Chapter 11: Captive
Almonihah was walking across a clearing a couple of days later when he noticed something large flying towards him. As he looked more closely at it, he could make out the silhouette of a dragon. He waited tensely as it approached until he could make out the color of its scales. Copper. Almonihah relaxed a bit. It was a metallic dragon, so it probably wasn’t hostile. Then he thought back to his ruminations on the mountain and snorted in amusement. Maybe he would get an opportunity to find out about a dragon’s lifestyle sooner than he had thought.
He stood in the clearing as the dragon flew down and made a gentle landing a few yards from him. She—he could tell now that the dragon was female—was a middle-sized adult copper dragon, probably two or three hundred years old. She looked to be about forty feet long from nose to the tip of her tail. She looked at him down her snout.
Well, what have we here? Her voice was pleasant, even when speaking Draconic, and not as loud as one would expect from a creature of her size. A half-bronze, if I’m not mistaken?
Almonihah opened his mouth to speak, but all that came out was a coughing fit. How long had it been since he had last spoken out loud? After he recovered, he responded with a simple Draconic, Yes.
The dragon seemed amused. Such a lot of effort to say so little, wasn’t it, little half-dragon? She moved her head down to be more on his level, the scales on her sinuous neck glinting in the sunlight as she moved. I hope you don’t have that much trouble every time you talk.
Almonihah did not appreciate the amusement in her voice. Not usually, he growled.
Oh, my. You are a grumpy one, aren’t you? She lifted her head a little bit, a grin playing across her lips. I know just what you need. Have you heard the one about the bar?
Almonihah grunted noncommittally, but inwardly he was incredulous. Was this dragon honestly going to start telling him jokes?
The dragon didn’t seem to care about her audience’s lack of enthusiasm. This is a good one. It will cheer you right up! It only works in Common though. Then she said in Common, “So, two men walked into a bar… and the dwarf walked under.”
Almonihah simply stood, his arms folded. The copper dragon waited expectantly for a few moments, then sighed.
I see. Tough audience. Well, I know one that would make a rock laugh. Have you…
I am sorry, but I have to go now, Almonihah said, struggling to be polite to her. His former curiosity about dragon lifestyles had completely evaporated. There was no way he was going to sit here and listen to her tell jokes, even if she was several times his size.
Almonihah started to walk away until the dragon slammed her claws down on the ground in front of him. I insist! she growled as her head followed her claw to get uncomfortably close to the half-dragon’s face. He could smell the acrid scent of acid on her breath. Apparently she was rather serious about her jokes.
After a few moments, the copper dragon relaxed and pulled her claw and head back to a more comfortable distance. I trust you understand me now. Now then, where was I? Oh yes, I was about to tell the one about the dwarf and the pickle barrel…
The sun was low on the horizon when the dragon finally stretched and said, I don’t believe I’ve ever had such a touch audience.
Almonihah was still standing with his arms crossed. He’d shifted around some to keep his legs from falling to sleep, but he hadn’t moved far. He wasn’t taking any chances with those claws. Of course, neither had he laughed at any of her jokes.
It is getting rather late, isn’t it? The dragon said, then continued without waiting for an answer, I guess there’s only time for one more. You wouldn’t happen to know Great Eagle, would you?
No, Almonihah replied.
Hm… it only makes sense in Great Eagle. Well, I guess there’s nothing else to do but take you back to my lair and teach you Great Eagle.
“What?” Almonihah was so surprised that he switched back to the Common Tongue without even thinking about it. “I am not…”
I insist. The dragon’s tone was still pleasant, but Almonihah remembered how she had acted the last time she had said those words. He had a feeling he didn’t have much choice about this.
The dragon looked him up and down. It’s a pity you weren’t born with wings.
Almonihah suppressed a flinch at those words. If she only knew how many times he’d wished he had…
I guess I’ll just have to carry you back myself. Hold still.
Almonihah froze as she reached for him with one clawed foot. Gently, she closed her claws around him and picked him up off the ground. Then she leaped into the air with a powerful downbeat of her wings and started flying northwest.
Almonihah found that being carried was a much less comfortable way to fly than riding. Not only was the dragon’s firm grip on him rather uncomfortable, he could also see just how far from the ground they were getting. While he didn’t think himself a coward, seeing that much empty air below him with nothing but a dragon’s claw to hold him up made him a bit nervous. At least he couldn’t sweat.
Well, since you’re going to be my guest, I suppose I should tell you my name, the dragon said, her voice carrying clearly despite the wind whipping by. I am Galindakherithan. And what is your name, half-bronze?
“Almonihah,” the Ranger called back, almost yelling to make sure he was heard.
Almonihah, Galindakherithan repeated, her voice thoughtful. An odd name… it’s not from the Common Tongue, nor is it Draconic…and it’s definitely not Elven or Dwarven… maybe it’s Ancient Draconic?
There was an expectant pause. After a while, Almonihah guessed she was waiting for him to say something.
I… don’t know, he admitted.
What, your father never told you?
He died first. Almonihah’s response was as much growl as yell.
Galindakherithan was silent for a while. Eventually she changed the subject. So just what brought a young half-dragon like yourself to be wandering about in my territory?
I am a Ranger, Almonihah replied.
After waiting a bit for him to elaborate, the dragon asked, Aren’t Rangers usually down by the Madlands?
I’m not, was Almonihah’s reply.
Well, I could tell that. Galindakherithan’s was rather sarcastic. After a moment’s pause, to give the half-dragon an opportunity to explain himself, the copper dragon said, So, in other words, you wander around other people’s territories.
Almonihah snorted, but didn’t say anything. He felt as much as saw her shake her head.
You half-dragon types… she said, then chuckled herself. As if I would know. I must admit that you’re the first one I’ve met.
Almonihah grunted. I am not surprised by that, he said.
There are not that many of you, are there? Galindakherithan asked, though the question seemed rhetorical. As if to confirm the impression, she spoke again before he had a chance to respond. Here we are!
Almonihah looked ahead. They were nearing a cliff face on one of the mountains of the Stormpeaks. As he looked closer, he did indeed see a large opening in the cliff, though it was partially screened by trees that came up to just before the cave mouth. Galindakherithan slowed as she approached it, then came down gently to a landing in the small clearing in front of the cave mouth.
Now then, you know better than to try to run when I put you down, right?
Almonihah hated the patronizing tone in the dragon’s voice, so he responded in Common. “Yeah.”
Galindakherithan set her half-dragon ‘guest’ down. After waiting for a couple of seconds to make sure he didn’t decide to try running despite her warning, she started walking towards the cave opening.
Come along then, Almonihah.
Almonihah grunted and followed her.
Galindakherithan’s lair seemed to consist of a series of interconnected caverns. The first, where they entered, was wide, but fairly shallow, with a narrower tunnel in the back leading deeper into the lair. Despite the smaller size of the tunnel, the copper dragon fit in it with plenty of room to spare—which she might well need in a few centuries, if she continued living in this lair.
They next passed through a large cavern with a high ceiling. Galindakherithan took a rather winding path through it.
Just some things here to discourage unwanted guests while I’m out hunting, the dragon said over her shoulder as she turned yet again to go across the chamber instead of towards the opening in the back that Almonihah could dimly see.
The next cavern looked to be the one the dragon used to sleep in. There was a shallow depression on one side of the chamber which looked to be rather scratched up that Almonihah suspected was the copper dragon’s nest. He was not surprised to see that her hoard was not here. Zrathanzon had said that the legends about dragons sleeping on their gold were false.
Don’t even try to go down there, Galindakherithan said, pointing towards another tunnel opening in the right side of the cavern that was a few feet above the floor. Then she pointed at another, smaller opening in the other side of the cavern. Down there is where you’ll be staying. Let me show you to your room.
She started walking towards the opening on all fours, with Almonihah following. After a little while, the tunnel began to narrow quickly.
The copper dragon waved Almonihah on. I’ll be along in just a moment, half-dragon.
With another acknowledging grunt, the Ranger passed his hostess and walked further down the tunnel. He heard Galindakherithan mutter something behind him, turned his head to look at her, but saw only a tall human woman in a silvery-colored dress.
Almonihah seemed unsurprised. “Thought you could do that,” he said, then turned back and continued onwards.
You really are no fun, the woman said in Draconic, with a bit of a playful pout in her voice.
“Be a lot more convincing ‘f you didn’t speak in Draconic,” Almonihah replied.
“Human is such a dull language,” the shape-changed dragon said airily in Common. “Draconic really has much more power to it.”
Almonihah’s only response was a snort.
The tunnel dead-ended in an unusually smooth, flat wall with a door in it. There was another door in the wall of the tunnel on either side, also in suspiciously flat walls. Almonihah noted that they didn’t look to have been worked with tools, which led him to conclude that someone—probably Galindakherithan—had used magic to shape the surrounding stone and then installed doors in the resulting walls.
Galindakherithan around Almonihah and pointed at the door in the left wall. This will be your room, she said, speaking in Draconic again, then indicated the other two doors. The middle door is my studio, and the right one is my library. You should know that both of those doors have traps on them—another little deterrent for unwanted guests. I would suggest that you not touch either of them.
Almonihah nodded in understanding. Once the human-shape dragon was satisfied he understood, she opened the door to his room and walked in, motioning for the half-dragon to follow. The room was fairly large, with a wardrobe, a large bed, and various other furnishings. All of the walls were straight and flat, like something that had been built by men, but with none of the tool marks that would usually accompany such work.
You will stay here during your time with me, Galindakherithan said, waving imperiously at the room. Feel free to find a place for your things. I will come back for you shortly.
And with that, she walked out and shut the door.
Almonihah looked around the room, growled, and paced around for a bit. After a moment, he decided he might as well take his pack off. He leaned it against the wardrobe, then took a seat on the bed. He was startled so much when he started to sink into it that he jumped back up on his feet. He glared at it, already feeling a little bit ridiculous. He may have been sleeping on a bedroll on the ground for years now, but he had slept in a real bed in inns a few times. Muttering to himself darkly, he sat back down on the bed and thought.
It was obvious that he couldn’t escape while Galindakherithan was around. If he was lucky, she wasn’t serious about this whole teaching him Great Eagle thing, and she’d let him go tomorrow after she felt she’d made her point. If not… well, she had to leave to hunt sometime. While he was more accustomed to hiding from lesser (and stupider) predators than dragons, he was certain he could disappear well enough once he reached the forest outside that the copper dragon wouldn’t be able to track him. He’d be good for a day or two while he observed her habits, but the next day, when the time was right…
His keen ears picked up the sound of footsteps outside the door after spending a while ruminating. He quickly sat up from the bed as the doorknob turned.
Galindakherithan, again in human form, opened the door. I trust you’ve had sufficient time now to settle in… she said, her words half-question, half-statement. Her eyes flicked to the pack leaning against the wardrobe. When she looked back at Almonihah, there seemed to be a hint of disapproval in her gaze.
Almonihah nodded. Galindakherithan waited for a moment, but when it became clear that the half-dragon had nothing to say, she said, Well, why don’t you come out here now so we can start your first lesson?
The Ranger grunted in acquiescence as he walked to join Galindakherithan in the hall. She led him back towards the main chamber of her lair. Once they were out of the narrower part of the tunnel, she shifted back to her dragon form.
Much better, she said as she stretched out her legs and wings. I’ll never understand how you manage to live your whole lives cooped up in your little bodies.
Almonihah’s only response was another grunt.
Galindakherithan taught Almonihah the basics of Great Eagle for the rest of the day. Despite how much he hated the fact that he was being forced to do it, he had to admit that he almost enjoyed it. He was rather proud of how many languages he knew and how proficient he was at learning new ones.
Not bad… for only being half dragon. Galindakherithan said at the end of their session. I guess you inherited a bit of dragonkind’s vocal flexibility. Most humans can’t even make the sounds required to speak Great Eagle.
Almonihah just grunted again. He wasn’t quite sure how much she was actually complimenting him. He found her attitude towards him and his half-dragon status… well, he wasn’t quite sure what to think of it yet. The Ranger sincerely hoped that he wouldn’t have the time to figure it out.
The copper dragon interrupted his thoughts. Well, it’s time for me to go out and hunt. Do be a dear and don’t try to run away or go anywhere I’ve told you not to.
Almonihah’s response was a snort and a nod. He knew better than to touch a dragon’s things, and as for running away, he needed a bit more information before he tried that.
Seemingly satisfied by her “guest’s” response, Galindakherithan made her way back out of the lair. Almonihah stood for a little while in the main chamber, then decided to look around some more. He started with the main lair chamber, where he already was. He explored around, noting the subtle differences in slope in the cavern’s floor, the interesting formations in the corners of the chamber where the dragon hadn’t destroyed them, and the small grooves and smooth areas made by the daily habits of Galindakherithan. After a couple of hours, he felt he knew the room almost as well as its resident did.
And after that, he felt quite bored.
He didn’t quite dare study the other rooms in the kind of detail he’d studied this room, as the other cave chambers were closer to the entrance—which would hardly look good if Galindakherithan flew back in while he was studying them. And his room and the hallway… well, he suspected that studying them would be at least as boring as sitting on his bed doing nothing.
When Galindakherithan returned, the half-dragon was pacing about the main chamber of her lair like a caged beast. The copper dragon observed him with amusement as he turned to face her. Almonihah looked at her for a moment before speaking.
“Took you long enough.”
That is hardly an appropriate way to welcome a dragon back to her lair, she replied, her voice and manner oozing with mock majesty.
Almonihah replied with his characteristic grunt.
Galindakherithan shook her head a bit, chuckling deep in her chest. For such a seemingly humorless fellow, you do have quite a number of amusing quirks.
The half-bronze dragon didn’t deign to respond.
The remainder of the day was spent on more lessons in Great Eagle. Once it was night (as far as he could guess from so deep inside of the lair), the copper dragon ushered her “guest” off to his room.
The next day dawned bright and clear… not that it mattered to Almonihah, deep in the mountain. He was already awake when his hostess came to awaken him. If Galindakherithan was surprised at all by this, she didn’t comment on it. She did, however, tell him to come out for some breakfast. The meal consisted of some roasted meat, as well as various nuts and berries. Almonihah wondered when she’d gotten the food, but decided not to ask.
Lessons came after breakfast. They seemed much more intense than the day before, as if the copper dragon had decided that her pupil could learn at a much more rapid pace than she had first thought. The increased pace of his lessons didn’t bother Almonihah, as he actually enjoyed exercising his talent for languages… not that he would admit it to Galindakherithan. He had a feeling that she knew about what he was trying to hide, though.
The dragon left after several hours of teaching Great Eagle, and Almonihah quickly went to work scouting the front two chambers of the lair. Unlike in her nest chamber, he was looking for something in particular this time. Most dragons were skilled in sorcery, and often used magic to guard their lairs with wards of some type. Hopefully they’d be more to keep things out than in, but he’d still rather know they were there.
It didn’t take him long to spot one. Near the tunnel leading further into the lair, there was a strange pattern etched slightly into the stone. While the Ranger couldn’t make any sense of it, he noted its location for future reference.
He spotted several more in that chamber, and even more in the entrance chamber. Once he was fairly certain he knew where they all were, he went back to the main chamber to think. If he’d really seen all of them, and if she stayed out hunting as long as yesterday…
He had a fairly good idea of what he wanted to do by the time his “host” returned. She had, indeed, stayed out about the same amount of time as yesterday. Good.
I trust you’ve been keeping yourself entertained, Almonihah? The dragon’s voice made it half-statement, half-question.
The half-dragon’s response was a combination of a shrug and a grunt. I’ve been looking around. I haven’t been on the inside of a dragon lair before.
And what do you think? Galindakherithan’s tone seemed to imply that she already knew he was impressed.
I prefer the woods, was Almonihah’s blunt reply.
The dragon looked at her guest in shock, as if unable to believe that the Ranger would say such a thing to her face. After a moment, though, her expression smoothed into a smile.
You probably think you’re clever, don’t you? Trying to get me angry and have me throw you out into the woods, aren’t you?Well, I think it’s time for some more lessons. You’re not going anywhere until you hear my joke in Great Eagle.
Almonihah suppressed a groan as he moved to the place she indicated for him to sit. Hopefully he hadn’t just made it harder to escape…
The next morning went much as the last morning had. This time, however, when Galindakherithan went out to hunt, Almonihah carefully made his way out of the lair, nimbly stepping around the various wards etched into the cavern floors. He still had plenty of time when he finally emerged into the sunlight, but he didn’t waste any time in getting under the cover of the forest.
The half-dragon stealthily slipped between the trees for over an hour, leaving the dragon’s lair far behind him. Even after he felt fairly certain that he was out of sight of the lair, he kept to cover. No telling where Galindakherithan might be hunting.
Almonihah felt his heart rate pick up when he heard the sound of heavy wingbeats approaching. Quickly, he found a spot that could not be seen from the air and hid himself. The Ranger held perfectly still as the sound drew nearer, until it passed over him. He listened as the sound grew more distant… until suddenly, with a soft thud, it stopped. Then there was the sound of something large moving through the underbrush. Almonihah hardly even breathed as Galindakherithan came into view.
She was looking right at him.
I wondered how long it would take you to try to leave, she said smugly. I wasn’t sure at first if you were the impatient type or the careful type. She sniffed disdainfully. I guessed right.
Almonihah resisted the urge to ask which one she had guessed, and settled for an angry glare. “Put some kind ‘f locater spell on me.” Almonihah’s question was more of a statement.
Of course. Galindakherithan seemed surprised that he would even suggest that she wouldn’t do such a thing. Now then, I’d best carry you again. I wouldn’t want you getting any funny ideas while walking back.
Almonihah had thought that being carried the last time was an uncomfortable experience, but he found that Galindakherithan had been gentle with him last time. This time, she gripped him uncomfortably tightly, and he felt each wingbeat jolting him. Fortunately it was a quick flight, but he still felt bruised and battered by the time the dragon set him down in her lair.
Now, then, I trust you’ll find your way to your room while I go back out hunting? Galindakherithan said, then turn and took off again without waiting for an answer.
Almonihah picked himself up off the ground, suppressing a groan. He wasn’t quite sure whether or not to be insulted that she wasn’t even bothering to make sure he went in. Then he remembered that she had some kind of tracking magic on him, and decided that insulted probably wasn’t the right response. Angry, yes. Resigned, eventually. But insulted, no.
He did make his way back to his room, just in case. It took him all of a minute to be bored out of his mind. He started pacing. That got boring pretty quickly, too. So he decided that the dragon hadn’t told him to stay in his room, and went back out to the main lair area where there was more room to do some weapon drills.
Almonihah started to feel a little bit better as he worked through the familiar movements of his drills. He’d have to do this more often, if for nothing else than to forget for a little while that he was a prisoner. Not to mention he was going to need to work on keeping in shape if he was stuck here for a while.
You’re not practicing to kill me, are you? Galindakherithan’s voice made Almonihah jump.
Once he had recovered from his surprise, Almonihah turned to face her. The dragon was in human form, which didn’t fully explain how she’d been able to sneak up on him. Probably more magic. “’m not that stupid,” Almonihah said.
Galindakherithan laughed. So you do admit to being somewhat stupid, then?
The half-dragon grunted in acknowledgement of her hit. He’d have to remember to beware her sense of humor at all times. It was bad enough when she was deliberately telling jokes.
After that, Almonihah resigned himself to being stuck in Galindakherithan’s lair until she got bored with him. Or he learned enough Great Eagle for her to tell him a joke. Or until he went insane. Whichever she was going for.
Almonihah settled into a routine fairly quickly. The copper dragon would spend a couple hours on teaching him Great Eagle in the morning, then he’d drill while she hunted and did whatever else it was she did while she was gone, then she’d come back and teach him more Great Eagle. Sometimes she’d go to her library or study in the evenings, leaving Almonihah to figure out what else he could do with himself. It usually ended up being more weapon drills. He was making up new ones to keep himself entertained. He just regretted that there weren’t really any good archery targets. Shooting his practice arrows at rocks would be a good way to not have practice arrows for long.
In time, Almonihah took to sitting at the edge of the lair for long periods, looking out on the world outside. Galindakherithan would often catch him at it, but at first, she said nothing. After several weeks, however, she finally told him he could go outside as long as he stayed within a mile of her lair, so the half-bronze dragon took to rambling around the woods around her lair. Save for the occasional patch of evergreens, most of the trees had already lost their leaves, with only a few clinging on to red or orange leaves. There was a pleasant chill in the air, not really enough to bother Almonihah, but enough for him to enjoy the difference.
As the weeks turned to months, Almonihah and Galindakherithan settled into a sort of unfriendly friendship. The copper dragon continued to make jokes at the half-dragon’s expense, and the Ranger continued to see how lazily he could speak in the Common Tongue and still get the dragon to acknowledge she knew what he meant.
Sometime during the winter, perhaps because she felt a bit bad about her “guest” wandering around in the snow because he was bored, Galindakherithan allowed the half-dragon into her library. While books had never interested Almonihah much, he did know how to read, and it was something to do other than doing the same weapon drills over and over and walking the same mile of snowy forest over and over again.
Almonihah was rather surprised to find that the copper dragon had a fairly large collection of books. While several were on jokes, a fair number were on other topics—philosophy, magic, religion, even a text on draconic anatomy. All were full of marginal comments in a very fine hand, some in Elven, some in Common. The anatomy text was particularly heavily marked with rather disparaging comments, and the half-dragon recognized his “host”’s sense of humor.
Almonihah was even more surprised to find that he actually enjoyed reading. Not enough that he didn’t keep in practice with his weapons and take plenty of walks outside, but he had read all of the books he was interested in by the time the snows had retreated up to the peaks of the mountains.
By this time, Almonihah was starting to feel fairly confident in his command of Great Eagle, and Galindakherithan was starting to (grudgingly) agree. The Ranger was starting to wonder if she was going to think of another excuse to keep him here or if he was finally going to be able to leave.
It was sometime late in the spring, or maybe early in the summer, when Galindakherithan finally said, in Great Eagle, Well, I think you’re finally ready to hear my joke.
It took Almonihah a moment to fully appreciate what she was saying. She took his pause to be an expectant silence, and launched into the joke.
Once she was done, Almonihah snorted in amusement. She’d been waiting this long to tell him that? It didn’t even make sense, even as a joke. Then he thought over it again, and realized he’d mistranslated part of it. He chuckled—just a bit—at his mistake, because it was kind of a funny error.
Ha! I knew you couldn’t resist my jokes forever! Galindakherithan crowed (in Draconic). After a moment of silence, she said, a bit more quietly, Well, now that you’ve finally laughed at one of my jokes, you’re free to gather your stuff and go whenever you’d like.
Almonihah blinked. She was really letting him go? It seemed like the world away from the lair was just a dream, it’d been so long since he’d been out there. Slowly, though, the realization that this was real sunk in.
He realized that it would probably be polite to say something to the copper dragon. Polite seemed like a good idea.
“Well…” he trailed off for a bit before thinking of what to say, “Thanks.”
Galindakherithan laughed a bit. Laconic as always, I see. Well, you are welcome. Do stop by again sometime if you’re in the area. You are rather amusing company, even if you hardly ever laugh yourself.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” the Ranger replied as he headed towards his room to pick up his stuff. He made a mental note to never come within a hundred miles of this place again.