Chapter One
The Dragonslayer

Wine dripped from his face, each coarse whisker of his beard creating its own rivulet of purple to his tunic. It soaked into the off-white fabric immediately upon contact, creating a makeshift plum dye. He didn't seem to notice or care, as he continued to swallow the drink with a ferocity mirroring that of the dragon he'd just slain. That being said, his erratic thirst was partially an attempt to numb himself from feeling the burnt flesh of his right leg.

While he was successful in killing the beast, his victory didn't come so easily. He'd defeated countless dragons in his years as a slayer, but this one was the first adolescent he'd encountered. Judging by its size, it was probably around six years old; however, most dragons weren't fully grown until around 10. Until then, their firepouches were much less stable and a hell of a lot hotter.

"Careful!" he erupted, spewing wine onto the face of his squire. The boy ran his sleeve across his cheek quickly, grunting as he tugged at the slayer's boot.

"I'm trying, sir. It's as if the leather has melted into the skin."

He had emptied the entire bottle by the time the squire was able to remove the cooked footwear. "Fetch me another, boy!" he muttered, letting the hollowed glass drop to the dirt.

"We've only got one bottle left, sir. It'll be another three days before we get back to Jhirdyr. Are you certain you—"

Still wincing, he snatched the bottle from the ground and threw it at the kid. "Don't question me, Birten! Get me the damn wine! When you've been tenderized by a flame-throwing monster you can control the inventory!"

Birten knew better than to argue or show any sort of insubordination. He rolled his eyes once he was out of range, but he certainly didn't verbalize his opinion beyond that.

As he handed him the lone remaining bottle, Birten eyed the dragonslayer. Daegon. A fitting name for a dragonslayer. It rolled off the tongue effortlessly, as if it was preordained by the gods.

The slayer was stereotypically handsome; a stony, angular face with a rectangular chin. Hair that had once been a deep chestnut color but over the years had been tawnied by the sun. His eyes, conversely, retained the dark brown tinge. His nose was a bit roundish compared to the rest of his face, but it was quite possibly the only thing that prevented him from being perfect.

Even his scar – a seven-inch mark that ran relatively straight from his forehead through his left eyebrow to just under his ear – was oxymoronically flawless.

His chest and arms were undoubtedly his best features, however. One grip of his sword and the muscles popped from his skin like a mountain ripping into existence from the earth. There was hardly a woman in Jhirdyr that hadn't at least fantasized about a night with Daegon, and similarly quite a few men.

Birten himself had fancied the slayer long before becoming his squire. And on one particularly drab winter evening, amidst one of the city's worst snowstorms, Daegon had taken Birten to his bed. Not but a month later, he had chosen him as his new squire.

That had been two years prior, and Birten had come to know Daegon's bed well. Along with it, he came to know Daegon's personality, too. And his current display was nothing out of the ordinary.

He was selfish, plain and simple. It was always about him. Granted, yes, he had almost had his leg amputated by a creature that had been wreaking havoc on a nearby village. Of course his acclaim was well-deserved. Still, Birten was an integral member of the team. Daegon couldn't manage alone. A simple thanks from time to time would be appreciated. Alternatively, and maybe it was a combination of the pain and booze talking, Daegon was harsh.

"I should have known better than to take you on as a squire at the age of 18! Proper squires are selected at 13, 14, when they are still malleable and can be disciplined into proper assistance. You lack the gentle hand that training would have garnered." He was already halfway done with the new bottle of wine. "Instead, I let my dick decide who to choose!"

This time, Birten couldn't hide his reaction. It was far blunter of an outburst than usual, and the first time he had directly attacked the squire's capabilities and justification to hold the position. Immediately as the proclamation left Daegon's lips, the younger man's usual stoic expression had fallen. The corners of his mouth, normally stony and fixed, had drooped. His chin even quivered for a split second. However, he quickly regained his composure so that Daegon wouldn't see that he had gotten to him.

As the dragonslayer continued to swear and shout, Birten leaned up against a large boulder a few paces away. Ensuring he was angled to where Daegon couldn't see exactly what he was doing, he pulled a pocket mirror from his knapsack and studied his reflection in the dingy glass.

Although two years older, his appearance hadn't changed much from when Daegon had selected him as his squire. He may have a few more whiskers at his chin, sure, but the rest of his face was rather untouched. His skin was clear, a smooth frame for the blue of his eyes and the fullness of his lips. Birten wasn't vain by nature, but he knew his looks had a hand in why he was chosen over the other potentials. Regardless, as he shoved the mirror back into the bag, he knew he had more to offer than sex appeal. And hearing basically the opposite from his lover and the man he had looked up to for years even before their partnership, it was a painful feeling. He knew he had to muster up his strength to appear unfazed.

Taking a final deep breath, he moved away from the rock and back toward the slayer. The second wine bottle clinked against the first as Daegon dropped it, also now empty. "Another!" he called, barely making eye contact.

"I told you," Birten said firmly, "that was it. You'll have to wait until we're back to the kingdom."

Whether or not Daegon could sense the tenseness was unclear. He was in pain and drunk; to assume he was currently capable of any real perception was doubtful. It was probably for the best, in any event. If Daegon felt his squire was driven by emotions even in the slightest, he would cast him aside quicker than an empty wine bottle.

Over the next three days, Daegon was mostly silent. Occasionally he would swear loudly, if his horse trotted in such a way that would upset his injured leg. Birten knew it had more to do with the pain than with the outburst about his ability as a squire. It was doubtful he even remembered saying anything. The bottles were large, and the wine itself was strong. Though he could down a few of them, Daegon's memory was often lost after the first. He liked the drink, but it certainly didn't do him any favors.

They finally approached the north gate of Jhirdyr after night had already fallen. The gate was guarded by six of the king's men, and the most eagle-eyed of the group, a 40-something fellow named Erle, noticed them first. "The dragonslayer has returned! Alert the king!" The doors of the gate slowly began to open in response.

Birten noticed one of the younger men immediately sprint through the narrow opening, presumably darting toward the castle.

Moments later, when they had reached the wall, the gate was fully open. "We are proud and pleased of your safe return, slayer. Were you successful?" Erle's greeting seemed mostly genuine, but there was a rehearsed quality to its delivery. Considering his tenure with the king's guard, it wouldn't be unbelievable that Erle's sincerity had begun to fade over time.

Daegon, suddenly glowing at his praise, smirked a cocky smile and pulled a large package of waxed paper out of the bag he kept firmly attached to his waist. The guards were clearly appreciative and impressed. The paper, they knew, contained the dragon's tongue.

It had taken Birten a few slaying trips before he understood why the delivery of a dragon's tongue was so notable. As he soon learned, the body temperature of dragons paired with their regular fiery exhalations seemed to cook the still-live tongue enough so that it was relatively safe for human consumption if eaten within a few hours. After a few days of detachment, however, the muscle would garner enough spoilage to cause an intoxicating effect in those who ingested it. As such, it was a hot commodity across the continent and the ultimate reward of slaying a dragon.

Birten had still never tasted dragon's tongue, nor did he want to.

Regardless of the loot gained from the slaying, the two adventurers were granted passage into the kingdom. Due to the hour, and thankfully so, the streets weren't as populated as they would be if they had returned midday. When the general population was about, the trek into the city was much more complicated. Everyone wanted a chance to touch the hero, to see him, to bask in his presence. Even in a situation such as this, where the monster wasn't a direct impact to the kingdom itself, the citizens worshiped the slayer as if he were a god.

Instead, only a few people peppered the streets. Most of them were in a hurry to finish their final personal tasks so that they could return home for the evening. The rest were street dwellers, rarely paying heed to the happenings around them. Either way, it made for a quick passage to the castle.

When they arrived at the king's domicile, the largest edifice in the kingdom, Daegon's demeanor had completely changed from what it had been the past few days. He walked as if uninjured, no limp or discomfort to be seen. They silently stepped through the many hallways until reaching the throne room, as they had done on many occasions prior. And, as always, Birten remained in the shadows near the entrance just inside the room as Daegon continued onto the red carpet before the dual jewel-laden seats of the king and queen.

They didn't have to wait long. Given the hour, the king was the only to arrive. He looked tired, likely having been awaken from sleep. He was donned in full royal attire, however, and lowered himself into his throne before Daegon, Birten, and the smattering of guards that occupied the room.

"Result?" the king asked simply, not bothering to hide his yawn.

Similar to his display to the guards, but perhaps more smoothly, Daegon kneeled and presented the king with the paper-laden tongue. The king nodded, once, and a guard came forward to collect the spoils.

"And the rest?"

Daegon stood. "Left for the village. It was indeed an adolescent, your majesty. A complicated slay, but scales and teeth unworthy of collection. A pleasant abundance for a village such as Baronne, but not a reasonable haul for our men to collect. The tongue, naturally, was harvested, but naught else."

The king yawned again, this time fake and intentional. "Very well. Your efforts are appreciated, slayer. You are invited to the royal dinner tomorrow evening."

Daegon smiled out of necessity. The slayer was always invited to the royal dinner the evening following the presentment of the tongue. Though arrogant, he wasn't naïve. He knew the king was growing bored of his slays. "Your majesty," he said, giving a quick half-kneel.

The dragonslayer and his squire exited quickly, being led by the guards to the exit of the castle. Being a successful slayer, Daegon had a decent home two streets to the north, while the lords, ladies, and wealthiest citizens of the kingdom lived in the lavish homes on the closest street each direction of the castle.

Lavish or not, Daegon's house was far more extravagant than Birten's. The main room, kitchen, bathroom, and den were all separated with walls. And the bedrooms! There were two. On the other hand, Birten's house, if it could be called that, was a total of two rooms. It came as no surprise that Birten spent most nights at Daegon's.

Surprisingly, Daegon did not complain about the week's worth of dust that had settled upon every surface in their absence. He did not complain about the king's lackadaisical response to their victory. He did not complain about the pain in his leg.

He instead shed all of his clothes, fell into his bed, and gently placed his hand on the empty area beside him. "Let's get some rest, my love."