Authors: Bernard Schaffer
Tiny Dragons II
The Bear and the Scepter
1. At the Peak of a Distant Mountain
2. What an Unusual Visitor
3. They Have Found You, Mrs. O'Neil
4. The Queen of Cats
5. The Bear and the Scepter
1. At the Peak of a Distant Mountain
Lord Sun, the great golden dragon and king of Sky Dragon Mountain, was captured. His massive wings, tied down, and his captors surrounding him in the cold, icy tundra. They'd leashed a tight leather restraint around his neck and used it to pull his enormous head down to the ground.
It happened in Greenland, which, interestingly enough, is not very green. It's quite snowy and barren, as opposed to Iceland, which, incidentally, has a fair amount of green. But the outer reaches of so-called Greenland extend into the Arctic with its thick, furry bunnies and caribou and shaggy foxes and polar bears, and even, beluga whales. But there are no dragons there. At least, not normally.
Except that day.
On that day, Lord Sun was flying low above the frozen earth and watching his own reflection in the thick ice covering the water below. He was thinking of his home, so far away, and his wife, the beautiful Lady Moon, and that maybe, perhaps soon when this was all over, he would bring her to this place and show her all of its stark, pale beauty.
That is when they struck.
He caught a brief glimpse of the catapult below just before it sprang, launching a massive stone boulder through the air at him with the force of an express train. The boulder crashed against Lord Sun's jaw, throwing his head up into the air as the rest of his body spun counter-clockwise. This was exactly the wrong position for him to maintain flight.
Then he remembered spinning, and not being able to see, in those brief moments before he crashed. He slammed against the tundra so hard it kicked clouds of ice shards and snow into the air, and that is when they jumped on top of him.
They were dressed in tribal furs and boots bound with leather thongs, screaming at him in their strange, native tongue, and shaking hand-crafted spears over their heads. Lord Sun groaned and tried to fight back, sweeping a dozen of them out of the way with one swipe of his wing. He was more annoyed with himself for having been hit by their crude weapon than anything. There was no way this ragtag group of natives could keep a dragon like Lord Sun down, but then something strange happened.
The tribe's mystic, a man called an Angakkuq, emerged from the crowd and all the other natives fell silent. Lord Sun sniffed with laughter, for the man was ridiculous looking, wearing a wooly suit of painted fur and long braids of yarn that draped down from his arms all the way to the ground. The Angakkuq's mask was wide and flat and carved into the shape of a deformed monster, probably meant to terrify all who saw it, but Lord Sun, the great dragon, was not easily terrified. He was certainly not terrified of humans. The dragon rolled his eyes and went to get up. He'd had enough of their nonsense, and they were lucky he hadn't delivered a few hot bursts of flame to their backsides to send them on their way, yet before he could stand, the Angakkuq thrust his hand into the air, and Lord Sun stopped cold.
In the costumed man's grip was a totem, a long, knotted, wooden staff carved with runes and symbols. At the top of the staff was a jade dragon's head and its eyes were made of enormous red rubies. The rubies flashed in the Arctic sunlight, as if the stones were filled with strange, searing, fire, and Lord Sun felt all of his strength drain away. As he looked into the glowing rubies, his front legs buckled beneath him and he collapsed back down heavily on the cold, hard, ground.
The tribesmen roared and cheered as they worked quickly to stake his arms and legs to the tundra. They lassoed his wings and tail and neck with expert precision, all while the Angakkuq stood before Lord Sun, forcing him to stare at the totem, using the bright light of the flaming stones to keep him motionless.
"And now," the mystic announced from behind his mask, "you will serve me."
Lord Sun heard his own voice, as if it were being spoken by someone else, "And now, I will serve you."
The mystic shook the totem and said, "I am your master."
"You are my…master," Lord Sun droned.
The mystic rattled his totem and the rest of the tribe whooped and shouted in victory, crying out in praise of the Angakkuq's great magic that had entranced the dragon and brought it under his command. "Now," the mystic bellowed, "I shall ride this golden beast against our enemies in the West and they shall know terror such they have never−"
A bright green light flared behind the tribe that stretched from the sea to the sky, so fierce they had to look away and shield their eyes. The Angakkuq turned toward the green light and cried out in despair, seeing that it was growing bigger and coming closer to them. There was an explosion that sent huge chunks of ice flying into the air, hurtling toward the tribesmen like glistening daggers.
A voice boomed across the tundra, "BEGONE, MEN OF THE NORTH! LEAVE MY DRAGON ALONE, OR I WILL STEAL ALL OF YOUR FISH AND SEND MY MIGHTY WOLVES TO EAT YOU!" This was followed by another explosion, much closer to the group of tribesmen, and they instantly reared back and scattered in fear.
"Wait!" the Angakkuq cried. He spun nervously back and forth between the dragon and the bright light and said, "This dragon is mine! He is under my spell!"
The light grew smaller, drawing inward until it was no more than the size of the mystic himself, taking the shape and form of a man who was now walking toward the astonished Angakkuq. The figure raised its hands threateningly toward the mystic, and the costumed man cried out in terror and began to run away. "STOP!" his deafening voice sounded. "LEAVE YOUR TRINKET SO THAT YOU ARE NOT TEMPTED TO MAKE SUCH MISCHIEF AGAIN."
The Angakkuq threw the wooden totem down on the ground and scrambled across the tundra, yelling for the rest of his tribe to wait for him to catch up. As the group vanished into the fog and icy hills, the light emanating from the figure diminished and slowly went out.
Lord Sun was still lying flat on his stomach, keeping his eyes mainly closed, just enough so he could see who it was that approached, and what he intended to do. The moment the mystic's concentration had broken, the spell of the totem broke as well, and it would have been easy for a dragon as large and powerful as Lord Sun to break free of his leashes and fly into the sky … but he decided to wait. He was curious to see who or what would come to the aid of a defenseless dragon.
Lord Sun could now see the man standing in front of him on the ice, turning a strange-looking dial that dangled from a chain around his neck. It glowed green as it faded, and the man lowered a mechanical device from his mouth, something that looked no bigger than the kind of wand humanlings used to blow bubbles with, except this one was metal and lined with circuitry and wiring. This trickery was the reason the man's voice was so loud, Lord Sun reasoned. This was no wizard at all.
The man tucked the device into a pouch on his belt, and walked over to where the totem lay.
Lord Sun thought.
You would attempt to use the totem to ensnare me as well. Greedy humans. All alike.
But just as the dragon prepared to leap up from the ground, he watched in amazement as the man bent down to the totem and began wrenching the rubies out of the carved jade head. He reached into another pouch on his belt and brought out a different device, this one fitted with a large magnifying glass, and he raised one of the rubies into the light to inspect it more carefully. "Strange," the man muttered. He turned and looked at the still-motionless form of Lord Sun and said, "These appear as nothing more than ordinary rubies. Can you think of any reason they would be able to hypnotize you?"
Lord Sun did not open his eyes or move at all.
The human chuckled and said, "I know you're awake, my friend. I deduced that you regained full awareness the moment I distracted the Angakkuq." He waited for the dragon to respond, and when it didn't, he shrugged and went back to the totem to remove the other ruby. He popped the second stone out, then placed both gems and the eyeless totem side by side on the tundra and removed a camera from yet another pouch on his belt. He aimed the camera at the items on the ground and pressed the shutter button rapidly, taking multiple photographs from different angles.
As he was bent over, a large shadow fell over him and it was suddenly so warm he was sweating. He stopped moving when he heard the sound of the dragon's rumbling breath just above his head.
Lord Sun stared down at the human. "What do you think you're doing with that?"
The man put away his camera and said, "I'm analyzing this totem, trying to determine why it was able to hypnotize you so effectively. Perhaps dragons have a weakness to red light, or perhaps it is equipped with some kind of wave transmitter that−"
"Enough!" Lord Sun snapped. "It has powerful magic and it must be destroyed."
"Magic," the man laughed. "Of course it doesn't. There is no such thing. Magic is a word the ignorant use to describe phenomenon they do not understand."
The dragon advanced, enough to make the human scamper backwards, "Are you calling me ignorant?"
"No," the man said quickly. "You're only ignorant if you cling to a belief in something after observing demonstrable evidence that contradicts it. So let me examine this totem and determine the reason it was able to have such an effect on you."
The dragon's head snapped sideways and it blasted a jet of white hot flame at the totem, melting the rubies and jade into the ground and leaving nothing more than a thick pile of ash from the wooden staff. Lord Sun looked back at the human and said, "What caused it does not concern me. Preventing it from doing so again does."
The human groaned at the sight of the useless smoldering heap. He shook his head and muttered, "Well, at least I have some decent photographs of it. Hopefully, I can still come up with something."
Lord Sun batted the camera out of the man's hands and said, "Who, exactly, are you and what, exactly, are you doing out here? Why do you have such strange equipment and, most importantly, why in the name of the Four Winds, did you stop those disgusting humans from capturing me?"
"Because you and I are on the same quest," the human said. "We are looking for the same thing."
"And what is that?" Lord Sun sneered. "Riches? Gold? All the things you humans crave!"
The dragon was taken aback. "How do you know about Fafnir's Horn?" Lord Sun snarled, "And what would you even do with it if you found it?"
"I would blow it as loud as I could, as long as I could," he said. "I would blow it until I summoned the Last Black Dragon. Please tell me you are aware that The Evil One is coming and no one else can stop him."
Lord Sun stared down at the human, too mystified to move or even know what to say. In all his many years, he'd never fathomed, never even considered for one second, that any human could possibly know about, much less care about, finding the Horn and using it to stop the Evil One.
While Lord Sun stood gawking, the man discreetly reached down into his pocket and removed his camera. He raised it up quickly and took a picture of Lord Sun's massive face.
"What are you doing?" the dragon said, startled.
"Documenting you," he replied. "I've never seen an actual dragon before. I'd read reports that you existed, and seen footage, but to be honest, a large part of me was convinced it was all a hoax."
"Tell me human, do I look like a hoax to you?" Lord Sun said loudly.
"Nope," the man said, as he raised the camera and took another picture.
Lord Sun squinted from the camera's bright flash, "Stop that!"
The man held his hand up to the dragon's chest, feeling the warmth coming from within and said, "Can all dragons breathe fire?"
"Can you always breathe fire?"
"Have you always been able to breathe fire? Even as a baby? Were you ever a baby? You were probably hatched from an egg, I'd guess. All reptiles are, and I'd place you in that family. Were you hatched from an egg?"
Lord Sun backed away from the strange little human, "Are you always this inquisitive?"
"Yes," he said simply. He put away his camera and removed a notepad from his pocket and scribbled pages of notes about dragons, fire, and eggs. His questions lasted long into the night, and did not stop until his notepad was filled and both of them fell asleep.
That was many months ago.
The man's face sported a thick brown beard, and the ends of that beard and the mustache above it were caked in ice. It was so cold and windy at the top of the Himalayan Mountains that tears were dripping out of the corners of his eyes and freezing to his cheeks faster than he could wipe them away. He constantly flexed his fingers back and forth inside his gloves, trying to keep the fabric from stiffening with ice.
Lord Sun looked down at him with grave concern and said, "Perhaps I could set a small patch of the ground alight for you. Would that help?"
"N-n-no," he said. "The change in temperature might cause an avalanche. There's a village at the foot of the mountain. They'd be crushed."
The dragon peered over the edge of the crest and looked down, far below, his sharp eyes spying the distant chimneys and small fenced-in pastures of the village. The dragon nodded that the human was correct. Lord Sun raised his wing into the air, so that his bright, gleaming scales reflected the orange sunset and he said, "Come."