1. Here Be Dragons
Creeping through the tunnels, Rhydian wished for the thousandth time for a drink.
The air was foul, for a start- worse than the foetid air of the greatest Barrow he'd raided, worse than the foul reek of the biggest goblin-lair he'd ever plundered, worse even than the stench of the midden he'd had to take refuge in when fleeing the Guards of the White Tower when…
Rhydian shook his head, though he told himself it was only to rid himself of the cobwebs he had accumulated in his travels under the mountain.
He would not think of Gondor.
Not now, at least- not now he was on the verge of his greatest triumph.
"Heyre there bee draggons"
Those four words, so insignificant when taken separately…
A smile crossed the tomb-raider's face, though none were there to see it. Taken separately the words were insignificant, yes…
…but together they meant everything.
To the man with enough guts and enough guile to seek them out, at least. Everyone knew of the legendary treasures dragons gathered about themselves- from the lowliest pauper to the greatest Prince. The fame a man brave enough to brave a dragon's den would garner…
I'll never have to buy a drink again, Rhydian thought, and his smile was wolfish.
Even in Gondor.
The map crumpled in his fist and he had to will his fingers to relax. Now was not the time for bad memories of times gone by- now was a time for sweet dreams of futures yet to come.
Unfolding the faded parchment, Rhydian studied it with an appraising eye that architects and artisans would have killed for.
The tunnels had twisted and turned like broken-backed serpents, but one last turn would be the last he needed, if he had read the runes correctly. Shuttering his lantern so it only gave out the thinnest point of light, he muttered a silent prayer to any God that might be willing to listen…
…and stepped into the midst of the greatest riches he had ever seen.
The chamber was huge- more massive than any structure he had ever seen other than the White Tower itself. Stalactites stretched off into the darkness beyond the pencil-beam of his lantern and weird eldritch mosses glowed and glittered in the void beyond, sparkling like subterranean stars.
The gold sparkled even more, though- gold as far as the eye could see. Coins, cups, crowns… Rhydian's mouth watered involuntarily as he took it all in. Gems, jewels, sceptres, sovereigns…
The word was loud as a curse in a temple, and Rhydian regretted it even before had finished. Who knew whether or not a beast dwelled here? Who knew whether or not he had just given himself away, had sentenced himself with that one single syllable to an agonising searing death? Who…
Even as it cursed him for a fool, Rhydian's mind did gleeful cartwheels behind his eyes as it totted up the value of his prize. Here was a ruby big enough to buy him dinner- here a sapphire beautiful enough to buy a warhorse- here a diamond bright enough to buy an entire army…
And no-one else was here, was the beauty of it all- no-one to share the prize, no-one to bicker with, no-one to betray him and leave him skulking like a rat in a dungheap…
Rhydian could not help himself shouting the word out.
There was no-one here, no guardian, no gatekeeper… no-one.
The treasure was his, all his, and all the world would know his name in time. No longer would he be Rhydian the Street-rat, begging for coppers on the corner. No longer would he just be the barmaid's bastard son who was cast out alone into the world on his twelfth birthday. No longer would he…
The noise was nothing, but in the silence of the cavern it was loud as the barking of the most ferocious hound. Rhydian whirled on the spot, trying to find the source of it-
-only to find it coming from all around him.
What was it? It sounded like nothing on Earth.
His hand flew to his sword-belt, if only through habit rather than anything else.
Where was it coming from?
There- there it was. Rhydian swung his lantern towards the sound…
…and could not stop himself from smiling.
Blinking owlishly in the light was a tiny creature no bigger than a house-cat... and no more ferocious.
Needle teeth bared, the baby dragon gave vent to its battlecry again.
Rhydian smiled and hefted his sword.
All this gold and a dead dragon?
This was his lucky day.
The beast shifted from foot to foot as he readied to swing. One single blow and the thing would be dead- one single blow and he would step into the pages of the annals of the dragonslayers. Oh, he would over-blow his account, for sure he would, but…
The noise came from his left, and the tomb-raider faltered.
More than one?
A swing of his lantern revealed that yes, there was another.
He was surrounded.
Ah, well, Rhydian thought, at least it will make for a better story. His smile widening, he turned back to the first dragon-
-and screamed in pain as a gobbet of virulent mucus launched from the creature's mouth straight into his eyes.
Sword falling from his grasp, the tomb-raider shrieked in agony as the acidic dragon-spit ate his eyes away, dissolved his handsome features, ruined his flesh.
Shrieking in agony, the tomb-raider dropped to his knees as the baby dragons exulted in their glory-
-and as the last clatters of the falling blade hit Rhydian's ears, he was dimly aware of the shimmering roar of gold coins falling to the ground as the mother dragon rose from her hiding place underneath her hoard.
The baby dragons were upon him in seconds, more savage than the terriers in the Gondor rat-pits, and Rhydian screamed loud and long in the darkness.
No-one was there to hear him.
No-one was there to help him.
No-one was there to mourn his passing.
The only sound was that hellish, incessant screaming…
And the voice of the mother dragon.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.