Rise of the Thrall Lord
The Fall of the Couch - Part 1
Only a sliver of moon cast a faint sheen on the trees far below. It was dark, but not dark enough to hide the fact that those trees were approaching at an alarming rate. As he plummeted from the sky, and certain death approached rapidly once again, Martin wondered, as he had many times in his short life, how it had come to this.
It had all started yesterday with a normal morning waking on his bed roll on a hard stone floor. The Stone Monolith was little more than a dungeon, but at least he wasn’t a prisoner in the dungeon, so it was better then many mornings he had known. There were far more comfortable rooms many levels below; a parlor, bedroom, sitting room, and library, all decked out with near palatial finery, at least as palatial as the rustic woodsman could imagine. But it was too deep underground and too distant from the entrance, which is where he set his roll.
The rooms below were the current headquarters of the Knights of the Couch, and tensions were high among them. Aksel, although gnomish in stature was one of the pillars of sanity among the party, and their only healer. He had flown off the previous day with Ruka to seek a cure for the fiendish serpent poisons that had nearly killed her.
The wizard Glorlindir was even more aloof then usual; and the seer Elistra more inscrutable. And they spent considerable time in private council. Martin supposed that is what wizards called it.
Normally as cheerful a devil-may-care swordsman as one could find, Donatello seemed somewhat somber, and was more often then not looking out worriedly from the upper reaches of the Monolith to the east; in the direction Ruka had gone.
The fair and just, Dame Alana, a Knight of the Rose, was uncharacteristically snappish. Perhaps it was the strain of caring for the three squires they had rescued from the Green Dragon attack. Perhaps it was seeing the way Donatello unconsciously gripped the handle of his dragon-forged dagger, a gift that Ruka had given him. A gift that everyone suspected was much more than a trifling token of affection.
Or perhaps Alana’s mood was affected by the omnipresent shuddering caused by the dancing Colossus below. While Aksel was away, the Colossus was under the control of Elvisda. And the near constant crazed rhythmic capering of the stone giant was perhaps the way Elvisda relieved stress; or it was perhaps a sign of some burgeoning bardic madness. Martin was not sure he wanted to find out.
Outside was where Martin would prefer to camp. But outside the Monolith was little better. The huge carcass of a Green Dragon lay nearly blocking the entrance. The party had made frighteningly quick work of the creature. And then Glorlindir had declared that they should chop the body apart and dispose of it, a typical wizard’s casual statement of the impossible.
Martin’s sharpest dagger could not scratch the dragon’s hide. Even when it was dead, his best efforts were insignificant to the prodigious creature. Truth be told, he had done little in that battle. It was primarily the killing leaps of Cyclone with his great spear and the powerful strokes of Lloyd’s star-metal sword that had felled the dragon. And their weapons were all that could be used in the vain attempt to butcher the great beast.
It was more of a corpse desecration than a proper butchery, and in any case. Cyclone and Lloyd, spurred on by Elvisda, were like kids in a draconic candy store. And after a powerful spurt of ichors from some acid gland melted the stone inches from Martin, he decided to stay away from the whole bloody process.
He may have, perhaps, appreciated the value of a dragon fang as a memento. But he cared very little for the grisly souvenirs the Couchers seemed intent on taking. He absolutely did not want to know what Elvisda planned on doing with the gonads he gleefully showed everyone, each ball bigger than a man could comfortably grab in a fist.
It was probably the feeling of impending doom that concerned him with the whole process. He was the only one of the group who had seen the other dragon, bigger than the one slain and the huge dragon’s fearsome dark rider. He tried to tell them, but didn’t think they understood. Martin was sure the Dragon Lord would be greatly displeased, but he supposed that there was no chance for any mercy from such a being anyway.
Even if the Dragon Lord did not return, Martin couldn’t help imagining the kind of monsters a freshly butchered dragon corpse would attract in a place as notoriously dangerous as the Dark Woods. All in all, sleeping in a stone monolith was the lesser of the many evils that Martin’s pragmatic imagination could conjure.
Once a man resigns himself to dark and deadly times out of his control, there is a grim kind of peace.
So it was almost a relief when the airship appeared on the horizon heading towards the monolith. At least here was real doom that a man could focus on instead of the many imagined ones.