The night air chilled as summer left. Darkness chased the blues and purples from the sky as the sun set over the farm. Ælric stood against the fence and waited. Frustration seeped into his heart.
“You are but a boy,” his brothers said. “The Order is very specific, even with Father’s influence with Master. You would not be welcome until your sixteenth year.” Ælric kicked the wooden crate at his feet. He only had two more months.
Muffled voices carried across the still air. Stern and commanding though Father was, Ælric could not make out the words.
Earlier, the three brothers had found a hastily abandoned campsite just the other side of their farm. Tucked beneath the boughs of a spruce lay a chest that bore the Wessex Wyvern.
Brogan and Garrett broke the lock and opened the crate. Rifling through its contents revealed nothing but sword and scabbard parts. As they closed the lid, Ælric caught a gleam of something more. It took hold of his soul. When he suggested they take the chest to The Order for its safekeeping, his brothers refused. Greed edged into their hearts the older they got.
Dim light escaped the house and brought Ælric from his thoughts. Brogan wrenched the door open and Garrett followed behind, shoulders slumped. Father darkened the door and with finality called after them, “The Order demands the righteous will be done. Go to Master Drake.” The words echoed in the darkness and shrouded the brothers as their father closed the door.
“Bring the trunk,” Brogan snapped and stamped off down the road.
Garrett and Ælric picked up their end of the crate and walked in silence towards Lichfield Hollow.
Ælric was glad they were going to deliver the chest to Master Drake’s care. The relic he glimpsed earlier still tugged at his soul, drawing him in.
“You are doing the right thing, Brogan,” said Ælric as the relic sang to his heart. It told him it belonged to no one, that it must be protected at all cost. The Church was not the place, nor was The Crown. The Order was the only safe haven for this relic.
Brogan harrumphed and stormed ahead. They continued for another twenty minutes in heavy silence.
“I’m torn, Ælric. Father’s farm needs the money, but I can hear the song too,” Garrett responded a little while later.
Ælric caught his breath at his brother’s choice of words. Their eyes locked across the chest. They almost knocked Brogan over as they rounded the bend.
A dark, bulky body blocked their path. Smoke broke against the rock as Master Drake’s labored breath filled the air. He stumbled and sent a shudder rolling through the hillside.
Garrett dropped his side of the trunk and ran to his side. “How fair you, Master Drake?”
Gurgles mixed with his two-toned voice, “I have been hurt, Brother Garrett. I do not think I will survive.” Garrett motioned for Brogan to come near.
Brogan served the Mercian Army many times, patching up wounded soldiers brought from the skirmishes between Mercia and Wessex.
“Lift your forearm.”
A low groan resonated in Master Drake’s chest. Brogan felt around Master’s immense body, using his hands to guide him in the darkness.
Brogan sighed. “He’s right. It had to be the weakest spot. Didn’t it?” He shook his head. “An arrow pierced the soft scale under his forearm. There’s nothing we can do.”
Master Drake slumped to the ground beside them. Only tendrils of smoke trickled from his nostrils now.
Panic rose in Ælric’s heart. “But the chest? The Order?”
Master Drake lifted his head. Calmness pooled in his eyes. “No worries, young one.” He paused, struggling for breath. “Master Ælfræd is very capable of leading The Order in my absence.”
He snaked his neck around the crate and blanketed it with his wings. With a final rise of his chest, Master Drake continued. “As for the chest, it belongs with me.”
Burnt sulfur lingered in the air with his final breath.
The brothers stood quiet and somber in the night. As the song reached its summit, the earth rumbled and roiled, like waves cresting the sea. The hillside engulfed the great dragon, swallowing him whole. Forever encased and protected. The Order’s will was now complete.