They reached the foot of the mountain as the dew was drying on the grasslands.
Rand looked about him, at the meadow flowers waving in the breeze, butterflies and hummingbirds dizzying the air. Then he looked ahead. ‘So we climb?’
Sheathing his sword, Mitchell nodded. ‘If you want to eat again.’
‘Be an innkeeper like your Dad – that’s what my Ma said.’ Rand hooked his battleaxe on his belt, tucked his crossbow under his arm. ‘Soft beds, beer, barmaids – why didn’t I listen?’
They reached the nest just as the sun was lowering over Black Wyrm Peak. A storm head was gathering, clouds the colour of pitch bulging over the valley.
‘Could have done with a full moon,’ whispered Mitchell.
Rand pulled free his axe, the metal shushing the gloom. ‘So now you want me to fight in the dark? Maybe you can hog tie me too?’
Twin snaps, like wet sheets caught in a gale – a sound like knives scraping the rocks. Mitchell grabbed Rand’s arm, pulling him behind an outcrop just as a shadow blacked out the sun.
Mitchell could smell them, an animal smell but like nothing else – meat and ash and sulphur. His pulse beat in his ears. He edged round the outcrop to see their prey.
They were both there – the male wyrm taller by half a man’s height, scales shimmering, seeming to glow in the half light, spikes curving from his head, along his spine and tail. Hard as iron, hard as diamonds – that was how the legend went. The female was beside her mate, smaller, fewer spikes, but they were the venomous ones – one scratch from a talon, from a tooth and you’re dead.
The creatures began to circle each other, claws clashing on the rock, tails twining and as they did a sound – like bells chiming from afar. Depite himself, Mitchell was transfixed, the song echoing through his bones. As they moved faster round each other it was hard to tell where one wyrm began, the other ended, their scales glowing hotter, the colour of dawn over the mountains, lighting the rocks. He’d never seen anything more beautiful …
A whistling sound, a heavy thunk – another whistle, screaming, animal pain. Both dragons fell, shaking the ground, crushing stone to dust. A shape flew past Mitchell. Rand. The sound of an axe hacking flesh, clashing against scales.
The light died.
Moments later, Rand was beside him, gasping for breath, stinking of sulphur. ‘Got them both in the neck with a crossbow bolt – in the soft part under the chin,’ he said, grinning like a boy. ‘And guess what?’ He brought his hand from behind his back, revealing an egg the size of a newborn babe. It shimmered gold in the gloom. ‘Draco wanted the scales and the hearts, but how much will he give us for that?’
Mitchell sighed. ‘Let’s finish up. I need a beer.’