Hrósan stood in the ruin of the once impressive gate of Uvith. His polished armor reflected the golden rays of the afternoon as well as the sight of the destruction around him. Broken stone, splintered wooden beams, once graceful towers now crumbled, all formed heaps of rubble with only the occasional remembrance of shattered beauty. And it was all covered in a charcoal black. What would have, until recently, displayed the many latent hues of the westering sun now bore the marks of being powerfully scorched, showing only a dull un-color. Such was the work of Grathugar.
“Come forth!” cried Hrósan. “Come forth to thy doom, thou troubler of men! For since thou wast hatched, thy bane have I been!”
There was no sound from within Uvith. Only the thick smoke coming from the motte betrayed the persistent presence of the perilous dragon.
“Come forth, I command thee!” shouted the proud knight. “A destroyer of straw art thou! A coward who dares not see the grim face of a knight such as I! Thou paradest thyself most boldly when naught but knaves and children pray thee stay, but now, at the coming of one of renown, thou hidest thy face and thy form in the dust! Come forth, worm! And receive the mortal hurt for which thou hast been destined!”
The silent smoke spoke the only reply.
Hrósan shifted his stance, unsure of how to understand this lack of reception. From the time that news of a rampant dragon had reached him, and even more since he learned that it was no mean dragon but was Grathugar himself, his mind had reveled in the vision of himself majestically striding through the gate of some ruined burg, boldly calling the fiend to account. And then, with fire and wrack around him, with blood from painless wounds streaking his impressive armor, and with unforgettable words on his lips, the great strokes of his mighty sword would pierce the monster’s famed plate. The battle would end with renowned Hrósan standing astride the shriven Grathugarian remains and with the praise of all falling like a cataract around the knight.
But the dragon did not come forth.
Hrósan took another step forward, suddenly aware of the expectant pressure of his audience. The people of Uvith who had escaped the dragon’s parousia by fleeing to the sparse lands surrounding the castle had begun to reappear by twos and threes in the distance once it had been noised that Hrósan had arrived and intended to engage the scourge of the citadel in mortal combat. Now those people had drawn nearer, anticipating a legendary spectacle. And though they still waited at a cautious distance, they were within the sound of Hrósan’s challenge, and they saw the smoke of the quiescent dragon.
This was not the battle that Hrósan had imagined. There was no romance and no glory in Grathugar lurking smokily in some inner court. No great bard would sing the lay of Hrósan the Bold and his hectoring pursuit of a reticent dragon. Hrósan needed the flaming breath of battle, not a silent brooding over completed conquest.
“Thou art an ignoble brigand, robber of babes and sucklings! Thou art a sham dragon! Why satest thou thyself on such baubles of gold as thou hast found? See! Here is one, Hrósan, the mighty slayer of thy kin! Wouldst thou feign to do combat with such as I? Behold! I have hewn the heads of your betters, and today I will hew thee! Come out! And receive of me thy death blow!”
Hrósan was growing uneasy. His path was becoming murky. If the dragon did not appear, rampant and cruel, then the valor of his victory would evaporate. And if the beast did not appear at all? Surely there was glory in entering the lair, but there was also great danger. A dragon out-of-doors was a fearsome enemy, but it was another thing entirely to present yourself on his doorstep. No, it would not be an easy thing to enter in after the fiery serpent, and only the straitest necessity must bring him to that course. The dragon must be made to come out.
If only the thing would come out. The picturesque scene wanted nothing: a ruined castle, a fierce and famous dragon sparkling in the heat of his malevolence, the most glorious Hrósan standing resolute in the gate, wielding his fabled weapon. The battle would be limned by many until at last it became legend, and then he, Hrósan, would have a name to rival his ancestor. To vanquish the beasts of the deep was glorious, but here Hrósan would win for himself the fame of the bane of Grathugar.
If only the beast would come out.
“Worm! Thy treasure rot under thy belly! Thy gold mould to ash beneath thy heat! I curse the nest of thy nascence forever! Come thou forth and do battle with me that we may know thy courage and thy strength! Behold! I have a sword of marvelous work, cunningly wound with mysteries of thy doom. Come! Prove thyself! Break this blade! Or be broken by it! My hand is mighty to wield this treasure; art thou sufficient?”
The smoke continued silently to rise from the ruined fortress. Not a whisper disturbed the bailey before Hrósan.
The remnant of Uvith began to murmur to each other, and though he couldn’t hear their words, Hrósan knew their meaning. The dragon must be brought to battle, must be made to war with the knight. The name of Hrósan was beginning to fade; the murmuring made this plain. “He knows naught to do.” “He fears the fell dragon, and for that he fails to pursue.” The lines echoed through Hrósan’s head. “Fools,” he thought. “They cast the blame on me instead of on the cowardice of this noisome creature. Likely as not, were it not for my bright form in this place, the wicked Grathugar would at this moment be roasting them. But I am here, standing betwixt them and death, and they murmur.”
“Dragon fire consume them all! For such they deserve, and such they would receive were I to forsake my aim. The murmur will cease when I have vanquished the dread serpent. The bards will tell of Hrósan the Steadfast, mocked and scorned, doubted by all, yet standing resolute before the onslaught. With brimstone raining, bold Hrósan defied the ancient Grathugar, shaming those who esteemed not his strength.”
If only the beast would emerge.
But still, the silent smoke.
Hrósan struck as noble a pose as he could, pleased with the fine appearance he must present standing thus amid the wreckage of the gate. The setting sun touched his polished armor and sprang glittering back. The drama of the scene played brilliantly in Hrósan’s mind. He had hoped for a glorious battle today, and yet he had been thwarted by the silence of his enemy. But now, as the golden afternoon became an amber evening, his mind was suddenly caught by the image of himself, the blood red of the setting sun accenting the streaks of his blood-spattered armor as he offers the final play of his sword. The great dragon crashes to the ground, his last burning breath escaping in orange flame then giving way, at the sun’s last salute, to grey smoke, slowly dissolving beneath the argent moon. And then, it would be him, Hrósan, alone, with the broken towers of the castle looming beneath the darkening sky, silver sparkling from every unbloodied corner of his armored form. This, the bards would sing!
And then, a sound.
The stones of the citadel cracked as the ancient Grathugar stirred himself. Hrósan stood watching, his tongue cloven to its roof, as the scale-clad monster rose from his slumber amid the wreckage of the great hall. Grathugar stretched himself, released a disdainful blast from his smoking nostrils, unfolded his wings, and took to the sky. For a brief moment, Hrósan saw him silhouetted by the rising moon, and then the beast was gone.
The smoke gradually drifted away above Uvith, and the cool of the night settled in.
George Scondras, “Grathugar,” An Unexpected Journal: Dragons 5, no. 1. (Summer 2022), 46-51.