“No!” Oskar screamed as he watched the Dragon dive from the sky toward the city.
The base of its throat glowed a deep, bright reddish-orange as it hurtled down through a cloud and burst through the bottom a split second later.
A stream of fire spewed out of its mouth as it opened its jaws. An instant later, the steeple of the church burst into flames.
The focused stream of fire engulfed the entire building in a matter of seconds as the dragon continued its headlong dive.
The dragon pulled back and swerved to the side at the last possible second. By then, most of the building had burnt to a crisp. Only the skeleton of the building remained where the thickest beams once held the church together.
The giant fiend shrieked furiously at the moon as it climbed back into the dusky sky to prepare for its next dive.
Oskar knew it would dive thrice at the city before it landed to consume the charred bodies of its victims. He had heard the legends of old.
And he knew why the ancient beast had come to his town. Oskar had awakened it earlier that day when he found its lair.
Several days earlier, he had found the cave entrance while heading his father’s sheep.
It had just started to rain, so he had led the twenty-six rams, ewes, and lambs inside to wait for the storm to pass.
Oskar made a torch to explore the area. He had been ready to turn back when a gleam ahead caught his eye. The tunnel led straight back into a giant cavern filled with gold.
He saw the giant, scaly beast curled up in the far corner of the cavern, and immediately turned to leave as quietly as possible.
But his greedy heart couldn’t resist grabbing a few gold coins lying on the rocky floor in front of him.
The shepherd boy had breathed a sigh of relief when he reached his sheep without incident. He immediately left in the middle of the pouring rain.
The sheep resisted leaving the dry shelter, and it took everything he could to coax them out and get them to leave. He forcibly pulled the last two out with his bare hands. Then he had to push them back when they tried to run back inside.
They all ran toward a bunch of trees where they huddled together till the storm passed. Then, Oskar led them all straight back home.
His parents were surprised to see him back so early in the day but didn’t ask many questions since they were busy working.
He knew they would grill him about it later at the supper table. But just before his mother called everyone to the table, the church bells had begun to toll.
Oskar’s heart sank when he heard them. He knew what was coming. Justice. The dragon had come for him. The boy watched from the window as the dragon began its second dive. This time much closer to his home.
The second building charred to a crisp before the dragon pulled back to climb back up into the sky for its third and finally dive. Oskar sensed that his home would be the next target.
He screamed for his family to make a run for it as he raced out the door and down the street. Oskar looked back over his shoulder at the winged reptile spewing fire at his house.
Oskar watched his home go up in flames with most of his family still inside. He stopped running and dropped to his knees as the beast landed on top of the flames consuming the building he had once called home.
Its giant tail lashed out and knocked down three of his neighbor’s homes as if they were dollhouses. Another flame of fire spewed forth and consumed his friend, Bjartur’s place.
“No! Stop! It’s my fault. I stole your gold.” Oskar screamed just before the dragon spewed more flames at Svanhildur’s house. Svanhildur was the girl Oskar had always had a crush on.
He couldn’t bear the thought of her burning in flames and being consumed by this monster.
Oskar pulled the gold coins from his pocket and stood up to hurl them toward the dragon. The coins landed in the firey rubble of what had once been his home.
The dragon scooped them up in a winged claw and stepped forward. The trembling boy fell back down onto his knees and waited for his firey end.
“You are a brave lad,” the dragon whispered into his head. “Foolish for stealing from Gimrir, The Voiceless One. But still a brave lad nonetheless.”
Oskar opened his eyes and wiped away the tears to see the dragon clearly.
“I will forgive you if you promise to serve me for the next five years. One year for each coin you tried to steal.”
Oskar nodded silently, not trusting his voice to speak up.
“I can’t hear you, boy,” the dragon whispered into his mind once again.
“Yes, I will serve you for the next five years,” Oskar whispered hoarsely.
“Then return to my cave within three days and present yourself before me,” the dragon commanded.
Oskar stood to his feet and protested. “But if I stay here, the townspeople will lynch me. They will blame me for this destruction.”
The dragon shrugged its wings. “Maybe that’s the punishment I truly intend for you.”
Then it sighed. “I’m not that cruel.”
“Whoever harms this boy will feel my wrath,” the dragon blasted out a thought that everyone in the village could hear. “If this boy does not return to my cave within three days, I shall fall upon you with a dreadful vengeance and consume the rest of your puny village.”
As the dragon spoke, a searing pain shot through the palms of Oskar’s hands. The symbol of the dragon appeared etched into his skin.
Then the fiery, fierce beast spread its wings and shot up into the night sky. It circled the village three times, spewing flames into the night and consuming the clouds that had gathered.
Oskar stood there, watching through the smoke until it disappeared into the night. He ran toward the river and swam off into the night, hoping a crocodile or snake might take his life.
But it seemed that even the wild creatures of the forest had heard the dragon’s command and would keep him alive.
He had been marked by the dragon. And he would be forced to obey its commands for the next five years.
Oskar had no idea what all that entailed, but he didn’t look forward to it one bit. He regretted ever having found that cave. He regretted having taken those five gold coins. He regretted having been the cause of his family’s death.
He swore he would serve the dragon for five years while seeking out the dragon’s weaknesses. Then, he would find a way to kill it, if that was the last thing he ever did.
Oskar shivered under a tree on the edge of the river for several hours before he began his final trek toward the dragon’s lair. He would wait there until the time came to present himself to Gimrir, but there was no way he would return to face the villagers after the pain and destruction he had brought upon them.
They might not harm him for fear of the dragon’s retaliation, but they would despise him and shun him. And that was a pain far worse than death for Oskar.
It didn’t matter if he served the dragon for five years or fifty. As far as Oskar was concerned, his life had ended the moment he took those five golden coins.
Oskar stood on a hill at the foot of the dragon’s mountain overlooking the village as he grieved his loss and bid his family a final farewell.