The midsummer’s sun had not yet risen; its predawn glow had only just begun to filter through the dusty kitchen windows of the rancher’s homestead. The rancher took his breakfast by candlelight with his wife and only son, Bonde.
“Bonde, before you begin your morning rounds, your mother and I want to be clear. We hope you’ll continue to refrain from any further involvement with that damnable thieves’ guild,” the rancher tried to remain stern while he choked on a piece of pan-fried bacon.
Bonde chuckled at the old man’s awkwardness, “Father, don’t worry yourself. I’m of legal age now, so you can’t be held responsible for any of my transgressions. Besides that, I already told you I promised Rebecca that I would withdraw my membership.”
The rancher’s wife huffed, “Rebecca? The woodcutter’s daughter? I thought you two were over.”
Bonde ignored his mother’s disapproval. Instead, he stood up, took his plate and utensils to the washbasin, and stared out the window.
The rancher raised an eyebrow to his wife and stated, “Nothing is ever over with a woman.”
It was both a jest and an admonishment, but she didn’t find it funny. However, before she could protest, Bonde felt the window pane and exclaimed, “They’re cold!”
“What do you mean, lad?” asked the rancher.
“They’re cold! I thought the windows were unusually dusty, but they’re frosted over! It’s summer…and they’re cold!” Bonde rushed outside to see the oddity for himself.
“Wait!” the rancher hollered, but there was no stopping the boy. “I’ll see what is going on, darling…” he paused when he saw his wife’s arms were crossed. She was obviously troubled by his earlier snide comment, so he added, “…honestly, it was just a canard. I’ll make it up to you later, honey…I promise.”
The rancher followed his son outside. The air was as brisk as late autumn and snowflakes drifted on the summer breeze. Hoarfrost covered the ground, and a portion of the fence to his pasture was caked in a layer of ice thicker than that of the deepest winter.
“Unbelievable!” the rancher said aloud as his breath turned to vapor.
“It’s summer…and it’s snowing! It’s summ…” Bonde saw it first. “Father! Look there! By the fence! One of the cows is dead!”
Sure enough, one of the rancher’s livestock had collapsed, and upon its icy face was a look of horror that any butcher of animals would know well. She had known that death was coming for her before her scream was flash-frozen in her throat.
The rancher looked to the skies and shouted, “Bonde! Get away from there! Get back inside! It could still be out here!”
“What could still be out here, Father?”
“A dragon, son!” the rancher was already at the door and waving at his boy to come inside.
“But don’t dragons breathe fire?” asked Bonde as they both entered the homestead and his father swiftly latched the door behind him.
“Yes, some do…but others…well, as you can see…don’t.”
“I’ve never seen a real dragon; I thought they were just myth and legend.”
“A dragon?” scoffed the rancher’s wife. “Surely you can’t be serious…”
“Yes, woman! I’m deadly serious!” the rancher exclaimed. “I swear to you that I saw one of these beasts when I was but a lad younger than Bonde. It terrorized the countryside for months before the king finally took action…and he only acted when his queen was abducted by the creature. As I recall, it took five companies of the king’s cavalry to dispatch the monster…and the losses were terrible.” The rancher wiped the condensation from the kitchen window and pressed his face against the glass in paranoia.
“So this dragon doesn’t breathe fire…but ice?” asked Bonde.
The rancher answered without compromising his watch. “Yes son, legends call it a rimewyrm…or frost dragon. These saurian beasts have a coat of mottled white and gray scales as hard as tempered steel. Adults can snatch up livestock and horses in their fore claws as they climb into the heavens on leathery wings, and their spiked tails can be used as battering rams. They are cruel and vicious…motivated by hunger and obsessed by vengeance and greed. When one of them unleashes its arctic breath, anything within fifty yards is encased in icy rime and instantly slain. Does that about answer it?”
“Yes sir,” the lad gulped. “So what do we do?”
“What do we do? What do we do? Did you not hear me? It took a hundred mounted knights to dispatch the last one I saw!” The rancher scratched his whiskers. “I guess when we know it’s clear…we should take a count of our cattle and hogs…and then head into town to demand the constable take action.”
The rancher and Bonde rode into town on a dilapidated one-horse wagon. Neither one of them spoke, but instead they continually scanned the sky for danger. Curiously, when they reached the town square, they found that they were not the only citizens that had witnessed the awakening of a rimewyrm. A small crowd was shouting at the constable who addressed their raucous vocal demands from the parapet of his tower.
“The beast took my best draft horse and destroyed my stable!”
“My entire herd of sheep has been scattered, and my watch dog is an icicle!”
The rancher added his voice to the throng, “I lost four pigs and three head of cattle!”
“You must do something!” the crowd petitioned.
The constable raised his hands to quiet the mob. “Peace! I’ve already told you there is nothing we can do about it. I only have a dozen deputies, and their hands are full keeping the ruffians and bandits of the bloody thieves’ guild in check. There is no way we’re going to hunt down a dragon for a few dead and missing livestock. Besides, it hasn’t taken any…”
He was about to say the word: people, when the woodcutter quietly spoke the words, “My only daughter is missing.”
Bonde clutched the wagon’s bench and recoiled, “Lord no…not Rebecca.”
The shouts of the crowd grew louder, “This menace must be stopped! Do something! Do your job!”
The constable gripped the railing and bellowed his commands, “Alright! Since a peasant girl has now been taken, and likely killed, I will send two of my deputies south to the king to deliver a request for aid. That leaves but ten to defend this city and your homes. It will take everyone working together to repel another dragon attack, but this is how it will be done…and you will make no more demands! We will post two men in each of the three city sections, and three men will patrol the outskirts. I and the last man will operate the ballista on the roof of this tower. All men will be equipped with bugles to raise an alarm. If you live too far out and are afraid to stay in your homes, you can stay within the walls of the church. As for sending men to their deaths in pursuit of the monster…unless the king sends his knights, no quest to kill the beast will be undertaken. Now vacate the city streets and stay in your homes or businesses.”
When the people began to disperse, the woodcutter approached Bonde, “Please my boy…I know that you care for my Rebecca. I beg you, help me find her. I have a life savings of fifty gold crowns that is yours if you bring her back to me.”
The rancher spoke for his son, “No way man! My son is no dragon slayer.”
The woodcutter hung his head, “No maybe not, but I know he is a member of the guild…it is why I wanted Rebecca to avoid him, but now, at the time of my greatest need, perhaps he and his friends could help…for a fee of course.”
The rancher’s face reddened, “Lord no! My Bonde only recently promised your Rebecca that he would withdraw his membership…and now you want to drag him back in? Dragon or no dragon, I forbid it!”
Bonde handed the reigns to his father and jumped off the wagon. “Father, I am of age, and if I can figure out a way to save Rebecca…then guild or no guild, I will do it. Additionally, I don’t think Rebecca’s father should stay alone out at the sawmill…so please put him up in our guest room until this is over.”
“But Bonde, wait…” were the only words the rancher could get out before his son ran off into the city’s cobblestone streets and alleyways.
The last he heard from his son was, “Don’t worry Father...I’ll be home soon!”
The rancher invited his neighbor onto the wagon and grumbled, “Forget about the rimewyrm, my wife is going to kill me.”
Bonde was true to his word. He arrived home just after midday but immediately proceeded to let a pair of cows out to pasture. Just before that, his mother saw him pack a satchel and attach what looked like a wineskin around the neck of one of the two animals. He then mounted his father’s horse and rode it out to the middle of the range where a large grove of oak trees provided a modicum of shelter. That was the last time his family saw him for three full days and nights.
The first night, they heard the bugle calls and feared the worst. The second night, they fretted and prayed with the woodcutter after Bonde, his mount, and the cattle were nowhere to be found. The third night the three of them only wept and mourned for the loss of both Bonde and Rebecca.
The fourth day, the rancher saw a man approaching on horseback. While he was still a long way away he raised his voice in hope, “Sir! Have you seen my boy?”
The man said nothing, yet continued to slowly urge his horse forward.
As he drew nearer, the rancher said again, “Sir! Have you seen my boy? He would’ve been alone or on my horse…” He stopped in mid-sentence when he realized that a girl clung to his back and on a rope behind the man’s exhausted horse was the massive head of a rimewyrm!
Suddenly he recognized the gait of the horse even before seeing the man’s face. “Bonde! Is it you! Thank the Lord! Rebecca! Oh joy! But please…wait there before you murder my horse!” Quickly, he put reigns on an ox and drove his wagon out to meet them.
Bonde helped Rebecca off the tired horse and onto the wagon’s bench before embracing his father, “I told you I’d do it, father…guild or no guild.”
“You must tell us the whole tale over a feast…here, let me help you get your trophy onto the wagon.”
Rebecca smiled when Bonde teased, “But father, she’s already on the wagon.”
Father and son both laughed heartily as they loaded up the dragon’s severed head. The rancher then led his weary horse to water and a well-earned meal in the barn, while Bonde drove the wagon home.
The family of three was now a family of five and they rested together on the rancher’s wide front porch after a wonderfully roasted pork dinner to hear Bonde’s tale…
“Once I arrived at the copse, I tied your horse to a tree trunk and laid it down before covering him with a blanket. All day I hid, while keeping a firm hand on the horse’s neck with one eye on the cattle and the other eye on the sky.
Shortly after sundown I felt a winter’s chill in the humid summer air. That’s when the wyrm struck and in an instant he had a head of cattle in each of his front claws. Cautiously, I waited until he was well into the sky and heading back to his lair. I stood up your horse and climbed into the saddle to give chase. I rode quickly, galloping several times to keep the beast in sight.
Eventually I found we’d travelled several miles, and the land was now quite hilly. About a mile off, I spotted a lone mountain with a peak that was still covered in ice and snow. The creature was heading straight for it, and I knew it was there the dragon’s den must be hidden.
I rode the horse as far as I could and for most of the following day I climbed. I never would’ve found the opening to the rimewyrm’s burrow had he not let out a roar loud enough to awaken the warriors of old. After the dragon’s thunderous bellow I heard several shorter rumbles as if the monster was gasping for air, but when I stepped into the mouth of the cave there was only silence.
I followed a winding tunnel until I reached an enormous cavern, and there in the middle of the great cavity reclined the gray-white form of the rimewyrm. Its head was as big as two oxen and its maw was filled with razor sharp teeth like double-edged short swords; it was over twenty yards long from head to tail with a wingspan of at least thirty or forty. So needless to say, I carefully approached using all the stealth my thieves’ guild companions had taught.
The closer I loomed the more excited I became, for I realized my plan had worked! The monster wasn’t breathing…it was stone cold dead!”
Bonde’s father interrupted, “But how can that be?”
However, his mother had an inkling, “I saw him tie something on one of our cows…just what was in that wineskin, Bonde?”
The young man smiled at his genius. “Well you guessed right, there was poison in that wineskin…but not just any poison. It is called vivrisyn, sometimes known as king-slayer, or sleeping malice, but I forever will know it as rimewyrm’s bane. Just one drop of it can kill a man in a matter of seconds, but now we know what an entire vial can do. You see, he ate my toxic bait in two bites without knowing he was killing himself.”
Rebecca’s father bid him to continue, “So Bonde, you killed it like a filthy rat, but how did you save Rebecca?”
“While I gazed upon the wyrm’s destruction, I heard her song of sorrow from a nearby side cavern. It must have been the dragon’s larder, for it was sealed by a door of crystal clear ice, and Rebecca was its lone living occupant. She huddled between two dead saber-toothed cats using their fur for warmth and all around her sprawled dead livestock and a handful of human corpses. When I saw her beauty, I ran to the icy door but it was too thick for me to break.
I opened my pack and pulled out some kindling and firewood to build a small fire next to Rebecca’s ice cage. I thought to melt it enough so that I could break her free. I used my short sword to hack the wyrm’s head from its body while continually stoking the fire with dragon scales. The beast’s scales took a while to catch fire, but once they did, they burned hot and they burned long. Eventually my sword shattered enough of the ice wall to end Rebecca’s long lament. With Rebecca and a wyrm’s head in tow, the climb down and return trip were twice as arduous as the first, but now we can finally rest.”
“Wonderful story, my boy!” applauded the woodcutter. “As promised, I will give you fifty gold crowns as a reward.”
Bonde shook his head, “No sir, you keep your money, just grant me your daughter’s hand.” He took Rebecca’s hand in his and tenderly kissed it.
“Done!” exclaimed her father as he pocketed his small bag of gold.
“Thank you, sir…” Bonde said and then he added, “…besides, I owe much more than fifty gold pieces for that poison I stole.”
Bonde’s mother sighed, “Stole? But you told us you were through with the thieves’ guild!”
“I am…” whispered Bonde, and then he confessed, “…but unfortunately my theft was discovered. Now I owe my allegiance to the assassins’ guild until my debt is paid.”
The rancher’s wife groaned, “Alas, but still, I wish you two lovers a long life together.”
“Just hope that it never snows again in the middle of summer,” the rancher quipped.