’s mother. None of them took their eyes of the skeleton, and they watched it carefully.
There was a shout from behind them. “I think I’ve found something!” Ellen called, running toward them as fast as she could without tripping over the hem of her dress. She carried a thick book, pages bound together by work leather strings. She skidded to a halt just short of the hole, eyeing the skeleton carefully, before she sat down, and raised a hand in front of its skull, making sure it was paying attention.
She spoke slowly, trying to convey the meaning. “Stay there. Don’t move.”
Its head tilted to one side slightly, and it turned its body to face her, but otherwise stood still. Ellen smiled nervously, and returned her attention to the book. She flicked through the pages hastily, turning one too many before flicking back, and spreading out the crumpled paper that made up the pages. She quickly scanned through the dark black writing, tracing the lines as she read. “I’m going to have to establish a connection between me and him, okay? It’ll mean I can communicate with him, and… hopefully teach him our language.”
Oswyn shifted uncomfortably, but raised no protests. His wife, Millicent, cast him a worried look, which he dismissed, and he sat down beside his daughter.
“Okay.” She breathed, shutting her eyes and holding out her hands, locking her elbows straight. She started muttering things in some distant language. There was not a sound but her voice, as she spoke the spell, concentrating her own magic on its formation, focusing on weaving it together.
The skeleton waited patiently, recognising the purpose of the spell and letting it form.
A minute later, Ellen leaned forward, eyes still closed, and tapped the centre of its forehead, between its eye sockets. It lowered its head slightly, and she pulled away, speaking the final word, and opening her eyes.
Millicent looked nervously from Ellen to the skeleton, wringing her hands in anticipation. Owain watched with interest, more interested in the spell work than the outcome. Oswyn sat silently, fingers knitted together as he watched.
Ellen blinked, speaking as clearly as she could. “Hello?” She asked the skeleton, unsure of it had worked.
It didn’t move for a moment, and she felt a pang of worry, thoughts of failure rushing through her mind. It looked up, dark eye sockets seeming to look straight at her, before it spoke. Its words sounded like that of another tongue, but she knew what they meant, and found her mind piecing them together, matching them with the corresponding words of her own language. “Hello.” He said, his voice calm. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.
She took a deep breath, letting a smile spread across her face. “Are you… are you the dragon slayer?”
“I am a dragon slayer,” he confirmed, “But I am unsure whether I am the one you seek.”
“You’re the immortal dragon slayer?”
“Immortal?” He paused, glancing down at his exposed ribcage, “I… I suppose I am.”
Relief started to fill her, and she looked toward her father, and he smiled back at her. “C- Can you help us?” She asked hurriedly, leaning forward.
He was silent for a few moments, looking around again. “You… You dug me up. You freed me, it is the least that I can do.” He bowed within the grave, bones scratching against one another. “How can I be of service?”
She spoke fast, words tumbling from her mouth as she began to realise he would be the solution to their problem- he would be able to save their town. “There’s a dragon. It’s been living near here for a few years now, and it keeps returning to the town and killing people, destroying houses and such. A lot of people have tried going to hunt it, but no one’s been able to. It’s gotten to the point where they’re starting to force groups of people to go in and try to kill it, and… and… and no one can kill it.”
The skeleton tilted its head to one side, straightening up. “Are there no other slayers?”
She shook her head. “This is the first dragon everyone’s seen in a century. Please, you’ve got to help us.”
“I will.” He stated, putting away the matter of other dragons for now. “I must ask, what year is this?”
Ellen’s brow furrowed in confusion. “It’s 1491.”
He was silent, and lowered his head. She could hear him muttering to himself as he sat down in his own grave. “1491. 307 years.”
Owain crouched beside her, surprising her as he suddenly spoke. “What’s it doing?”
“He.” She muttered, frowning. “He’s just repeating the year, and he keeps saying ‘307 years’.”
“Weird.” Her brother muttered. “What’s his name?”
She leaned over the edge of the grave, looking down at the skeletal man. “What are you called?”
His muttering stopped for a moment, as he tilted his head to look up at her. “I… I was called…” He went quiet for a moment, “I was called Lucas Henecoc.”
“Lucas.” She repeated, falling back beside her brother and father. “His name is Lucas Henecoc.”
“Will he help us?” Oswyn asked, cutting to the point.
“Yes, yes he said he will.” She said, letting her smile grow to a grin.
There was a collective cheer throughout their small gathering, and her mother ran around the hole, her father standing as he was hugged. “We’re saved.” She said, relief evident in her voice.
“Let us help the man out, Owain.” He pulled away, and stood by the edge of the grave. Owain came beside him, and they reached down. Lucas took a few moments to realise they were offering hands to him, and when he did he didn’t move for a moment.
He grabbed both hands eventually, his grip tight as he was pulled out. He released his grip as soon as he was on his own two feet, and straightened up.
Oswyn looked Lucas up and down, before offering his hand again, this time in a handshake. “Oswyn.” He said simply.
Lucas nodded, taking the hand and shaking it. He felt no need to repeat his own name.
“That’s my father.” Ellen added in. She had retreated closer to her mother, intimidated by the height of the skeleton. He hadn’t seemed so tall when he was in his grave. She glanced toward her father, speaking to him. “Where is he going to stay? I don’t think the towns people will be very happy with a skeleton walking around.”
“He can stay on our farm for now. I’m sure there’s room in the barn somewhere.” Oswyn turned away, and started to walk back towards their home, which was two fields from the one they currently stood in. Behind him, there was the town, trapped in a loop of the river. He started walking, the rest of his family following. The Walkdens waved their goodbye, and started to walk the other way, toward their own home. Ellen was at the back of the group, walking next to Lucas.
“My skin and all should… should heal.” Lucas said after a long break of silence, thinking back to his time wandering the land, and the burns. He could remember it all as though it had happened only a day ago, his memories clear.
Ellen raised an eyebrow, as things started to click together in her head. “So that’s why you were called immortal? Are you alive, then?”
The skeleton shook his head. “I died twen- a long time ago. My soul was bound to my body, and I was raised using necromancy. That is why you can sense the magic around me, even though I have little of my own.”
“The spell cast on you… does that mean it split your soul from your body, disrupting the magic? It… it blocked your connection.”
“I don’t know. The last thing I remembered was being buried alive.”
“You know, you’re much more civilised than I thought you would be.” She said, a faint smile appearing on her face.
He was quiet before he answered. “You thought I would try to kill you or something?”
Ellen shrugged. “The legends about you tell of a cold- hearted man who care little about whether what he hunted was human or not.”
“I’m not hunting you.” He stated, and the conversation went silent.
She thought this last sentence over, taking it to mean that the rumours were true, that he wouldn’t care if she was human or not, if he was out to hunt her. It was a few minutes before she spoke again, after they only had half of a field to walk through before they were back to their home. “Why did they bury you?”
“Because they couldn’t kill me.”
She sighed. “Why did they want to kill you?”
He turned his head slightly toward her, so he could see her, she assumed. “Because they were afraid of what I had done, and what I would do. Because they were scared of what I was.”
They went quiet again.
Owain looked back at his sister every now and then, as they walked to their home. He looked between her and the skeleton- Lucas. He found it strange how they could speak to each other, and found himself curious as to how she managed to cast spells like that. He sighed, putting one hand on the gate into their small front garden, pushing it open and holding it open for his family. He straightened a little before his sister and Lucas walked through, cursing to himself as he realised he was now the third tallest in the group. Shutting the gate behind him, he followed on, and they all entered the house.
The other woman- who Lucas had learned was called Millicent, and was the girl’s mother- found intact clothes that he could wear, and he was shown to a barn outside. He sat there, alone that night, staring at his hand and the clothes that hung from his bones. Already he could see the traces of muscle beginning to form around his fingers, small, insignificant patches of pink and red, that clung to the pale white and started to wrap around them. He was in a different world from the one he had grown up in. Things had changed, and he could tell.
Ellen woke up early, just before sunset. She could hear the sounds of her mother downstairs, moving around the kitchen, most likely preparing some sort of morning meal. She sat up from her bed, and got dressed quickly.
Walking down the stairs, she thought about the events of the previous day. It was as if she had forgotten about it during the night, and it was only now that it returned to her. Ellen sighed, catching the attention of Millicent, who turned around from what she was doing.
“What’s wrong?” She asked, concerned.
The girl shrugged. “Nothing, really. It’s just… it doesn’t feel like we dug him up yesterday. I feel like it was all a dream or something.” She paused, looking up and smiling. “But we did it, right? We’re saved.”
Her mother returned the smile, patting Ellen on the head gently. “We did it.” She didn’t voice her own doubts. She refrained from mentioning the possibility that the dead man- the dragon slayer Lucas- might not do it anyway. Millicent didn’t quite understand the ins and outs of necromancy, but she doubted being raised from the dead made anyone particularly friendly or willing to do things for other people. She remembered, all of a sudden, that he had also been stuck underground for a long, long time. What was to say that he wouldn’t just turn on them, determined to get revenge for what was done to him all that time ago?
She hid her thoughts behind her smile, and pulled her daughter in for a hug, holding her tight. “How about you go and check on our guest? Ask him if he wants anything to eat… I’m not sure what skeletons and the like would want.”
Ellen nodded, turning away and heading toward their back door. Stopping for a moment, she pulled on her shoes, hopping around a little as she strugged to get one on her foot. Her skirt swished as she did so, and she nearly fell into the wall. With both feet returned safely to the ground, clad in the leather of her shoes, she opened the door and stepped out.
It was another grey day.
Drizzle fell down from the sky, creating a fine mist and coated everything in damp. The sun was only a brighter patch in the dull grey of the clouds, and it was dark. She glanced back up at their house, looking toward her window. It now made sense why her room had been slightly damp.
Skipping along the short path, she came to the door of the barn relatively quickly. It would be colder in there, she knew. Something about the stone walls seemed to prevent any heat entering. She pushed open the door, and slid inside, shutting it behind her. It was darker in the barn. It lacked the windows their house had, and the only light was the dull glow entering through a small hole toward the roof.
She trod warily, looking around for the man. There was a shadow somewhere in one of the corners. “Hello?” She asked, her voice seeming to echo in the dark room.
There was a quiet reply, in a language she couldn’t normally understand. “Hello.”