The dragon shook his head from side to side, destroying more of the wall. Wood shards and parts of the rock façade flew around like a mighty storm had thrown them. Part of the roof fell on the dragon and with another shake it too was tossed away.
A mighty roar shook what was left of the room and left Meritor with a pain in his stomach, Suddenly the door was open and Malwort was standing there with a lantern. “The dragon is blind. They blinded the dragon so they could control it!”
Braccus pointed, “Chains! Around it's neck.”
Indeed there were chains, being held taut by someone down on the ground. They would have to pass the blinded and angry dragon to get to the men controlling it. Malwort reached into a pocket and came out with a handful of salt.
“Get ready to jump out there!” Braccus told his men.
Malwort took a few steps into the room and then threw the salt at the wounds where the dragons eyes had been. It howled in pain and pulled away from the house of Lord Jasper.
“Now!” Braccus gave the order and all four of the men reached the edge of the shattered room, three of them jumped down. Meritor found his bow and quiver and started trying to see the enemies who had brought the dragon. It was too dark. He was going to have to climb down too.
Just then the dragon backed into view and the tail nearly hits Meritor as it slams into the far wall and knocks that down completely. He could hear shouts in the darkness, it sounded like Lord Jasper's men were now joining the unseen melee.
Once he reached the bottom, Meritor pulled out his short sword. The bow would be useless in the dark when he didn't even know the enemy from Jasper's men. He could hear the loud shuffling of a distressed dragon and briefly wondered if anyone had been trampled yet.
He found Hodkins first. He had a man in the air by the throat while using his sword hand to keep another enemy back. Then the large burly warrior kicked away the man he had been holding in his left hand and gave his complete attention to the enemy, quickly striking him down. Meritor had seen this kind of fighting for a good while and it still frightened him a little.
The dragon gave a quick spin and he could see and hear men fleeing from the beast. He heard chains clanking on the ground, the dragon had gotten free from its handlers. Meritor did not know if this was good or bad, but not getting in the way seemed to be the smart thing.
Then he saw Kaster being held at bay by three men with spears or pikes. Meritor saw his chance to bring his bow into play and as he was pulling an arrow from his quiver a dragons tail swiped all three of the enemies off their feet. Kaster gave a shout and pounced on them to finish the job.
As his enthusiasm waned again, Meritor shifted back to the short sword just in time to be attacked by a tall, scar-faced man with his own short sword. One of his arms was covered with bright red patches. This might be one of the dragon handlers he thought to himself as he dodged a thrust and rolled to the right. The dragon handler could not be fooled with dodges or tricks, probably been killed by the dragon already if he could be.
Meritor kicked at the mans disfigured sword arm and then jabbed his own sword into the man's abdomen, pulling upward. At least he got one.
As he looked up he was blindsided by a tackle. He was hit so hard he could hardly breathe as the assailant rolled with him. He could hear the ground shake as something huge went by. The dragon was still on the rampage.
“We got them on the run!” Someone yelled
“Follow them! Find out who they're working for!” Braccus bellowed.
Meritor opened his eyes to see Hodkins. The huge oaf had saved his life from the dragon, but might have broken a few of Meritor's bones in the process. His ribs were on fire.
“Thanks.” He barely got out, wincing at the pain of breathing again.
Hodkins laughed, grabbed him by the shoulders and lifted Meritor to his feet. He really hated being reminded how much smaller he was than the rest of the team. “Let's go find the person who sent that dragon!”
If the dwarf was correct it was the Duke. Meritor still found it hard to believe that the short, fat and easily scared man they met was the mastermind of all this. Taking one look back he could see the missing top floor of one wing of Lord Jaspers house. Certainly Jasper wouldn't do this to his own house, at least Meritor thought.
He followed Hodkins through the dark night, he could hear the big mans footfalls even when he was out of sight ahead of him. Meritor had no idea where the dragon had gone, maybe his instincts would send him back to the mountains. He had heard once that these creatures could fly blind and know where they are going.
Soon they were chasing the men ahead of them through peppercorn fields, he could hear the occasional sneeze around him. To his right he could see the torches of the town of Torik, they were indeed vaguely heading toward Duke Willoughby's property.
Suddenly there were shouts and the sounds of metal on metal around them. One of the enemy approached carrying a long-handled hammer. Meritor had his short sword and was looking for an advantage when the man started spinning and the hammer reached out, it was connected to a chain.
Meritor was also struck by the flying hammer as it swung around. He had to back up several steps as the man swinging it came forward to get in range. Meritor pulled a blade from his boot and threw it at the hammer slinger. He had missed, it barely caught the man on the shoulder with a scratch.
Backing up farther he pulled out his bow. The assailant looked surprised and started trying to reign in his fast swinging hammer, but this took too long. Meritor's arrow plunged through the upper ribcage of the enemy fighter.
That was two, at any rate.
The remaining enemies took off running, again. Meritor joined the others in giving chase. This time the enemy fighters wasted no time and they ran directly up the sharp-inclines of the low plateau where the Castle-like estate of the Duke was located.
“The Crown Prince needs to choose better people to trust.” Kaster grumbled.
“The Prince didn't make this man a Duke.” Braccus reminded him. The four of them and a few of Lord Jaspers men took a more leisurely pace toward the slightly imposing edifice. At least in the very early light of dawn coming over it made it seem more imposing.
“A nice place like this needs a better Duke.” Hodkins said as they begun the short climb. As expected they met no resistance when they reached the top. The place looked abandoned and the quiet was a bit eerie, they shrugged and walked toward the main gate.
Meritor kept his eyes on the arrow slits in the tall keep. He saw no movement but this did not mean they weren't being watched. He saw nothing atop the wall either.
“Let us in or we will tear the wall down!” Braccus bellowed into the locked main gate. Hodkins kicked the wrought-iron bars, the whole gate shook.
A sentry appeared armed with a short spear. “What do you want?”
“We are here to see the Duke. Do not keep us waiting!” Kaster said.
The guard seemed unconcerned. “I will consult the Duke before I let you in.”
Braccus looked at Hodkins and nodded. A running start and Hodkins hit the gates hard enough to dislodge them from the rock wall. The sentry barely got away before being hit by the falling iron gate.
“We will see the Duke directly.” Braccus said as they calmly entered the property.
The main doors to the house were easily broken open, frightened servants were running in different directions. Meritor noted bits of peppercorn plant on the normally shiny tile floor of the foyer. Some of the men they had been chasing through the fields had come through here.
No one tried to stop them as they looked into the rooms on the bottom and then top floors. Meritor noted that the desk in the library was no longer clean but cluttered as if someone had rifled through the papers it held.
“Where is the Duke?” Braccus demanded of a few servants who were cowering before him.
“They took horses and the wagon and fled.” One of the servants finally got out in a whimper.
“I didn't think he was one to stand and fight.” Kaster said, “Once we report what happened here, the Duke will probably be stripped of his title and locked away somewhere.”
“The King can strip his title, but the Crown Prince cannot. We know what state the King is in, so he flees with his title and whatever wealth he could carry. He'll be penniless before too long.”
The foreman of the peppercorn workers was brought forward. Braccus charged him with managing the estate until the King sent representatives to take over. He had no idea when that would happen, but the Prince could probably manage to send someone.
“I wonder what happened to the dragon?” Hodkins asked. “Those scales are the heaviest armor I have ever seen. My sword bounced right off.”
Meritor doubted the man had gotten quite that close to the dragon. At least on purpose. After a few hours of issuing orders to the workers and servants, Braccus finally decided it was time to leave. At the busted front gate they were met by Lord Jasper, Malwort and two other men on horseback, they were leading other horses.
“We bring you your mounts.” Lord Jasper said. “Do you think the crown might put this estate up for sale? Seeing as how much damage my home took, I might be in the market.”
Braccus and the others accepted their mounts and climbed on. “I will be reporting directly to the crown that Malwort was a great help to us and should be rewarded.”
The dwarf looked surprised and a bit touched, although he glanced warily at his uncle.
“What did Malwort have to do with all this?” Lord Jasper asked.
Braccus laughed. “Only someone in his position would know and understand the servants and laborers all over Torik. He knows everything about what goes on here, it seems. Your nephew is quite a resource for Archlandia. This I will also report to the crown, with a recommendation that Malwort be made Sheriff of Torik.”
Lord Jasper seemed shocked and at a loss for words.
“Good day to you, Malwort. Thank you for your help.” Braccus said, turned his horse and started leaving.
“Thanks for throwing salt at the dragon.” Hodkins said and he too left.
“A real credit to Torik and Kingdom.” Kaster said as he turned and left.
“You will hear from me soonest, Malwort.” Meritor said, wanting to keep this dwarf as a contact of his own. He could valuable in future situations.
My next e-book is at beta readers. Should be done in a week. I'll be thinking of a title in that time. You can help me afford a nice cover for it by donating a dollar at the sidebar or by buying New Arrivals.