Radgar gazed upon the blackened, ruined keep, and steeled himself for the battle he longed to lose.
Princess Gertrude of House Balmoral, Duchess of Corinthia and youngest daughter of King Belthor the Wise, resided captive in the soot-stained tower that dominated the arid landscape. Once-verdant fields now lay but fallow wasteland, scorched beyond restoration by the calamitous touch of Alatraxxia, Serpent Queen of the Barrenlands. Her terrible flames had engulfed the region in purest hellfire, such that no structures save for the fortifications of Varamis Keep themselves had survived the dragon’s wrath.
But the annihilation of House Varamis and the exile of their people had not been enough for the Dame of Decimation. She had taken the ancient seat of Varamis as her own, styling herself a noble by right of conquest, and had commenced a campaign of abduction, ransom, and extortion of every king, lord, and duke within the reach of her monstrous wings. Through this barbarousness, she had made herself hideously wealthy, seated atop a shimmering hoard of gold beyond the wildest of legends.
And now, with shining blade and stalwart shield, Sir Radgar of House Taelwyn, the Thrice-Disinherited, rightful heir to the Barony of the Garralin Isles, on the orders of his king, would ride forth and teach the serpent sorrow.
Or die in agony. In truth, he did not care.
Once he had wreathed himself in night’s cloak, Radgar stealthed his way across the flame-ravaged hellscape to the menacing tower that gazed over the ruined realm. Such was the stain of soot that even the fullness of the moon’s light made no gleam upon its surface. The walls soaked the silver light in, taking all that was given and returning naught in kind. A lesser knight would perhaps have surveyed the smooth stone, sealed tight with solid mortar, and conceded it unscalable. Such feeble men might have allowed their dread of the dragon to overcome their valour, standing in the midst of her terrible destruction, and granted themselves leave to retreat.
But Radgar was no lesser man, and he did not fear the mortal threat that lurked within these walls.
To the contrary, he welcomed it.
Years of adventure and fame, of scandal and mischief, of escapades and elopements and acts of derring-do – the accumulation of these joys had sapped the novelty of discovery from his once-exuberant life. Once a relentless thrill-seeker, a fiend for that most intoxicating potion that was adrenaline, his zeal for adventure had wilted as an autumn rose. So riddled was he with aimless ennui that he now sought battle with the Dread Alatraxxia – not for glory or laurels, but for the opportunity to find a fitting finale.
Paying but scant attention, he drove the first piton into the mortar of the stone. A few taps and he deemed it sufficiently secure to bear his weight, donning a harness of his own invention to assist him in scaling the tower. With the lazy carelessness that comes of intuitive expertise, he began his gradual ascent with piton and rope, climbing up to retrieve the fair princess Gertrude.
Well short of an hourglass’ turn, he reached the open window at the summit of the tower, slinging himself through the portal with the easy confidence of the greatly accomplished. He made no effort to soften the clatter of steel upon stone – if foes were alerted by the noise, it would but save him the trouble of seeking them out himself.
But no enemy presented themselves. All that stirred was the young woman seated demurely upon the posted bed, hands lain in her fine-gowned lap, golden hair framing her emerald eyes.
“And who, sir, might you be, that you accost me at such improper hour?” she asked with imperious tone.
“I am Sir Radgar of the House Taelwyn, my lady,” he replied, kneeling before the princess, “and I have come here to rescue you from the accursed beast that has seized you so.”
“Rise, Sir Radgar,” she commanded. Her voice was strong, but it could not escape Radgar’s notice that the lady was scarcely such; more girl than woman. In Radgar’s experience, such hardness of tone in one so young was the mark of a lady who had experienced either an upbringing of great hardship, or a truly soft one.
“You are here to to slay the foul dragon that has besmirched my name with impudent demand for ransom?” she asked.
“Yes, my lady.”
“Good,” she replied. “About time.”
Radgar, despite being used to dealing with the shifting temperaments particular to the nobility, was rather taken aback by this.
“Pardon, my lady?” he asked.
“I have been here nigh upon a tenday,” she responded, “with scarce distraction to occupy my attention. Father’s tarrying in my rescue is inexcusable.”
“I assure you, my lady, the king acted towards your liberation with the greatest of haste.”
“I should hope so,” she sniffed. “At any rate – sally forth, end the vile creature, return to me, and the two of us shall depart and be wed.”
“Certainly, my-” Radgar hesitated. “Pardon – wed, my lady?”
“Of course,” she replied curtly. “It is only proper, after you have saved my life. And a dragon has not been slain in Emeria for beyond a century – I can think of no finer groom than the first dragonslayer in my dynasty.”
“You flatter me, my lady,” said Radgar hesitantly, “but I am not of proper station to wed the daughter of a king. And besides…if I might be so bold to ask, of what age is my lady?”
“I am soon to crest my fifteenth turn,” she responded.
“Ah,” he replied. “My lady, I am beyond twice your age. I have known many women and lived much of a life. It would feel most improper for me to bed a lady as youthful as yourself.”
“Naturally, my Sir Radgar,” Gertrude replied. “We shall be but betrothed for some years, until such time as carnal relations become appropriate.”
“I see, my lady,” Radgar said hesitantly. “And when might such time come to pass?”
“Well, traditionally, upon such point as when your age, cleft in twain and joined with seven, were to equal my own. However,” she added with a nod, “I am certain we can persuade my father to permit an earlier union.”
“Yes,” said Radgar, choosing his words with tremendous care. “Forgive my provincial ways, my lady, but in Garralin, such a wedding would still lead me to be referred to as ‘a snatcher of the cradle.’”
“Such talk shall be punishable by death.”
“Ah,” he said, searching for an explanation to provide. “My lady, in truth, my objection runs beyond the political. I am an avid sower of wild oats, and feel that the blessed matrimonies may not be best suited for me.” Waiting for a response, and receiving none beyond a steely glare, Radgar continued. “Further, I have had many exotic experiences, and such varied dalliances have led me to develop particular tastes which may be rather…well, depraved for one of your youth.”
“I am confident you shall learn to make due with more standard fare, Sir Radgar,” Gertrude said, with a hint of flint to her voice. “That which is necessary for the bestowal of children shall quite suffice, I am sure.”
“Er, in truth, my lady, I have long considered that the bounty of a fruitful womb, whilst undoubtedly a holy blessing beyond compare, is perhaps not the path to which I am destined-”
“Enough, Sir Radgar,” Gertrude snapped. “That is quite enough of such talk. You have ventured to this place with purpose, and I expect to see it carried out. You will journey below, slay the malevolent creature which hath absconded with me, you will marry me, and then we shall discuss how fruitful my womb shall be. As of this moment, Sir Radgar of Taelwyn, you may consider yourself betrothed unto me. And entirely celibate. Now, depart through that door, end the life of Dread Alatraxxa, and marry me like a man.”
Presented without choice, Radgar nodded.
“Yes, my lady.”
Sword and shield held at the ready, Radgar descended the spiral staircase of the tower. Thoughts of the haughty princess were cast aside – he could concern himself with the terrible spectre of betrothal later. Now, he would confront the force that had truly drawn him to this place.
Alighting upon the final step of the stairwell, he steeled his fearful soul against the looming presence – one he could not see, but sensed without question beyond the heavy oaken door. With the resolute breath of a man made peace with his own death, he pushed the door open and faced his foe.
Within the Great Hall of the Grand Keep of Skael Hiêfdomm, resplendent in her silver-scarlet scales, reclined Alatraxxa, Serpent Queen of the Barrenlands, the Dame of Decimation, She Who Strangles the Skies.
She lay upon her stomach, awake and aware but without alert. Her scales gleamed in intricate geometric patterns of scarlet and silver, overlaid with elaborate illustrations of deepest black. The black sections twisted and twirled in magnificent calligraphy, patterns and runes ancient beyond any human scripture singing a silent song that Radgar could not begin to comprehend. Her head lay atop her front claws, talons shimmering black, as a liquid-golden eye lazily surveyed him. After a moment’s consideration, she addressed him with a voice of incomparable command.
“What is your name, mortal that deigns to die?” Alatraxxa rumbled, her deep voice rolling through the very stone to Radgar’s feet. Even lying down, she was easily twice his height, and her slender build could not deny her overwhelming bulk. Suddenly, a stout wooden shield seemed hopelessly inadequate.
Summoning the courage of a thousand soldiers, Radgar set his shoulders square and replied with the deepest gravity his human voice could muster.
“I am Sir Radgar of the House Taelwyn, the Twice-Disinherited, rightful heir to the Barony of the Garralin Isles, and I am here to end your malignant machinations, serpent.”
“Serpent,” she replied with a hiss, reptilian eyes narrowing as she spoke. “You will regret that, mortal.”
“For what I do this day, Lady Alatraxxa,” he answered, lowering his visor, “I do not expect I shall ever die. Now, stand forth your profane form, mighty dragon, and let us draw unto the last.”
At the challenge, Alatraxxa finally rose, and the stones themselves shook with their battle.
Their duel raged for an eternity, but even eternity has its end.
Radgar had known that even his legendary skill would pale in the face of true draconic might, so it was not with surprise that he found himself crushed upon the high table of the hall, sword and shield discarded, helm long vanished, body battered and bloodied. It was rather with a surreal acceptance that he surrendered his will to the gleaming dragon above him, breastplate pressed against the table by a single draconic forehand, each of his arms pinned between two claws that were driven deep into the wooden surface.
Alatraxxa, victor, stood above him, staring down at her fallen opponent with an expression Radgar could not hope to comprehend. She spoke, softer than she had before, with what might have been a hint of some alien form of sorrow.
“Did you truly believe you could best me, human?” she asked.
“It mattered not,” he answered, breath difficult to draw beneath her crushing weight. “Your malice has gone unchecked for too long. Do or die, I was compelled to oppose you.”
“Malice?” she echoed, a brush of amusement upon her long, serpentine tongue. “What malice do you accuse me of, mortal?”
“Kidnapping. Ransom. Murder,” he replied. “The list is not counter to intuition.”
“Kidnapping? Of whom?” she asked. “Spoiled princesses playing at being queen? Members of a hereditary ruling class, perpetrators of a broken social system that utilises state-enforced economic inequality to maintain an unearned hegemony over others, sustained upon a feeble pretence of divine right? You make me laugh, human, if you think these despots are deserving of your sympathy.”
“You make bold denouncement, dragon,” Radgar said, “but can you claim meaningful difference? How does your accumulation of a golden hoard help those downtrodden by a class you claim to oppose?”
“Golden hoard?” Alatraxxa asked. “Pray, human, show me where I conceal such fantastic wealth. For I know of none in my keep.”
“You lie, dragon. Tens of thousands of golden sovereigns have found their way into your clutches, via the vile practise of ransom. Do not think to claim otherwise.”
“First serpent, now liar,” she hissed. “Your punishment shall be beyond cruel. The gold bled from your people is returned to your people, through me.”
“You…redistribute your wealth to the peasantry?” he asked.
“Gaze upon my glorious form, human,” Dread Alatraxxa commanded. “Behold my scales of divine grandeur. They are as diamond, mortal. By nature, they are of silver and scarlet. But I wish to carry upon my form the immortal histories of my people, for which only the most permanent of inscriptions will suffice. Think you it some meagre expense to infuse such eternal creations into the very essence of my form?”
“Hold, lady dragon,” Radgar implored, head spinning with disbelief. “Mean you to tell me that all you have done – the extinction of House Varamis, the conquest of their lands, the abduction and ransom of two score nobles – that all this, you have wrought for…”
Alatraxxa leaned in to him, fixing his gaze with her molten-gold eyes as she rumbled, long and low, her breath blasting the flesh of his face with a heavy heat.
“For sick ink.”
It was with this simple assertion, at the sheer magnitude of the changes this mighty being had inflicted upon the world in pursuit of something so simple, so personal, Radgar felt himself overcome by a wave of sheer, unmitigated awe at the true majesty of the Dread Queen Alatraxxa.
And though he would not admit it, not even to himself, he felt another, unexpected stirring. One he did not understand, but certainly could not mistake.
But whatever he might have been feeling, Alatraxxa began to draw back, a resigned expression spreading across her face.
“This has been amusing mortal,” she rumbled. “But our game now reaches its end.”
Her right foreclaw, the one she had not been using to hold him down, reached out towards him. An obsidian talon, sharp as a razor, idly danced across his throat.
“For all that you are impressive for one of your kind, you are only human. You are weak. Goodbye, Radgar of House Taelwyn.”
Feeling the blade of her talon beginning to press against his exposed flesh – and, paradoxically, his own flesh beginning to stiffen – he croaked out three short words.
“I am strong.”
She stopped, her crested head pulling back slightly, as though in surprise. Her talon lazily traced the contours of his neck.
“You are weak,” she repeated, more insistent this time. Every word was as a shifting of the earth.
“I am strong,” he replied, with equal resolve.
“You are dying,” she said.
“I am living.”
“You are soft.”
“I am hard.”
Alatraxxa cocked her head, and an amused smile began to spread across her face. Snorting – with the faintest tendrils of flame escaping her nostrils – she pulled her claw from Radgar’s neck and slid it downwards, curving beneath the waist of his trousers.
Slowly, curiously, with care that seemed impossible for a creature so grand, she drew the tip of her claw across the length of his rigid erection. His back arched as he gasped, the intensity of the savage stimulation pouring into his body through the sharp, cruel tip of her talon.
Smiling, she left the tip of her claw atop his shaft as she leaned down, drawing herself closer to his helpless, prone form, until the radiant heat of her lipless mouth brushed against his ear.
“You are mine,” she breathed.
His joy plummeted for a moment as her claw departed from his hardness, but it soared twice over as she reached up for the straps that held his armour in place. With short, deft motions, she cut away his breastplate. His greaves, his shirt, and his trousers followed with swift swipes, rendering his form wholly exposed to her majesty. His senses exploded as she began to trace his chest with her keen-edged tail, the pain all the more thrilling for his utter helplessness beneath her.
Alatraxxa extended her long, thin tongue, drawing its warm wetness across his body, sliding across every inch of his exposed flesh – except for the one place he desired her touch the most. His cock pointed straight up, unable to reach the stimulation it craved; a hammer unable to nail.
He gazed up at her. Alatraxxa. Powerful. Fierce. Dominant. He soaked in the sight of her divine form, the silver-scarlet scales of a goddess made flesh. The intricate markings that told a tale that a thousand human scholars could not hope to unravel. The might, the history, the grandiosity of this magnificent entity – he was blessed beyond comprehension to be permitted to witness it.
With a dismissive click, she scolded his wanton gaze.
“You are not worthy to look upon me, mortal,” she decreed. Her tail swept over to the clothes that lay discarded on the floor, slicing them with quick, knowing movements. With care that only reinforced his knowledge that she was beyond this world, she fashioned a blindfold and secured it about his eyes. All that remained was the sound of her rolling breath, the heat that radiated from every inch of her flawless body, the weight of her claw still pressing him, helpless against the table. And the slow, taunting motions of her long tongue, forever too far, but inexorably drawing closer and closer to where he needed her ministrations the most.
With a gasp, he felt her suddenly wrap it about his cock. Her tongue, deft beyond comprehension, wrapped itself about his testicles, enclosed his shaft in its entirety, and – ever so gently – dragged its fine-forked tip across the head.
And then it vanished, pulled away in a heartbeat. He cried out, unable to contain his frustration, but soon her lipless mouth was brushing his ear once more, whispering with a voice that bespoke aeons of sex beyond mortal comprehension.
“Say it, human. You are mine.”
His heart pounded with an intensity he had never experienced in all his years, his very soul exultant with ecstasy as he gave himself up to his mistress, Dread Queen Alatraxxa.
“I am yours.”