For the first time Silas was fearful of Hestia, the dragon he’d hatched, raised, and labored to train. He had good reason to be. The beast was hurtling across the sky spewing flame in an uncontrolled rage and Silas was perched precariously astride her neck. The old man was almost certain the wild ride would end with him falling to a rocky death on the mountains below. She dove, writhed, and twisted in every conceivable contortion. He knew she was trying to rid herself of the fiery pain that throbbed in her bloody left eye but there would be no relief apart from his intervention.
Deafened by pain the monster flew on. The wind caught in Silas’ long outer cloak. The increasing force caused by every beat of Hestia’s leathery wings threatened to tear him from the dragon’s scaly hide. Silas removed his dagger from the inner pocket of the cloak and slipped it into his belt. Clinging desperately to the beast’s neck with one arm he struggled to free his other arm from its sleeve. Once that arm was free he struggled to free the other. Finally, the cloak fluttered free with a last rush, tumbling downward toward the jagged peaks.
I must get her to the ground. The wound must be treated and dusk will be upon us soon.
Silas went to work, forcing the tips of his fingers under the tight edges of the rock-hard scales along the back of his dragon’s neck. Her scales were hard and close-fitting; they cut the old man’s knuckles terribly but he continued shoving his hands further into the narrow opening between scales. When he felt his hands had attained enough depth to achieve the needed leverage, Silas pressed upward on the underside of the scales with the back of his wrists
The dragon began a begrudging descent past the craggy mountain peaks toward the tree line far below. Thankful that his solution had worked, Silas guided the dragon to a clearing he had used long ago during her training. It was high on the mountainside. Nearby was a small cave that yawned out of the mountain’s rocky face. He knew the cavern would be a tight squeeze for his now fully grown dragon but it would have to do.
“Hestia, there! Down!’
The dragon complied with a mournful growl, flying straight and true toward the meadow. Upon landing, Silas pulled his bloody fists from under the merciless scales and leapt from the dragon’s back, narrowly avoiding the flailing wings of the beast as it pawed at its bleeding eye. Under normal circumstances he would approach her boldly, submitting her immediately to his will. But she was injured and therefore unpredictable. He eased toward her large head speaking soft words of reassurance.
“Hestia… calm. Calm, Hestia. You must let me see it.”
The dragon craned her neck to view him from her good eye, snarling all the while.
“Hestia, down!” he commanded, resuming the confident tone of the master.
Continuing to paw at her left eye the dragon flopped to her belly in deference to him. Silas crept toward her, resuming the soothing tone. As he neared her head the beast turned to keep him in view, making it impossible for him to assess the severity of the injury.
“Stay!” he commanded and turned toward the cave.
As he had hoped, the remote location had prevented the cave from being looted. Nothing had changed since his last visit. In the back of the cavern, hidden under a stack of pine needles was a bag. Inside it was a dagger, flint and steel, a corked water bottle, and a heavy coil of thick rope. Silas returned to the dragon, rope and bottle in hand. Upon his return the dragon raised its head and hissed.
“Hestia! Down!” Silas commanded, extending his hand toward the rebellious beast.
Hesitantly, the dragon complied and Silas went to work, attempting to bind her powerful jaws. He caught glimpses of the bloody gash where once the yellow of her eye shone brightly. With her jaws bound Silas attached two long ropes to her makeshift muzzle, one on either side of her jaws. Each was stretched to its length and tied tightly to a tree, preventing the animal’s head from moving side to side.
“Good girl, Hestia. You know that I do this for your good,” Silas said, stroking the side of the beast’s head.
Walking around the dragon Silas saw the full extent of the injury. The eye socket was a mess of blood. The thrust of the sword combined with the weight of the man who had dangled from it momentarily had rendered her blind for sure. He suspected that as the beast’s body did its slow work of healing what remained of the eye would be expelled from the socket. Silas cleaned the wound as best he could, continually consoling and rebuking his resistant beast.
“Hestia, stay! I will return.”
The old man wandered across the meadow and into the woods, bottle in hand. His keen eye soon spied what he was looking for; nettle, chickweed, and comfrey leaves. On the way back to the beast he snatched up a few early marigold flowers. He made a final stop at a large birch tree. Brandishing his knife, Silas gouged the point deeply into the tree. Waiting for sap to ooze from the notch he emptied the bottle of its contents then held its mouth to the gash. Once the bottle was full of sap Silas sat against the tree and placed it between his feet. Methodically rubbing each of the plants between his palms until each was ground finely, he placed them one by one into the bottle. He walked back into the clearing, his thumb over the bottle top, shaking the concoction vigorously.
“Hestia. We are almost finished.”
Cutting a large swath from the bottom of his shirt Silas folded the cloth into a square-ish lump. He poured the homeopathic solution onto the cloth and worked it in until the bandage was saturated. The old man rolled the soaking material into a tight cylinder the size of his fist and moved to the wounded side of the dragon’s head.
“Hestia. Stay!” Silas commanded as he worked to pry open the squinting eyelid of the writhing beast.
Without hesitation he thrust the dripping cloth into the hole. The monster howled, straining at the ropes as flames issued from between her clenched teeth. Silas weaved and ducked, avoiding her flailing fore-claws. He stayed close until he was sure that the material would remain packed inside the socket.
Leaving the beast writhing he went back to the cave, started a fire to the right of its entrance and cleared room for the dragon to lay half inside and half outside the small cave. By the time Silas returned to the dragon night had fallen. Hestia’s temper had subsided and she was fitfully resting.
Drawing his knife, Silas prepared to cut the ropes that bound the dragon’s snout on each side.
“Hestia. Den! Den!” he insisted, pointing toward the flickering campfire. When he felt sure the dragon understood his command, Silas cut her free. Shaking its head side to side and glaring at her master, a low rumble rose from her throat.
“Fine. Be angry. But I remain the master,” the old man grumbled.
The dragon rose to its full height, snarled at her master again and tromped toward the cave.
With no proper weapons and in the blackness of the evening, Silas found it impossible to scrounge up food worthy of a dragon. In the end she had to be satisfied with what amounted to much less than a mouthful of squirrel while her master went hungry. The old man sat awake long into the night, brooding as he stared into the flames of his small fire ring.
I hope Kendrick is dead. Hestia trampled him soundly as she ran from the cavern. If not, I’ll see to it that he is soon enough. He and all his family. They cannot escape me.
He tossed another stick into the fire.
How did he find me? I’ve been well hidden for over a decade, since the day I stole away his daughter.
The old man laughed aloud.
I wish I could have seen his face the day she vanished, to revel in the pain I caused him. Now that would have been delicious.
Silas, known as “the Screw,” rose to check on his dragon. She was sleeping soundly. Despite her clawing the eye was still packed with the herbal compound.
The letter. Only the letter I sent could have led him to me.
Had I not given in to the urge to taunt him, to make that overbearing wife of his suffer even more, I would still be undiscovered.
He looked to his sleeping beast and kicked at a rock as he moved back toward the fire.
Kendrick is easy enough, but the other man who attacked Hestia in the cave, he is of greater concern. Who is he? One of Kendrick’s soldiers, perhaps? He had the courage of a soldier but the stealth of a cat. Even Hestia did not know he was there until it was too late.
The fire crackled as Silas strained to recall the face of the man he’d only seen once in the deep shadows of a cave.
I do not know him. Who is he?