Velor came to a stop when Gandy came into view. The small mountain village sat near the mouth of a valley, snow-capped peaks looming both to the north and south. The wide road Velor stood on traveled from east to west, rising into the valley, through Gandy, and into the imposing highlands beyond.
Gandy's location made it vital to the local lord, Sir Godfrey. The mountaineers who called it home risked life and limb to keep the pass safe and open for the trading caravans that passed through this way from spring to fall. Also within the village, a veritable army of smiths and carpenters supplied caravans with the rugged wheels and carts a mountain crossing demanded. Inns did a brisk business as travelers stopped for one last night of rest before daring the frigid heights.
At least, that used to be the case. Reports claimed a youngling had nested in the mountains about a month ago and brought a premature end to the trading season. At a glance, at least some parts of the report were true. Dark scars had been burned across the land, and one part of Gandy had suffered the same damage. A strip of houses and shops were blackened remnants of their former selves.
The destruction wasn't what slowed his steps. If he froze every time he saw a house burned down, he'd hardly stay alive for long. Besides, Sir Godfrey had paid him to come here because of the dragon. Burned crops were hardly a surprise.
No, what slowed his steps were the villagers themselves. They were out in the streets, talking and bartering as though they didn't have to fear a tempestuous dragon searching for its next meal.
Velor scratched at his chin. There was no chance Godfrey had sent anyone else. He'd barely been able to scrape together Velor's fee, which was very reasonable as far as Velor was concerned.
He watched for a moment longer, then resumed his journey toward the village. He'd only find the answers when he reached Gandy and asked for them.
An hour's hike brought him to the outskirts of the village. The shepherds had their flocks roaming far and wide, so there was no doubt the village was confident in its safety. He stopped the first person he met, a young woman who introduced herself as Robin. She was tall and statuesque, with long dark hair pulled back in a simple braid. Under other circumstances, Velor might have invited her to an inn for the most extravagant meal he could afford, but the question of the dragon was an itch that needed scratching, little different than if he'd stepped in poisoned ivy. Few things frustrated him like unanswered questions.
"Good morning. I'd heard of a youngling in these parts, and I can plainly see the evidence of one's recent passage, but your village seems remarkably unworried. Why?"
Robin's eyes glazed, and her gaze lifted somewhere over Velor's left shoulder. He had the sense she was staring deeply into the recent past.
"Tis true," she said. "I'd never seen a dragon before the youngling arrived her about a month back. I'll confess, when I'd heard the legends growing up, I'd always thought the poor creatures had been treated unfairly. Surely, nothing could have been half as frightening as the tales made them out to be. But when I saw her, I understood." The young woman shivered, and for a moment, she focused on him. "She sent a chill down my spine no fire could warm."
Velor sighed inwardly. He'd wanted information, not a story. "What happened?"
Her gaze went unfocused again as she clasped her hands above her heart. "He came, of course."
"The great mage. He came striding into town from the mountains. He'd walked the pass all alone, and the dragon visited us again right as he reached the edge of the village."
She paused, her thoughts once again lost in the past. Velor shook his head. If this "great mage" asked, he'd have a new bride in a heartbeat.
When it became clear she'd gotten completely lost in her memories, Velor prompted her to continue. "And what happened then?"
She blinked. "The dragon landed right in front of him. She huffed and puffed, but the mage never even flinched. In all my life, I've never seen such bravery."
If Velor had to guess, Robin might also have issued such a compliment to a warrior facing down an angry kitten. Still, he let her gush without interruption, so that she would get to the end of the story faster.
"They stared at each other for what felt like ages, but then the dragon roared and took off again, flying back to its nest," she finished.
Now that was curious. "And the mage?"
"Why, he went into the mountains to kill it for good! We expect him back any day now." From the longing in her voice, Velor worried Robin was about to chase after the mage herself. Already she was lost yet again in her memories. He bid her as polite a farewell as he could summon and walked farther into town.
His next step was an inn. Travelers filled the common room, and it sounded like they'd already been drinking for most of the day. He pulled up a stool at the bar. "Busy place," he said to the bartender.
"Caravans are stopped here waiting for the mage to clear the pass. Can't complain about the gold, but they'll be running out of coins for their drink soon."
"I heard about this mage on the way in. Is it true he stared down a dragon?"
The bartender nodded. "Most impressive sight I've seen in a good long while. Unless you count how much he ate after."
"He ate here?"
"Served him all he wanted, on the house. Figured it was the least I could do for him after he saved the village. Though I'll confess, had I known he was going to eat that much, I might have reconsidered my offer."
Velor ordered an ale, then let the bartender turn his attention to the rest of his patrons. He nursed the drink as he considered the unexpected developments.
From the sound of it, his work here had been done for him. And his purse was flush with Godfrey's gold. All in all, he couldn't ask for much more.
Except a job wasn't done until it was done, and he didn't want a reputation as a man who didn't finish his jobs.
Which meant he needed to go up into the mountains and ensure the dragon was dead.
He finished the last of his ale in one long pull. No point in dallying.
It was time to find this "great mage" and see if he actually had what it took to kill a dragon.
Read Chapter 2