“Yo ho yo ho,” Tim sang in a surprisingly tenor tone, “It's a dragon's life for me. Give me a sheep, a cow from the keep, and a summons from over the sea. Accounts of my demise are falsehoods and lies, told by humbugs, and tinkers, and thieves. Its a dragons life, though its one of strife, its a dragons life for me.”
He soared skyward towards the setting sun, his emerald wings flapping as the breeze caressed his iridescent scales with delicate fingers. He banked, rolled once in a loop de loop on the thermals, then coasted towards the hazy mountain peaks of Hyburnia. Far below him on the edge of a darkening wood, a lone rider looked up in surprise at the sound, shielding his eyes from the sun's glare with a mailed arm. Quickly, he reached down to pull a crossbow from his gear which he loaded with a lethal barbed arrow. As the singing dragon passed, the man raised his bow and fired the arrow which whizzed through the air just to the left of the dragon's scaly cheek.
“Whoops,” said Tim, plucking the arrow from the air with a curved yellow claw. He tossed it aside where it sank towards the earth below. “Missed me. Big mistake.” He circled back towards the forest, sucked in a mighty gulp of already overheated Indian summer air, turned his muzzle downward, and blew it out accompanied by a searing jet of crimson flame.
“Yikes,” screamed the man as his horse bolted off the side of the trail.
“Yo ho ho,” Tim sang, it's a dragon's life for me. Give me a horse kabob, a roasted knight, and a merrily burning tree.” Sucking in a another throat full of air, he torched a spruce tree on the edge of the forest. Peering toward the direction in which the rider had fled, he cocked his head at the barely audible sound of shod hooves breaking bracken and fallen limbs as the horse and rider galloped back into the wood.
“Missed you, you bugger” he sighed. “Fair enough I suppose though, since you missed me.” Turning away, the he shrugged and gulped another fireball back into his throat. Belching smoke as he flew, he resumed his flight to Hyburnia. “Your pardon,” he said to no one in particular. “Very rude burping without even a meal to account for it.”
Somewhere, faintly, he could hear a sound that reminded him of a fist knocking on a wooden door. He looked below. “No house down there,” he mused. “Thus, no doors. No doors, no knocking. No knocking, no more people. He nodded his mighty head, smiling with wicked looking serrated teeth. “Twas probably just a woodpecker on a rotten tree.” He began the third verse of his song.“Yo ho, yo ho, a dragons life is fun. Give me a fight, a roar and a light. The silly men will run.”
There was a whistling ping followed by a whoosh, and the dragon lurched suddenly to the left. “Ouch,” he said turning to look at an arrow lodged deep in his flank. Another ping brought another arrow, this one in the wing, and he overbalanced and began to fall. “Oh no,” he said, “there was more than one hunter. I should have looked both ways.”
Flapping his uninjured wing, the dragon tried to level out and ascend, but the drag of the wounded wing pulled him sideways towards the hard ground coming ever closer. “It's no use,” he said, wincing in pain. “I can't fly with one wing. “I'm done for.” Mayday, mayday he broadcast in dragon thought. Anyone who can hear this: dragon down at the edge of the darkening wood just over the southeast Hyburnian border. Help requested. Over and out. He closed his eyes, hoping for the best, closed his wings and let himself fall.
“Ouch!” He exclaimed a few long moments later as the branches of a stout oak broke his fall. “I'm glad I didn't torch this tree,” he said to himself. With a loud crack, the branches began to snap. “Oh oh,” he said as he fell to the ground, dislodging a woodpecker unlucky enough to be in a smaller tree too close to the oak, and nearly landing on the two hunters now dismounted and standing below.
“Got him,” said the first hunter jumping quickly out of the way as the woodpecker, squawking indignantly, flew away.
“Good shot, Magnus,” replied the second hunter, dodging to the left. “We'll feast well tonight I reckon.”
The first man nodded. “Save the head,” he said. “Larry the Mad has placed a bounty on all dragons. We'll drop by his place on the way home and collect that much, at least. Even if we didn't find the runaway girl.”
The second hunter pulled a sword from its scabbard. “Can I have the honor of stabbing him in his heart seeing as how the first arrow was mine?”
Magnus smiled, drawing his own weapon. “Let's finish him off together, George.”
Weak from blood loss, Tim softly sang a death song. “My soul will fly beyond the sun, but dragon's luck is gone. In blood and pain my life must end, the sands of time drift on.” He closed his eyes and waited for the pain, which he very much hoped would be brief.
“Drop the swords!” growled a deep voice nearby. The wounded dragon opened his eyes in time to see both hunters step back and lower their weapons. At the edge of the forest stood three figures: a shaggy haired man of bear-like proportions dressed all in brown and carrying a longbow, a burly dwarf hefting a war hammer decorated in carved silver runes, and a slender girl with reddish hair, carrying a staff and wearing forester's green.
“It's a fair kill,” the man called Magnus said. “Its none of your business, friends. We don't look for trouble from you. How 'bout we carve him up, take the head, and then George and me will be on our way? You can have the major part of the meat. Maybe just give us a steak or two.”
“I think not,” growled the bear-like man.
“But, we was the ones that brought the beast down. We should get sumthin' fer our trouble,” said George.
The bear man shook his shaggy head. “You will leave the dragon as he is and high tail it out of our territory. Or forfeit your own lives.” As he spoke, the man began to grow shaggier and his teeth elongated, becoming canine. He growled as more and more hair suddenly sprouted from his body. His shoulders bent over and his arms became more muscular. By now he was almost completely covered in fur. He dropped the bow, having no more need of it as long curved claws protruded from his paws. He went to all fours, turned his head and roared.
The dragon hunters stepped back.
“You heard my pal, Groof,” said the dwarf. “Dragons are welcome here. Dragon hunters are not. This is the only warning you will get, friends.”
Magnus's face paled under his helmet. “It has red eyes. It's a were bear,” he whispered to his fellow dragon hunter. “We must have strayed into Hyburnia.”
The second man gulped. “The dragon is yours, Mister bear,” he said. “We don't want him, do we Magnus.”
“No George,” Magnus replied. “We don't want him at all. Not at all.” he looked at the dwarf. “Tell him we're sorry fer any local rules we broke even if we didn't know what they was.”
“We're leaving now.” declared George, backing further towards the woods. “We don't want no trouble. You folks keep the meat and everything.”
“See that you are out of Hyburnian territory by sundown,” chuckled the dwarf, moving forward to stand next to the fallen dragon. “And don't come back, or you will feel the weight of my hammer in your skull. If me pal Groof here doesn't eat you first, that is.”