He woke several moments later unsure of how long he’d been asleep. Something was different. He was high above the ground in a cage made of claws. The earth was a blur around him as he started to struggle, but the claws of the dragon wouldn’t budge. Titan was still strapped to his back, but the rope around his waist had been cut leaving it somewhere on the side of the mountain.
Then the earth vanished, replaced with the smooth, moist walls of a large cave. It was lit dimly by several small fires, like large torches, on each side. There was a faint golden glow about the room from the stacks and piles of gold and jewels in one of the corners. The claws released, dropping Frederik roughly on the hard floor. Jumping up instantly his battle experience kicked in. He opened his sense to the layout of his surrounding, ignoring it visually so he could concentrate on his enemy, a large black dragon. The dragon snarled as Frederik unsheathed Titan and swung wildly at the dragon’s legs and throat.
“Whoa there, little vermin,” the dragon roared as Titan nicked one of its knees, puffs of smoke rolling out of its nostrils. Lifting one of its legs, the dragon pinned Frederik firmly to the ground and knocking his sword across the room. “I am Eloric, Guardian of the Dragon’s Gold. Why are you here?” his rumbling voice echoed off the walls.
“I am Sir Frederik of the King’s army, sent here to kill you as punishment for treason. Now let me up and fight!” Frederik replied.
“Fight? Please, I am nearly five hundred years old. In fact, tomorrow is my five hundredth birthday! I am much too old to be wasting my energy fighting.” Eloric growled as Frederik struggled.
“Then kill me you coward,” Frederik shouted.
Eloric’s scaly face rippled with thought then he removed his claw and placed it on top of Titan instead. “Why should I?” he asked.
“Because, you’re a dragon, why wouldn’t you?” Frederik said as he rose to his feet.
“You mean because I’m a dragon that makes me a ruthless killer? What about humans? Do they not kill us? Do they not kill each other for any reason other than to live? I kill only when my own life is threatened and I believe there is something inside you that truly doesn’t want to kill me.” Eloric concluded.
“I don’t, but I have to! If I don’t I can never see my family again!” Frederik stated, staring at his feet.
“Ah family, yet another reason we would all kill. I lost my mate ten years ago to a human. He assumed she was attacking while she was out hunting for deer. You may know him; these days he calls himself King Dominic. He felt my wrath for it and I left him alive, paranoid that someday I might return to finish him. He doesn’t know and I suppose now he never will, but I did eventually forgive him,” Eloric paused as a steaming tear splashed on the floor, “If I made you a deal that could spare us both, would you take it?”
“Anything to get back to my family,” Frederik said.
Finally being allowed to relax his body, his age began to show as he slouched to the ground in a tired heap. Breathing heavily, more smoke rose from his nostrils as he spoke, “I’ve been waiting for a chance like this, the chance to have what so many other dragons are denied, a peaceful death.”
“What do you mean?” Frederik asked.
“Would you rather die in battle or as an old man in his bed?” Eloric questioned. “Of course I already know the answer. Life isn’t something that should be cut short by a blade. Life should be lived until the very end. No dragon has ever reached the age of five hundred and I intend to be the first, for I fear this might be my last night alive. My last act will be one of kindness. Take these scales,“ he said, handing Frederik three black disks, “and as much gold as you can carry. You must miss your family, so I’ll speed you along your way and deliver you; you’re armor and sword at the foot of the mountain.” He lifted his foot and Frederik sheathed Titan on his back.
Confusion rang through Frederik’s mind and all he could think to reply was, “Thank you.”…
… Frederik spent the night at the mountain’s base, listening to Elorics’s barely audible growls and grumbles. As the sun rose the next morning the last puffs of smoke rose from the mouth of the cave. “Happy birthday Eloric,“ Frederik whispered. He shouldered his pack with the scales, gold, and his armor. With one last look up at the peak he turned and headed for home with the sword that was someday destined to belong to his son.