I awoke with a sharp pain in my chest my head spinning and throbbing like an orcish drum was beating inside. I tried to open my eyes but they were swollen and bloodied. My mouth too tasted of blood and my arms and legs ached as I tried to move them. My body was broken like a clay pot and it burned as if on fire. The pain torched my mind and I struggled to remain conscious. Through the fog I looked around and found myself in a rusty cage, iron bars twisted a tortured. The ground was rocky and rough and cut into my naked flesh. I considered closing my eyes and giving in to the agony.
I searched the dim memories that remained to try and make sense of where I was and how I got there. Only brief images flashed before me. There was joy and singing and drinking. A wedding. Then fire and screaming and running. A fight broke out and there was much damage. A burst of flame hit me. Everything else was black. After that there was nothing but pain.
A tear formed in my eye and slid down my cheek cleaning away the blood and grime that collected there exposing underneath clean flesh—alive and pure. My breath was heavy as despair threatened to choke me. An enormous weight pressed down on me, pinning me to the floor of my cell. I could not imagine a way out. I was a caged beast. Stripped naked and left alone to rot—I despised myself. I saw myself from above my own body. I was beaten and bruised—a smoldering wick about to flicker one last time before floating away in a puff of smoke.
Just as my breath threatened to slip away for ever, a breeze of air hit my nostrils and reminded me for moment how sweet life can be. I remembered joy. I remembered love, even though they seemed like a lifetime away. I was happy once. I was in love once. There was music and dancing and food. If those things existed once, they could exist again. But I had to escape my confines and kill the beast that defeated and bound me.
I sat up in one burning motion hands gripping the dusty ground as I allowed the scene to assault me. Through strained eyes I saw that I was the captive of a dragon. My heart sank. Beyond the cage, rusted and rough, there was a collection of affects which once belonged to now lost souls. Swords, shields, armor, helmets and an assortment of other arms and armaments were scattered about. Mine too were there. Trophies for the beast. Another man bested and beaten. His bones to lick clean. Not yet.
Beyond that I caught a glimpse of the dragon. It was sleeping on its hoard down the hall. Piles of gold and plunder littered the room and on top of it all was the beast. Large and monstrous from the gluttony that consumes its soul it sat. On a monument to its sins. A shock of electricity shot through me energizing my limbs and recharging my heart which beat with new purpose and focus. I saw my sword lying nearby. I knew what I had to do.
The cage was old and rusted—constructed long ago. Still, I knew breaking through would hurt. I looked around my trappings but found nothing useful for breaking free. It would have to be me. I pounded on the bars searching for one that might be weaker or looser than the others. The bars cut and scraped my hands and blood dripped from them like rain from the clouds. The pain shot up my arms and taunted my mind again threatening to overtake me and render me helpless once more.
I leaned back against the far end of the cage and drew breath in deeply. A single thought came to me. Break out. I closed my eyes, sucked in as much strength from the air as I could and heaved myself forward shoulder first legs pumping as hard as they could and blood boiling in my veins while leaking from my hands. I crashed and darkness gripped me once more furious with my efforts it laughed and called me futile and weak. My body screamed but my mind was numb. Only one thing mattered—slay the dragon.
Once again I found myself teetering on the edge of doom but maintained a weak grip on life. I coughed and pulled myself up. I broke my rusty cage! My mind screamed for me to run, but there was something that had to be done. The dragon had won. But I had come to keep it from bringing more ruin.
My sword lied nearby in the dust, my shield and armor as well. It seemed like ages since I wielded them. How long had it been? A day? A year? Ten? I couldn’t remember. Dragons are enchanting and it had entrapped me. It didn’t matter at that moment. I pulled my armor on, strapped on my shield, the crest of my family boldly painted on it, and gripped my sword. As my fingers wrapped around it I felt its cold steel on my flesh and knew that it could pierce the dragon’s heart. It felt like cold ice, so strong it could counter the dragon’s fire. My eyes focused and my back straightened. My chest swelled and teeth set. Slay the dragon.
I strode into the hoard. The beast was there unaware of my escape. “I’m free dragon!” I shouted.
The best was startled and scrambled to the top of its treasures and prepared to defend. “How did you escape?” it snarled, “The enchantment should not have worn off!!!”
I smiled, “I don’t know beast, but this ends here. I’m free and I want what you took from me.”
The dragon stretched its proud neck and laughed which sounded like thunder clapping. “You’ll never escape! You’re too weak and pathetic! I defeated you once and I’ll do it again! You’ll die here, my slave!”
I braced myself. I didn’t take long. The dragon unleashed a barrage of flame. It was hot enough to boil water and melt the flesh from my bones but I lifted my shield and crouched down. The flames parted around my shield and flowed around like water around a rock. The shield heated and burned my arm. The armor became an oven and began to cook me inside. I gritted my teeth and waited for the assault to cease.
At last the dragon was out of breath and gasping after such an exertion. I saw my chance and swelled to prepare for my attack. I charged up the dragon’s hoard kicking useless trinkets out of the way collected through the years of pillaging and plundering. The serpent shifted, keeping its snapping jaws in front…protecting its bulbous body. Its teeth were sharp and breath reeked of death and decay which forced me to avert my eyes as they burned.
The lizard snapped at me and I ducked to avoid the attack, slipping in the process. I tumbled down the hoard and rolled onto my back. The beast saw its opportunity and attacked. Scrambling down the mountain it was on me snapping and snarling trying to finish me. I rolled one way and another narrowly avoiding death or worse—recapture. Claws crashed around me and jaws snapped, debris fell all around and created a tornado of chaos. I felt lost in the panic and survived only by divine protection. I neared the bottom of the pile and noticed that I was running out of room. I knew if I was pinned against the wall I would be finished.
Instead I charged toward the dragon. It bit at me and caught my shield which I held high above me to protect my body. I let go of it even while I heard my arm snap and sharp pain shoot through me. My eyes closed as I let the pain pass but without opening them I gripped my sword with both hands; as strongly as I could with the damaged one, and thrust up. I felt the sword resist and my chest compress. There was a crashing sound like a mountain falling. The world went dark.
I couldn’t decide if I was alive or dead. I didn’t care too much in that moment. Either way I knew it was over. Either I was dead, the dragon was dead or both of us. I was free no matter how it played out and I was happy. I felt warm as though the sun shone down on me and soothed my cold body. I soaked it up and let it flow through me and it healed my soul. A light coursed through me and reached to the corners of my being. I smiled.
Finally I opened my eyes. I was alive. I breathed, though it hurt, and my heart beat even so it was labored. I tried to sit and while my body ached I managed to pull myself up. I picked up my head and looked around. I was alone. The dragon’s blood was every where and even on me but she was not there. My sword lied next to me. My armor was dented and damaged so I tossed it off. I stood with my sword in my hand naked, bruised, bloodied but alive and felt stronger than ever. I vanquished the dragon. I saw a heavy purple cloak nearby in the piles of treasures stored up for her enjoyment and wrapped it around my body. Near it was a crown—simple silver but clean and polished. I placed it on my head.
Then I ran down a passageway. With each stride I felt stronger, more alive and healthier. I ran down halls and passed more cages. A light beckoned me though far away and I chased it faster each step. I smelled the sweet scent of freedom and heard the call of liberty. My legs moved with ease and feet floated off the ground as I ran into freedom’s arms. Busting forth from the mouth of the cave I was bathed in warmth and healing. I fell to my knees and kissed the ground, eyes closed and heart racing.
For a long moment I sat back and enjoyed my first breaths of liberty that I could even remember. And a soft voice called to me. I looked up and saw a beautiful maiden with flowing black hair and warm eyes. “I’ve been waiting for you my prince,” she whispered as she tended to my wounds. I fell before her and allowed her loving hands to treat me. I dreamt of my new life, free from dragons and free at last.