Sir Albert watched as the great beast soared through the air like some kind of terrible hunting bird. It was larger than the chestnut horse he was mounted on, easily twenty feet from fanged maw to barbed tail. Its scales were a deep, earthy brown mottled with forest green. Great membranous wings kept it aloft. It bore neither crest nor spines, but did have two swept back horns. A powerful flap of its wings caused it to speed onward toward him.
It had been a week back when Sir Albert and his squire, Orson, had come across the first signs of the dragon’s ravages. An entire village of peasants had been razed to the ground. From there it had left a swath of destruction. They had found two other small villages that had been raided. They had survived, but their livestock was devoured.
Rogue dragons would come out of the wilds periodically. Usually young males looking for territory. This one looked to be an adult, though barely. Albert would have preferred something younger, and smaller, for his first time facing a dragon. Maybe only the size of mastiff. His mother always told him that He Above called men to where they were needed, not to where they wanted to be.
Albert raised his crossbow and took aim. It was a long shot, but then again it was also a big target. Letting out slow breath, he loosed the bolt. It sailed towards its target and struck the dragon squarely in the chest. Steel proved no match for thick scales, though, and it bounced off. Albert had expected as much at this distance. The shot was more to make sure he had the dragon’s attention. He already had his horse turning about and racing towards a sparse copse of trees before the spent bolt had hit the ground.
His mount galloped across the field. He could tell that the horse was eager to distance them from the dragon. Stonefoot was both obedient and powerful. Albert had ridden him into a dozen battles. The horse had not shrunk away from conflict. No amount of training could truly prepare a horse for the kind of fear a dragon inspired though. Instinct told the horse to flee and given rein he was doing just that.
As they neared the copse’s edge, Albert was finally able to load another bolt. Looking back he could see the dragon still pursuing, and closing the distance rapidly. As Stonefoot carried him between two oaks, Albert fired his second shot. More by luck than aiming, the bolt earned a roar from the dragon as it pierced the soft flesh of the belly.
The copse was made up of ancient white oaks. The giant trees ruled over the grassy field, casting a dark shade on the ground. Each was thick enough that it would have taken at least four men to wrap their arms around the trunk. They were tall and their branches spread out wide. Even set so far apart from each other, their thick canopies intertwined. The trees were just far enough apart for a dragon to fly through, but it would find itself trapped under the net of branches, unable to soar any higher.
The dragon would have had them for sure if it had not been forced to slow its flight around the trees. If not for the oaken giants, Albert would have found himself plucked from his mount and meeting an ignoble end in the beast’s gullet. He had planned on this though, and led the reptilian monster on a winding path through the sparse grove. He slung the crossbow over his back to hang by its strap and drew forth his sword.
It was not easy to slow Stonefoot down with the dragon ready to land on them, but Albert pulled on the reins to slow the horse’s half-mad dash. He needed the dragon in close for what he had prepared. Riding close to one of the great oaks, he slashed a rope that run up the tree. As Albert rode on, a log swung loose above his head. The mass of wood struck the dragon in its side, knocking it from the air.
Albert forced Stonefoot to a stop by a gnarled old tree. Orson stepped from around the tree, holding forth his master’s lance and shield. The boy looked on with awe and terror at the dragon as it stood and roared its fury. Albert had to rapp the boy across the head to remind him to take cover.
Albert wheeled Stonefoot about and spurred him forward. The horse was reluctant, but obedient and galloped at his master’s bidding. As Albert lowered his lance, the dragon readied itself to meet his headlong charge. Its maw opened and let loose a ball of flame. Albert pulled hard to the right and still had to throw up his shield to protect his side. The shield held, but burned. The oak heraldry turned to ash, and heat washed over him. Flesh baked inside plate armor. Stonefoot whinnied, yet carried on.
With the distance closed, the dragon reared up and prepared to slash the knight and horse. Albert gritted his teeth and braced himself. The first strike was the victor. Pushing past pain and fear, Albert struck true before the dragon could catch him in its claws. Steel parted scales and several feet of sturdy oak sunk in deep to piece the beast’s heart.
Albert dropped his shield to the ground as he surveyed his kill. Orson was coming at a gallop on his own horse, shouting victory cries. Albert took one waterskin from his squire to quench his parched throat while he instructed the boy to remove all of Stonefoot’s barding and soak any burns he may have. Albert tended to removing his own armor, letting cool air sooth red skin. He did not boast, but a dignified smile formed as he thought of how the bards would soon sing of Sir Albert Oakheart, Dragonbane.