Previous subchapter here.
“Mother was unconscious, cradled in Father’s arms. Her dress was flung up above her waist, torn and caked in drying blood. Rage and grief churned within me, erupting in an anguished howl that I later learned echoed throughout the countryside and brought the villagers at a run.
“The roar startled my father back to reality. ‘Go for the healers!’ he cried. I turned without question and raced back out. I had never sprinted so fast before. Before I even got to the main road into the village, I beheld the Elder running beside Healer Smythwick, followed by the rest of the villagers. For the first time, I ignored our Elder and spoke only to Smythwick. ‘Come fast,’ I shouted. ‘My mother is hurt!’ Without hesitation, I whirled back to the house. I stopped running as I reentered. Father had by this time covered my mother’s nakedness, restoring some semblance of her dignity. I heard footsteps behind me and knew by his scent the Healer had arrived. I was ushered outside with my father while he began examining Mother.
“After what seemed like hours, he emerged from our cottage and reported that my magnificent, beautiful mother had been raped and clawed with viciousness. Bites ran down her neck and arms. My father stiffened and bade me wait. He then went in to her. I began to search the areas near the door for clues. Most would not have used ‘methodical’ to describe me any other time, but I was then. I found a red scale as father came outside once more. I showed it to him and received a curt nod. He looked at the Elder with glowing golden eyes and spoke. ‘Watch over Aurora for me until we return,’ he ordered.
‘Of course, Rhynskald.’
“Father beckoned for me to follow him, and set a brisk pace headed east. He set an incredible pace. About three hundred yards into the woods, he began to transform. First, scales spread over his skin in a spiral pattern. His body lengthened; his limbs bulged as his back grew broader. He dropped so his hands touched the ground. His clothing was ripped to shreds and fell to the earth. Father’s fingers and toes sprouted long, sharp claws. His face stretched and broadened, growing a magnificent ridge of horn as his nose and mouth lengthened becoming a maw with huge fangs. The whiskers on his face also grew longer. Tremendous wings burst from his backbone as his neck stretched until it was as long as his body. A tail swept out behind him, thick and sinuous. This wonderful transformation happened in a matter of seconds. I was astonished to behold him as a splendid gold dragon.
“I stared, mouth agape. Father swiveled his huge head around and peered down at me. One melon-size eye blinked closed. He gestured for me to come to him. ‘Come, we have a red dragon to hunt.’
“I stepped forward, filled with trepidation. A colossal paw, tipped with massive claws, grasped me. With a swift few steps, my father launched himself into the air.”
When Angriz paused, I took a moment to divert him from the anguish he must have relived, “Why did your father call you Swenlyn?”
“That was my name at the time,” he answered. “We dragons go through different naming processes than others do. We are given one name after hatching, or birth. We receive another at puberty, and one more upon reaching adulthood. Some are named for their deeds, and some by their enemies. Mine was the latter.”
I cocked a surprised eyebrow at him. “Why would you carry a name given by an enemy?”
“Because it turned out to be my True Name.”
I thought for a second: I’d heard of the significance of them before. I just couldn’t remember where. Mental forehead slap: BattleHammer.
“I may be wrong,” I began, “But if someone knows your True Name, they have power over you, right?”
“Yes, but only if secret. However, in the open, as mine is, then any True Name spells would backfire against the caster.” His smile was clear in his voice.
“Ah, right. Sorry for my interruption. Please continue.”
“My father flew through the night. His massive paw shielded me from the cold air. As we traveled, I asked about our family. ‘Father, does you being a dragon mean that I am one as well?’
“‘No, Swenlyn, you are half-dragon. Your mother is human,’ he said.
“This provided my next question, ‘Why do I look like the other children?’
“‘Half-dragons resemble the offspring of their non-draconic parent until adolescence,’ he answered. ‘That is when your body begins to change. Nothing looks different at first. Then, your scales begin to develop with what appears like a full-body rash which itches like hell.’
“‘I won’t be able to continue playing with the others, will I?’ I asked.
“He sighed, ‘As long as they allow it. I’m afraid they will be much like other children I have seen in my travels, and ostracize you. Odds are you will be very lonely, son. However, as you grow, your strength, agility and intelligence will, too. They grow at a much faster rate than anyone’s except a pure dragon.’ With that he fell silent.
“At last, close to dawn, we came to the Saffron Mountains. We landed on a broad ledge near the summit of Mount Killimin, the highest peak in the range. He released me from his grip and transformed back to the man I knew. Several feet away, a black cave led into the mountain. Father held my eyes for a moment, seeming to find something. He nodded, more to himself than to me.
“‘Wait here,’ he commanded as he strode into the cave. Hours passed as the sun rose higher into the sky. Too long, he had been gone. The silence, the not-knowing was toying with my imagination and I was considering following him. He would not have tolerated my disobeying him. And yet, if he were in need of me…how could I just stay?
Much to my relief and horror, the silence was destroyed by a terrific roaring. Inside the mountain, a titanic battle was being waged. Pebbles bounced and tumbled down from above the cavern entrance. Dust thickened the air as the ground shook.
“I dove to one side as a searing wall of flame shot from the opening. My right shoulder took a beating from a sharp rock half buried in the rubble. I rubbed the bruised and singed muscle as I rose. Moments later, Father strode out. He was tired, dirty, sweaty and covered in blood. I wondered how much of was his and what amount belonged to the red dragon still inside. His battle-weary eyes locked on mine. For a moment I thought I discerned more than just the father, the warrior I knew him to be: all strength, integrity and discipline. Something else stood looking at me which I did not recognize. He seemed as if he were a king. No, a king of kings. His appearance was at once majestic, yet menacing.
“He beckoned for me and forgetting all else, I ran to congratulate him. He was safe! He’d won. But before I could celebrate, he spoke, wary and tired, ‘It’s not yet over.’ I slid to a stop a foot or two from him. In his hand was an enormous silver greatsword with an intricate filigreed pommel. He offered the hilt to me. Not yet understanding his purpose, I grasped the sword and followed.
“We returned to the cave and walked for a long distance. This was not a single grotto, but a series of immense caverns. The last hollow we entered was breath-taking. The ceiling soared far above our heads. Tiny eyes measured our progress. At any other time, this would have been beautiful; flowstones, rising stalagmites, beautiful curves, nooks, a small stream that was no doubt a tributary to some deep underground lake.
As my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I espied the red dragon lying not far from us. He was huge, but not as big as Father in his draconic form. He laid in a pool of his own green lifeblood. Gore also sprayed over the nearest rocks. Chunks of flesh and scales littered the floor. The red’s breathing was quick, shallow and ragged. Father and I drew closer. I detected the crimson dragon’s lava-like eye roll to watch us. He tried to get to his feet, but was unable. His tongue rolled out of his mouth and dragged on the cavern floor. Dust clung to it.
‘His fate lies in your hands, my son. If you do not choose to finish him, there is a good chance he will survive.’ With that, my father turned, and headed outside. I lowered the sword point to the ground at my left side, and I gazed at the red for some time.
‘What is your name?’ I asked.
‘S-Skor-Skoroth,’ he panted.
‘Did you rape and torture my mother?’
He nodded in affirmation.
‘For pleasure,’ he gasped. ‘And because I was paid a sizable sum to torment your family.’
Furious, I shouted, ‘Who? Who funded you?’
Skoroth wheezed out laughter. I did not flinch as a fine spray of blood flew from his mouth, coating my face and chest. “I’ll never tell you, Whelp.”
‘What’ll you do if I allow you to live?’ I demanded through clenched teeth.
Something he descried in my eyes made him answer thus, ‘I will hunt your kinfolk and kill them, my dear… Angriz.’
He struggled to raise his head and stare at me with surprise and curiosity written on his face. The angle was perfect. I swung the greatsword up and around, decapitating him. I slashed so hard, I spun around several times before I fell over, dropping the sword as I did. The cavern continued to spin and tilt, as I raised my eyes to focus on Skoroth. His head lay under the stump of his neck. A river of blood coated the floor and me. Unable to stop myself, I brought my hand and placed blood-covered fingers into my mouth one at a time until I licked them clean. Spent and weary, I rose to my feet and left Skoroth’s lair.
Father was watching a flock of geese overhead when I exited the cave. I stood beside him, trying to find way to tell him what I had done. Not about killing Skoroth, but tasting and licking his blood from my fingers. Before I opened my mouth, my father said, ‘You did the right thing, my son. I am proud of you.’
His voice seemed to unlock the words I’d been searching for. ‘Father, I have tasted his lifeblood. Something inside me, something irresistible caused me to do it.’
‘You need not worry about that, Swenlyn,’ he reassured me.
‘I am Angriz.’
He turned to look at me with an eyebrow raised. He searched my face, and then nodded in understanding. ‘Ah. The red?’
He said nothing else. In silence, we stared without seeing. Our eyes focused somewhere other than the surrounding mountains. I imagine that deep within himself my father wrestled with the injuries of Mother, and possibly the wisdom of me embracing the name of Angriz. I was numb. I don’t remember thinking of much at all. My outer surroundings and inner thoughts blurred, leaving me unable to focus on anything.
A little before sunset in the warmth of dusk, Father transformed once again into a gigantic golden dragon. I straddled his back and we flew home. I never did press him for an explanation about tasting Skoroth’s blood, thinking we’d discuss it soon enough. But weeks passed into years and my father died before I thought to ask him again.”
Angriz fell silent, his tale finished.
“Why did Skoroth call you Angriz?” I asked. I struggled to hide my consternation that the one who raped his mother, the one who had torn his family asunder, the one Angriz had killed had been the one to reveal his True Name.
He shifted and replied in measured tones, “My appellation means both ‘Avenger’, and ‘Holder of My Fate’, in Draconic.”
“In the language of dragons, words can have different meanings depending on the way they are used.”
“Oh.” Then, it occurred to me. “Why didn’t you suffer from the Bloodtaste when you tasted Skoroth’s blood?”
“I do not know. Many times I have wondered that. Even more so today.”