The Dragon's Penance

5 min
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As the doors to the old keep were strained opened a thick dust fell. Rays of light shone through the cracked stained glass windows and casted harsh shadows into the dank interior. Snow came in at it’s leisure through holes in the arched ceiling and fell upon the scattered furniture and decorations of the old castle. Holding up the remains of the ceiling were large oak beams on which perched a small murder of crows, sheltering themselves from the cold. They sat quietly as through the doors a knight walked in, her boots making a soft thud on the dusty stone floor and a meek crunch on the cold snow, with a crucifix waving on her neck. Their gaze followed her as she marched on through the hall past the faded tapestries depicting kings and saints, though she stopped at one which seemed to have been torn down. The crows watched as she went to pick it up, only for it to crumble in her hands. She continued through the fortress, the only sounds being her soft footsteps and the clacking of her armor.

There were many doors and hallways in the old castle, but she paid them no mind. Instead she continued forward into the presence of a great door, greater than the one at the entrance. It was a massive door, reaching all the way to the ceiling with intricate knots and beasts carved into it. The massive door was fastened shut with an iron lock and chain. She studied them for a while and though they were rusty and old they were not as ancient as the castle they were in. She pulled her sword from its scabbard and after striking the lock with the blade’s pommel it gave way. The chain slithered from the door and hit the ground with a clang, stirring up more dust as it did so. Sheathing her sword the knight placed her hands on the door and, with great effort, managed to push the door open and into the cold dark room beyond she entered.

It was indeed a cold and dark room, no snow or dust fell but the air was sharp with age and lifelessness. The stained glass that had intersected the walls of the remaining castle were boarded up, though enough light pierced through for her to see the purple rug beneath her feet. The rug led on only to stop itself at a massive throne. The throne was cracked and eroded, its once polished stone now dingy with moss.

On the seat of the throne sat what seemed to be a suit of armor, black and cold, fitting for its miserable home. On the surface of the armor were knots and beasts, painted on in a faded, dull, red. Almost indiscernible from the rust that had accumulated over the years. Its arms were rested on the throne with both hands clenched, though not tightly. Its head hung forward like a man in prayer and on its lap lay a sword in its scabbard. It appeared to have been resting there for quite some time. The knight walked on towards the armor and when she got only a few yards from it its head began to rise and through the slits in the helm to green eyes faintly glowing began to slowly open. This was no empty suit of armor but a man, a man in a deep slumber, a man who had just been awoken.

“Why have you woken me knight, do you know not who I am?” The man said in a strong but aged voice. “Have you not heard stories of the Dragon of Cailleach? Did you not see the door fastened shut? Surely you know that doors are locked for a reason. Even the crows know this, for they know death by its smell.” He said gesturing towards himself. The knight did not speak a reply. Instead she reached into her pouch and produced a letter and held it out. The man's eyes dimmed as he squinted in question. “A letter?” He said. “Why don’t you read it for me.” The knight did not speak but waved the letter she was holding. The man sighed. “Very well. I suppose you must be tired from coming all this way.” He set his sword off his lap and rose to his feet with a grunt. The man’s imposing figure became more apparent as he made his way closer to the knight, she came barely to his elbow. He looked like a wrought iron statue, harsh and uncaring. He glared down for a moment but the knight did not waver, instead waving the letter once more. Cautiously he plucked it from her hand and took some steps back. Walking back to his throne and waving his hand a brazier nearby lit, giving enough light to read in the dark room. He sat down and after reading the letter he sighed and folded it up, then tossed it into the fire.

“So they have sent you to kill me then. Very well, my time has long passed, but know you are not the first to try. The church has sent many knights to give me my penance, though this is the first they have sent one in years. I have done many ill deeds in my time and it is only fitting I receive execution. Oh and what deeds they were!” The man slammed his fist into the arm of his throne, making a new crack. He grew louder now, the air seeming to vibrate with his voice. “Many good men have fallen at my hands so I may be where I am now. I have all the power, all the strength I could want, but for what? Was it worth it? No. I could rule men as their God but I know I cannot be unto them as God is.” The man grew solemn. “No I would have ruled them with fear and that is why I cannot rule. For it was in fear I sought this power and it will be in fear that more men seek it. That more men do as I did. That cannot be. That will not be, for the secret to my strength I hold in here.” He tapped his forehead, the clang of his gauntlet and helm piercing through the cold air. “I could have killed myself long ago and be rid of the knowledge all together but I know better than that. I will not have their sacrifice be in vain. No it shall be used for its purpose, to do otherwise would be cowardly” He spat out the word. “A man like me does not deserve the pleasure of a quick death, nor will I let myself die. Brave you are for facing me, knight. Have you nothing to say before we fight?”

She remained silent, but readied herself.

“Very well.” said the man, and at that he rose and readied his sword. “May you like David unto Goliath” the man said with tired pity.

As he said this the wind began to howl and the boards of the windows groaned. Before either of them could act a window on the left of the room burst open, the blizzard outside stampeding it’s way in, clouding the knights vision. With a furious yell the man lunged through the cloud and swung his massive sword at the knight. Not a moment too soon she deflected the blow with her own sword and went for a thrust but the man stepped out of the way and followed with a jab of his own. The knight parried this with an arch of her blade and with the man’s sword out of her way she stepped in to thrust beneath his helmet, using size to her advantage. The man seemed to be aware of her plan and with a kick from his massive leg she rolled across the floor. She curled and grabbed her stomach.

“You may leave when you wish,” said the man. “I would not count it against you.” The knight pulled her sword and herself up off the ground, shaking her head. She readied herself once more, determination in her eyes.

“If you are to be David unto me” The man said with disappointment, “then where is your sling? You carry but a sword. No different than any other knight errant who came for me.” The knight stood up straight now, and clutching the crucifix on her neck she shook it at him.

“Ha! Good, good.” The man said. “May he be your stone then.” The knight charged this time.

The snow had stopped falling when the doors to the castle opened again. Battered and limping the knight marched out. She clutched her arm and sat down with a sigh among the army of tombstones surrounding the castle, her breath coming up in heavy puffs. From her fingertips dripped a slow crimson, a wavy trail leading back to the castle. A second sword was in her possession.

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