Chapter #46 – Pr
Prologue: On the Way There
The “Meat Dragon” was a four-legged herbivore dragon that had been domesticated as a livestock on the South Continent for its meat. It breed often, grew up quickly and most of its body could be eaten, so these characteristics earned it the name “Meat Dragon” against its will.
The majority of the meat that currently landed on the dining tables of the South Continent came from domesticated “Meat Dragons”, but needless to say, there were numerous wild “Meat Dragons” living in the wilderness as well.
It was extremely easily to differentiate between a wild Meat Dragon and a domesticated Meat Dragon: The wild ones still had their two horns growing on their heads while the domesticated ones had them cut off.
With their horns cut off, the Meat Dragons did not only lose their means for a physical attack, but also became less aggressive in their nature, which made it easier to rear them. Hence the horns of cultivated Meat Dragons were cut off after they reached a certain age. On the other hand, it meant that the wild Meat Dragons were surprisingly aggressive and dangerous.
The furious onslaught from a wild Meat Dragon with its two horns could sometimes even catch a hunter or soldier off-guard.
So a powerless villager would avoid any contact with wild Meat Dragons as much as possible.
But it would be completely different matter, when they banded together as an armed group. With a glint in their eyes, they would then kill the wild Meat Dragon.
The Carpa Kingdom had a lot more preserved food than the North Continent for example, since it was the biggest producer of salt and spices, but it was not all that pleasant to keep living off just them for a long time.
Forced to eat mainly jerked meat seasoned with salt and pepper along with dry flatbread every day, the people started to see the initially dangerous wild Meat Dragons as nothing but a source for “juicy meat”.
And Zenjirou and his group on their way to the March of Guzzle were no exception.
As a result, the wild Meat Dragon, who carelessly had revealed itself from the forest along the Salt Road, was hunted by the soldiers with bloodshot eyes.
“There it is!”
“Don’t let it get away!”
“It’s coming your way, get ready!”
Several soldiers were chasing after one Meat Dragon in the thick forest besides the Salt Road.
An experienced hunter would immobilize it with a trap and finish it off with arrows from afar, but the ordinary soldiers took a more primitive approach: Cursorial Hunting.
“It’s friggin’ huge!”
“Don’t you dare to let it get away!”
With their brandished spears, the soldiers chevied the Meat Dragon towards the road from all sides.
A silver-haired girl and a blonde female soldier were awaiting it on the road.
Princess Freya, the silver-haired girl, could neither conceal her tension, nor her excitement, as she held a long spear that was almost twice the height of herself with both hands.
“Here it comes, Milady. Maybe I should take over after all?”
Skathi, the blonde female soldier standing next to her, took one step forward as though protecting her master with the short spear and wooden shield in her hands, when she called out to her like that.
But Princess Freya firmly shook her head in light of the consideration of her trusted retainer, so that her short silver hair fluttered about.
“No, let me do this, Skathi. I will not get another chance to take down a dragon like this again.”
Even more than nervousness, her two eyes, fixated on the forest before her, revealed an eager glint of excitement while she said that.
“Very well. From what I have heard, the Meat Dragon seems to behave like a boar. Please do not face it head-on, but rather attack it from the side with your spear.”
“Yes, I know.”
With the approval of her bodyguard, the princess from the Northern Continent showed a smile consisting of nervousness and elation alike, and glared into the thick forest.
A few moments later, it appeared in the forest near the road.
The wild Meat Dragon proudly bore the two horns on its head forward and jumped out onto the road while breaking through the thick branchwood with its massive body.
“Watch out, Milady!”
Princess Freya definitely was nervous, when she saw a wild dragon for the first time.
The comparison to a boar had been suitable, seeing as it rushed at her in a straight line with its small round eyes bloodshot with agitation. Its appearance was quite redolent of the dinosaur called “triceratops” that had lived on Earth a long time ago. But unlike the triceratops, it had no horn on its nose.
The biggest difference between a Meat Dragon and a boar was the size.
Assuming the Meat Dragon in front of Princess Freya had the size of an average specimen of his race, it meant that the Meat Dragon was two or three times bigger than a boar.
When the Meat Dragon rushed straight at her with a battle cry, Princess Freya inadvertently raised the corners of her mouths into a crescent-shaped smile.
At home, they only had her let hunt rabbits, foxes or a deer at best, but here, she was allowed to face a dragon, even if it was only a herbivore one.
A shiver of excitement ran down her spine and she suppressed the urge to launch an attack herself. Instead she peered hard at the approaching huge dragon with the long spear in hand.
She evaded the Meat Dragon by quickly stepping out of its path and then stabbed her long spear into the side of the dragon at full tilt.
Her all-out attack perfectly pierced the left shoulder of the dragon.
But even though the attack from the light-weighted princess did harm the Meat Dragon, it did not finish it off.
Moreover, she was suddenly in the path of its onslaught again, either because she had not stepped away far enough before or because she had pressed forward too far for her attack afterwards.
The watching female soldier reacted to the predicament faster than the person in question herself.
She was ordering her master like a pet dog, but given the circumstances, it could not be helped.
Princess Freya obediently did like she was told and ducked down, practically throwing herself onto the ground.
In the next moment, the leg of the female soldier swept over the ducked back of her master like a gust of wind.
Skathi was pretty much a giant of a woman, but even then, her body mass was not even a quarter of the Meat Dragon. It definitely was impossible for her to stop the onslaught of the dragon head-on.
But she could at least deflect it to the side for a bit by using a technique that applied all of her bodyweight to the impact of her leg.
Skathi performed a perfect textbook example of a roundhouse kick, kicking the Meat Dragon right into its side.
Just like she had planned, her attack deflected the onslaught of the Meat Dragon to the side and it staggered past the ducked princess.
After the combined attack from Princess Freya’s spear and Skathi’s leg, the Meat Dragon tripped over its own legs and fell flat onto the road. It seemed that it was not dead yet, seeing as it convulsed in pain on the ground with the white of its eyes showing, but it had obviously lost consciousness.
“Well done, Milady. Now, please finish it off before it wakes up again.”
The tall female warrior held out her hand to her prostrated master.
“Thank you, Skathi. But now it counts as your kill and not mine, or am I wrong?”
Princess Freya stood up with Skathi’s help, casually wiped the dirt off her cheeks with her sleeve and uttered displeased with puckered lips.
It certainly looked like the kick from Skathi had been the decisive blow.
Her grumbling was not met with a response from Skathi, but from a soldier of the Carpa Kingdom, who had chased the Meat Dragon here.
“Not at all, Princess Freya. You inflicted a lethal wound on the Meat Dragon without doubt. It would have only been a matter of time until it died. Miss Victoria merely intervened to protect you.”
In view of that, Princess Freya squatted down near the Meat Dragon and examined the piercing wound she herself had inflicted on it.
“…I see. That certainly seems to be the case.”
Looking at the collapsed dragon confirmed that her spear had pierced into its flesh quite deeply. Apparently the soldier had not been flattering her, when he had said that her spear attack had inflicted a lethal wound.
Princess Freya honestly acknowledged their pleas and drew her favourite hatchet from its holster at her waist.
“Where do I have to stab it to kill it? I have to admit that it is my first time going up against a dragon.”
“Right here in the back of the neck, Your Highness. Are you sure that you do not want to use a iron spear instead?”
The soldier asked her worriedly. His concern was reasonable. It was by no means an easy task to finish off a large dragon with a strong vitality.
But Princess Freya just smiled warmly.
“I appreciate your concern, but I will be fine. This is my speciality.”
With these words, she confidently raised up her right hand holding her favourite hatchet in a fluent motion.
As a matter of fact, Princess Freya was not lying. As a svenskar and a woman, she had a rather petite physique, so her overall fighting capacity was no better than an ordinary soldier, no matter how harsh she may train, but at least her skill with the hatchet was first-rate. Moreover, it absolutely suited her personality.
Hence she had never failed to finish off her “prey” with it, whether it was a two-legged or four-legged animal. And her achievement was not tainted on the South Continent, either.
“So, right here? Okay, here I go!”
Princess Freya swiftly struck with her hatchet and severed the neck of the Meat Dragon with one strike just like the soldier had recommended.
While Princess Freya worked up a sweat in the dragon hunt, Zenjirou patiently waited inside the carriage at the side of the road for its conclusion.
The young girl was bravely participating in the hunt, whereas the grown-up man holed up inside the dragon carriage. This sounded rather pathetic by itself, but as a matter of fact, Zenjirou would be of no help and just a burden, even if he were to go out there, because he did not even know proper self-defence.
He could only make himself useful by letting the princess protect him.
Zenjirou wriggled about on his chair inside the wide carriage a bit uncomfortable, when he suddenly heard the cheers of the soldiers from outside before long.
“Yes, it seems the hunt has ended successfully. It should be fine to head outside now. Will you go out, Master Zenjirou?”
Zenjirou agreed with Natalio sitting across from him.
“Indeed. You will take the lead, Natalio, Ines.”
Prompted like that, the knight and maid sitting across from him stood up together.
The dragon carriage Zenjirou was currently boarding was a huge carriage drawn by eight dragons for royalty only.
Its ceiling was so high that a grown-up man did not need to worry about bumping his head, when standing up.
The whole carriage was actually so big that a person from Modern Earth would rather associate it with a passenger wagon of a train than a carriage.
Just in case, Knight Natalio left the carriage first and checked, whether the situation was under control.
“Everything is alright, Master Zenjirou.”
Hearing his words, Zenjirou also got off the carriage.
“Phew, so bright.”
Stepping out of the carriage into the midday sun, he blinked a few times, because his eyes watered from the sudden change in light.
While he squinted against the sun, the soldiers, who had guarded the carriage so far, gathered around him and formed a protective wall.
As a former commoner, Zenjirou felt extremely uncomfortable to be flanked by armed soldiers at all sides, but now that he was royalty, it was a given that he was accompanied by so many guards, whenever he went outside.
Knight Natalio was leading the guards. For now, he was the only knight that had sworn loyalty to Zenjirou himself.
The guards, starting with Knight Natalio, stayed at his side by the same distance to him at all times, even without any directions.
Whether he slowed down, because he looked around, stopped for a moment, because of a misstep, or quickened his pace, because he wanted to gloss over his misstep, the circle of soldiers around him never got into a state of disorder.
Even if he were to suddenly start sprinting, it was unlikely he would be able to shake them off.
So Zenjirou advanced on the “Salt Road”, chaperoned by these diligent soldiers.
“Feels like I hit upon a wide forest trail on my way to my mountain cabin.”
Walking on the road of soil overgrown with weeds, Zenjirou mumbled to himself. People of Modern Earth rarely got to see roads that were not asphalted.
Zenjirou came from a country village in the middle of nowhere, but even there, the main road had properly been asphalted. You would only come across a holey path of soil as a cart track between fields or an abandoned mountain track.
And because he was still not used to wearing the leather boots of this world, Zenjirou struggled along a bit clumsily, when the maid Ines suddenly passed by him.
She outpaced him with a normal walking pace, so Zenjirou felt no need to reprimand her about it and just let it slide.
Overtaking her master, the maid smoothly went over to Knight Natalio keeping watch in front of Zenjirou, and whispered a word or two into his ear.
Knight Natalio gave a jerk to her words for a moment, but in the next moment, he pulled an arrow out of the quiver on his back, quickly nocked it and send it towards the crown of a tree.
The arrow was released with a small outcry from Knight Natalio and hit the “something” that was hiding high up in the treetop.
That “something” raised a shrill scream from high up and fell straight down to the side of the road.
Zenjirou impulsively stopped in his track, when he heard that scream and its thud.
Standing protective before Zenjirou, Knight Natalio still kept the dragon bow in his left hand ready and gave orders to the cautious soldiers near by.
“It was a ‘Thieving Dragon’. I think I finished it off, but you three, go take a look. Kill it if it is still alive. Everyone else, keep your eyes peeled!”
With the instructions from Knight Natalio, three of the soldiers guarding Zenjirou rushed over to the side of the road.
Apparently it was still alive as one of the soldiers impaled it with the short spear in his hands.
“All clear. It’s dead now!”
When the soldier waved his hand with these words, Knight Natalio acted as well.
“Master Zenjirou, the danger has been averted. Please move on.”
Overwhelmed by the all too fast development in front of his eyes, Zenjirou nodded absentmindedly and picked up the pace again.
Before long, he arrived at the side of the road, where it had fallen down.
“Well, this… is not a pretty sight.”
Seeing the dead dragon, Zenjirou frowned unconsciously.
“The ‘Thieving Dragon’ is an outcast of the forest in more than one way after all.”
Knight Natalio consented to Zenjirou with a wry smile.
In fact, it was quite the eerie sight.
Almost half as big as a grown man, its whole body was covered by dark green scales, so it was a dragon aka. reptile, but its physique was closer to that of a monkey.
Short legs and long arms coupled with a long and narrow tail. It had the typical build of an animal living on top of trees, but the face was that of a lizard.
As it was already dead, its long forked tongue hung out limply from its pointed snout, which only added to its eeriness.
“An outcast of the forest? So its appearance is not the only issue?”
Knight Natalio nodded shortly to the question from Zenjirou.
“Yes. As its name implies, it is a dragon that steals. It hides itself in the crown of the trees and attacks its prey from above, when it passes by. They are pretty daring in their efforts, so even pack animals like carnivore dragons fall an easy prey to them and get their eggs or nestlings stolen.
Needless to say, we humans are no exception. Children or small women are targeted by the ‘Thief Dragons’ first and if there is no such target, they go for the next best prey. In other words, they steal a ‘part of their prey’ by tearing it off with their sharp fangs.”
In case of humans, a part would probably be an arm or the head.
Zenjirou grimaced terrified in light of the explanation from Knight Natalio.
“That… sounds dreadful. I am glad you killed it, Natalio.”
“It was not me, but Ines, who noticed the ‘Thieving Dragon’. Please direct these words at her.”
Surprised by the knight’s words, Zenjirou shifted his gaze to the middle-age attendant, but came to a realisation at the same time.
Earlier, Ines had suddenly passed him from behind to whisper something into the ear of Knight Natalio at the front. At that time, she must have told him about the Thieving Dragon.
“I just happened to spot it. If anything, I say Sir Natalio deserves the praise for his swift and accurate reaction.”
Ines shook her head with wry smile and praised the skills of Knight Natalio like that.
Looking up the tree, Zenjirou was convinced by her words.
Even the smaller ones amongst the big trees standing on both sides of the road were at least bigger than an electricity pole, whereas the bigger ones were sometimes twice as big.
Knight Natalio had sent an arrow up that high and had hit the vitals of the “Thieving Dragon” with his bow, so his masterful skills were beyond all question. Moreover, he had done so quite quickly without taking proper aim at the hidden “Thieving Dragon”.
Even if you took into consideration that he was using a superior dragon bow, it was still quite the feat.
“It’s reassuring. Unfortunately I am no stronger than a woman or a child, so I will be counting on you well and truly.”
“Yes, Sire. Please rest assured. I will protect you, even if it costs my life.”
While talking with Knight Natalio like that, Zenjirou moved along the road and in time, Princess Freya and the others came into sight.
Princess Freya noticed him first of all and waved with a bright smile.
Zenjirou waved back, but his face was showing a dry smile.
“Her Highness Freya seems to be quite the active person.”
Maid Ines interjected somewhat far-fetched, to which Zenjirou nodded assenting without breaking his dry smile.
“Yeah, her vigour sure is to be envied.”
The hand the smiling princess waved with was firmly holding the blood-smeared hatchet.