Barak made his way up the mountain, through a shallow canyon, riding atop his new horse, pulling a bull carrying his possessions behind him. He rounded a corner, and found what he had been looking for: Ladon, lying just a few yards away from him. The dragon looked up at him as he approached, a hungry grin spreading over his reptilian face as he spotted the bull. Barak dismounted, unpacking his things from the bull before turning around, listening to the sounds of Ladon shredding it and swallowing it piece by piece.
“Ugh,” said Barak as he pulled his own food out of his knapsack. “Do you have to play with it so much?”
“I’ve been sitting here all day,” replied the dragon. “Do you know how boring that is?”
“You have a point. I just wish I didn’t need to hear you eating.”
“I could eat you, you know.”
“Yes, but then you’d be back scavenging on the edge of civilization. You need me.”
“And you need me, Barak. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have those four ‘kills’ you’ve gotten from me.”
“That is true, Ladon. And I appreciate it immensely.”
They sat a while in silence, each attending to his own meal, consumed by his own separate thoughts. After a moment, Barak spoke up, a burden on his being coming into his mind.
“Ladon, I’ve been wondering ever since we met – you introduced yourself as ‘Ladon the Accursed’. Why would you give yourself a title like that?”
The dragon paused. “Well, contrary to the word’s connotation, it has much honor ascribed to it. It first signifies a dragon that took part in the destruction of Henas; and second a dragon that refused to back Tyrannosaur in his bid to become the next High King of the Dragons.”
“So why would you be cursed if you helped bring down that hated empire?”
“Because one of the survivors swore revenge against us all.”
“Cynthia Athano, daughter of King Kligel Athano.”
Barak turned toward the dragon in surprise. “Isn’t she dead?”
Ladon reacted with a draconian shrug. “I don’t know. But she didn’t die in Henas, as is the popular belief. After watching her father die, she slew the High King, and then appeared to the surviving dragons, swearing revenge and cursing us all. I think, though, that we would know if she were dead, since whoever kills her becomes the next High King.”
“I suppose whoever did kill her would want to proclaim it to the world.”
They continued to converse through the evening, while the sun set and the stars appeared overhead. And finally, as the moon shone above them, they quieted, lay down, and drifted to sleep.
A week later found Barak riding into the town of Notos, a small town on the edge of one of the southern kingdoms. Ladon had been terrorizing the area, and, as always, Barak had arrived to help. He was going to enjoy this venture – the lord of Notos owned considerable wealth.
As he rode through the street, the villagers stopped and stared up at him. He was quite a sight, with his shield on his back and his weapon sheathed beside him, while his body was garbed in shining armor. He continued forward unopposed, until, finally coming to the end of the street before the great oak doors of the castle, a guard raised his hand to stop him.
“Who are you?” the guard inquired.
“I am Barak Tueur, the dragon slayer. I have come to slay your dragon.”
“Oh, another one!” the sentry said to himself.
“What do you mean, another one?”
“Just that another dragon slayer’s already arrived. Still, I guess I’d better let you in…”
Barak considered these comments as the doors swung open. Another dragon slayer? Impossible! No one else could have gotten here as quickly as he had! He dismounted, handing his stead off to the guard, while he himself strode inside, entering the long hall lined with tables and benches, where, at the far end, sat the Lord of Notos on his high seat. Below him stood a blond boy of about eighteen, carrying an impressive shield on his arm. Barak wondered if this was the dragon slayer the guard had mentioned. He seemed rather young. And if this was the dragon slayer, Barak would need to seriously rethink his plan with Ladon.
“Sir!” announced the guard. “Dragon slayer Barak Tueur has arrived to see you.”
“Another one?” said the lord as Barak walked across the hall. “Well, why not. Two are always better than one. Have either of you met before?”
The boy turned to Barak, revealing a clean-shaven face with sharp blue eyes that Barak didn’t recognize. He told the lord such, as did the boy.
“Well, Tueur, this is Claudius Phineas Venator, a dragon slayer like yourself,” said the lord.
“I am pleased to meet you,” greeted Barak.
“Likewise,” replied Venator. “so long as you prove to be a competent dragon slayer.”
“I’ve killed ten dragons. What about you?”
Barak quickly covered his surprise with a cordial joke. “One for every year of your life?”
“Almost. Once I kill this dragon.”
Venator said this with such surety, that it was all Barak could do from panicking about the state of his partnership with Ladon.