Summary: Sam's life has never been easy. He lost his father at a young age, joined the knighthood in order to be close to his half-brother Adam, was saved from a monster by a shapeshifter wolf named Dean, and now is being haunted by visions of a dragon. Turns out there's a legend for just about everything.
Disclaimer: Not mine but a girl can dream, can't she?
Author's note: Knights, wolves and dragons. Oh my.
The training arena was a large circle surrounded by walls of thick stone blocks, the rough surfaces marred with holes and chips from years of weapons gone awry. The ground had once been lush with grass every spring and summer but years of constant use had left only dry brown dirt behind. On one end of the arena were large round targets made of straw and worn cloth that was almost completely riddled. On the other side of the yard were the weapons: long swords, short swords, shields, daggers, axes, lances with both wood and metal points, crossbows, long bows and short bows.
In the center of yard two men moved around each other, a sword held loosely in one of their hands as they waited for the other to make the next move. They had been out there for hours; the warm summer sun had created an uncomfortable feeling of sweat beneath the layers of practice armor, their faces glistening with moisture.
The younger man’s body tensed and he lunged forward, dirt kicked up in his wake. He swung his blade with both hands but was effortlessly deflected, the older man’s sword easily blocking the intended blow so roughly that the younger man stumbled backwards.
With a curse he shot forward again almost immediately, his temper clear in the quick slash and thrust of his weapon that made his muscles burn. Sparks flew into the air as the steel struck together again and again.
Finally Adam hit the ground with a grunt, sword lost from his lax fingers to slide across the yard. He sat up and froze as the chill of his opponent’s blade rested against his flush neck.
“Do you yield?”
Panting, the young prince nodded up at the knight standing over him. “I yield. You win again, Sam.” The sword was lowered from his neck and he took the offered hand, allowing the older man to help him to his feet.
“Don’t look so downhearted, little brother. You’re doing a lot better these days.”
“I’m still a long way to being as good as you.” Despite his loss Adam struggled to remain dignified. He was seventeen and soon to be crowned king of the Threa kingdom; he couldn’t allow himself to pout like a child. “Even with your handicap.”
“Is that what you call this?” Sam tapped the leather that hid his sightless right eye.
“What else would I call it?”
It was seven years prior, at age fifteen, that Sam suffered the injury during a tournament melee that cost him half his vision. He couldn’t deny that living with it was a constant struggle, but it was also one he was intent to deal with as long as it meant he could stay by Adam’s side.
Sam smiled at him and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “Come on; let’s go back inside before your lady mother gelds me for keeping you out all day.”
“First of all you’re not a horse.” Adam rolled his eyes, but allowed Sam to drag him along. “She’d hardly geld you.”
“You’re right. She’d have someone else do it.”
“Adam, she hates me and the fact we’re half-brothers. That much has been made perfectly clear since we were kids.” Sam lowered his arm. “Are you excited about going hunting this afternoon?”
Adam’s expression brightened. “Yes! Sir Walker claimed the deer are particularly bold around people this season, so killing one should be quick and easy.”
Sam glowered at the mention of his senior knight, Gordon Walker. “Hopefully he’s right.”
The Great Hall was one of the most important rooms in the castle. It was used for both meetings and meals of everyone that resided inside the stone structure. Pages and servants served the food, cleaned the tables, laid the fires and ensured that the lightning was accurate both day and night. During times of great feasts, the Hall was loud with dancing to music of drums, harps, flutes and lutes. Entertainment also consisted of jugglers, acrobats, jesters and even plays. Every visitor was announced by a Herald and a Steward supervised every event that took place.
The tables and benches were long and made of thick, dark wood that was polished on a daily basis. The floor was strewn with straw and a grass-like plant called rushes, and the air was always sweetly scented with a choice of lavender, chamomile, rose petals, daisies or fennel. The walls were decorated with tapestries depicting animals of both reality such as lions and horses, as well as those of fantasy like unicorns.
It was there beneath the loft ceiling that Queen Katherine met with Adam and Sam.
“Darling, how did your training session go today?” her overly honey-sweet voice asked as she stopped in front of them.
Every man in the kingdom agreed that she was a vision of beauty. She had dark brown hair that cascaded down her back in soft curls, eyes as light blue as the sky on a cloudless day and full, rosy soft lips. She wore a form-fitting lavender dress that dipped at her cleavage where her ruby encrusted necklace settled between her breasts, the piece a perfect match to the glittered gold and ruby crown that adorned her head.
Sam could understand why his father had been seduced into the widow Queen’s bedchambers, but after having dealt with her for several years he was no stranger to the jealously and cruelty she was truly capable of.
“It was pretty much the same,” Adam said, and Sam was amused to see a slight pout on his brother’s lips. “I lost.”
“Perhaps if you had an instructor that was more suited to helping you improve. One who could see properly, for starters?” Katherine gave Sam’s eye patch a pointed look. “Sir Elkins would surely be honored to take up the task.”
“He’s learning at the proper pace, Your Highness,” Sam replied, unaffected by her mockery of his injury. “Each day he gets better.”
“Sam has done his best with me and I will have no other,” Adam insisted. “My brother has my best interests at heart.”
“At least consider it, sweetheart. Sir Winchester surely must have other duties he can attend to that will benefit our kingdom. He doesn’t constantly have to be your shadow.”
“I’m a little too tall to be anyone’s shadow, I’m afraid,” Sam smiled humorlessly. He bowed. “If you’ll both excuse me, I’ll go oversee preparations for the hunt.” As he walked away he fought the urge to shudder at the feel of eyes boring holes into his back.
The Dire Forest was thick brush, tall trees and winding paths. It was full of good hunting game such as deer, boar, rabbits and birds as well as deadly predators like bears and wolves. There were also tales of supernatural creatures that hunted the night and fed on lost travelers; stripping the flesh from their bodies and crunching on their bones. Whether they were true or simply diversionary tactics to keep children from wandering, Sam refused to let Adam venture into the woods alone with a man like Gordon who was known for his impulsive and often reckless behavior.
The arrow sailed wide, striking the thick bark of an oak tree where it immediate stuck like a new branch. The doe startled and raced off in the opposite direction, vaulting over a mushroom-covered log.
Sam chuckled as Adam cursed. “It’s okay. You can try again with the next one.”
Before long they caught sight of a buck grazing among some thick berry bushes. Adam eased another arrow from the quiver on his back and strung his bow. He pulled the string tight and held it up.
“Hold your breath while you shoot,” Gordon suggested softly from his chestnut mare. “It’ll stop your hand from shaking.”
“Aim for the side,” Sam added. His hands tightened on the reins of his black Clydesdale in anticipation. “Easy… take your time or you’ll startle him.”
Adam’s jaw tensed, his fingers tightened, and then he let loose. The arrow flew with rapid speed through the air and struck home, sinking deep into the deer’s flank. The animal screamed and stumbled then took off running.
Adam whooped joyfully and rode after it, his white stallion racing quickly beneath the trees with Sam and Gordon on his heels.
Sam’s Clydesdale was a gift to him from John when she was a young filly; all wobbly legs and soft, fuzzy hide. Sam named her Impala and the two quickly grew incredibly fond of each other. She was affectionate whenever Sam was near, nuzzling him when he brushed her coat, gave her treats of apples, carrots and celery, and cleaned her hooves. Despite a rocky start when she was born, Impala had grown strong and agile as any Clydesdale could be. She quickly pulled ahead of Gordon’s mare but even so Sam had lost sight of the prince and his horse.
“Adam!” Sam called, slowing Impala as he looked around the clearing he found himself in.
Impala jerked to a halt at the sound of a long, loud howl that nearly knocked Sam from her saddle. He tightened his legs as the howl started again followed by several others. His hand sought out the hilt of the long sword strapped to his hip; every muscle in his body tightened in preparation. Leaves crunched behind him and he spun his horse around with a quick sideways jerk of the reins.
A creature slowly made its way out of the cluster of trees that seemed to come straight from a nightmare. The slightly hunched body was supported by two human-like back legs; the light, hairless skin pulled tight over an emaciated skeletal structure. It was almost completely naked except for a small cloth dangling from narrow hips. The hands and feet were elongated with narrow toes and fingers that ended in long, black claws and the bulbous, equally hairless head was more canine than human with a protruding snout, needle-sharp teeth, and yellow eyes.
The creature bared its teeth and lunged towards them, then yelped and jumped back when Impala rose on her hind legs and aimed a kick at its bare chest. It snarled and vaulted to the side for a second attack. Impala jerked backwards and Sam swung his sword in a quick arch, dark blood marking his blade as the steel made contact.
Clawed hands grabbed Sam’s shoulders and suddenly he was falling; the wind rushed from his lungs at impact with the ground, leaving him momentarily stunned as the creature’s heavy form pinned him down. Its mouth opened wide and Sam gagged at the small of decay that hit him square in the face.
His brought his legs up and shoved his feet into the creature’s gut in a hard kick. Sam felt something pull free from his neck as the creature was knocked backwards, shaking something shiny from its fist.
Taking advantage of the momentary distraction, Sam twisted onto his side and tightened his fingers around the worn, thick hilt of his sword. Adrenaline raced through his body as Sam held the weapon up in time to catch the creature’s descending teeth on the blade, blood and saliva running down on onto Sam’s face like a warm rain to pool on his neck and beneath his head.
With a strained cry Sam swung his arm to the side with his free hand braced on the soft earth. The creature’s claws were like knives as they took chunks of Sam’s armor and skin with it as it stumbled off of him. The knight pushed himself quickly to his feet and just as fast tumbled back to his knees. He fought for breath and swiped at the sweat stinging his eye with the back of his free hand, never more keenly aware of his handicap.
The creature released an almost human sounding chuckle as it circled him, unaffected by the blood around its mouth as its boney body coiled slightly like a snake prepared to strike. As it reached Sam’s back he fought to turn around and stumbled again. He tensed and clenched his teeth as his mind flashed to his brother; he wasn’t about to let some monstrous hybrid keep him from protecting Adam.
“You want me, you disgusting son of a bitch?” he taunted breathlessly. “Come and get me.”
Suddenly the creature was knocked to the side by a dark blur, two bodies hitting the ground with enough force to send them rolling. The second form rose up and revealed itself to be a large, russet colored wolf.
The animal circled around on large paws and stood between the creature and Sam, baring its teeth in a snarl that sent a chill up Sam’s aching spine. The hybrid creature seemed to hesitate, shook itself out and slowly lowered its front legs to the ground. The tension snapped like a twig and they lunged for each other, the wolf’s bared teeth catching the creature in the shoulder and dragging it down. It growled and twisted, swung an arm and caught the wolf in the side sending it tumbling across the ground. The wolf jumped back up and attacked again.
Sam watched with burning lungs, throbbing chest and arms, and both his own and the creature’s blood running rivulets over his skin. His legs refused to support him so fleeing was out of the question. Sam couldn’t do anything but watch in a sort of morbid fascination as the two animals fought each other. For its credit the wolf was doing better than Sam had; it seemed to anticipate the creature’s moves more than half of the time and was either able to avoid attack or counter with one of its own.
Even that didn’t last long as the creature feigned an attack but at the last minute changed, ramming into the wolf’s side with a loud crack. The wolf yelped and slid across the ground but refused to stay down, thick brown fur caked with blood as it rose up on three legs while favoring the left front one.
Desperate but too far away to use his sword, Sam frantically scanned the ground, squinted, and caught sight of a rock nearby the size of an egg with jagged edges that pierced Sam’s palm as soon as he picked it up. With a grunt he pulled back and threw it as hard as he could. The creature stumbled in surprise as the stone struck it in the side of the head and the wolf reacted quickly. Darting forward with surprisingly agility for only the use of three legs, it clamped its jaws around the creature’s throat and dragged it to the ground. The wolf jerked its head side to side, blood splashing up onto its muzzle as the flesh gave away. The creature screamed, thrashed, and then was still.
After a moment the wolf jerked its head one more time then let the dead creature flop lifelessly against the ground. Slowly it turned and locked startlingly green eyes on Sam; the knight tightened his fingers on his sword and stared back. After a few long, tense moments, the wolf tilted its head slightly and flicked its tail, then snorted and limped off to disappear among the trees. Sam’s body sagged in relief.
“Brother!” Adam’s desperate call cut through the forest a moment before he and Gordon emerged in the clearing, the dead buck dangling from the back of Gordon’s mare like the prize it was. Adam froze for a moment when he saw Sam, then jumped down off his horse and ran to him. “Sam! Oh god, what happened to you?!”
“I would say that happened,” Gordon stated, pointing at the corpse on the ground.
Horrified, Adam stared at the creature then back at his elder brother. “What in heaven’s name is that thing?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t think heaven had anything to do it with it,” Sam replied. He used Adam’s support to stand and limp his way over to Impala. “Let’s get back to the castle before more of them show up.”
“Congratulations on killing such a foul beast by yourself, Sir Winchester,” Gordon said, and Adam tensed beneath Sam’s arm at the clear mockery enlaced in his tone, “though it was a close one, by the looks of you.”
“That’s enough, Sir Walker,” the prince growled. Only once Sam was on Impala did he turn, climbing back onto his own steed. “My brother needs medical attention, not your glibness.”
“Of course, Your Highness. My apologies.”
Healer Aerys was a kindly, gray haired old woman who had spent much of her adult life serving to the health of all who lived within the castle. She favored the use of herbs over the traditional leeches and blood-letting, her wrinkled hands surprisingly steady when she mixed roots and leaves together to create salves or potions to cure anything from pains to illnesses.
Sam spent the next couple of days in bed going in and out of consciousness as Aerys and Adam stood over his bedside. The creature’s blood had been a poison of some sort and Sam suffered almost constant fevers and vomiting in between both foul and sweet tasting liquids being poured down his throat.
Even through his haze of sickness Sam was aware of the Queen’s hostility every time she came to attempt to drag her son from Sam’s bedside.
“The healer is looking after him, Adam,” she said. “There’s no one better. He’ll be fine without you hovering over him day and night.”
“It’s my fault he was attacked, Mother,” Adam replied sadly. “If I hadn’t been so insistent on finding that stupid deer Sam would never have had to come after me.”
“It was a fine kill, Adam. A hunt worthy of a king.”
“I don’t care.”
Katherine sighed. “The truth is that if he were a true warrior he wouldn’t have been hurt so badly by one measly creature.”
“What’re you trying to say?” Adam’s voice tensed. “You didn’t see the size of that thing! Besides, Sam is my own blood. My best knight--”
“Who has a clear handicap. With only one eye he’s nearly useless, Darling, both to you and to himself. He could have been killed out there and then not only would you lose him as a knight, but also as your dear brother. Is that what you want?”
There was a long pause but as much as Sam wanted to protest, his exhausted body wouldn’t let him. If he couldn’t be a knight, the very thing he’d trained so long to be and had lost his eye over, then there was nothing else for him. In this life he could stay by his younger brother’s side and keep him safe. As anything else he’d likely be forced to live in the village as a merchant or something.
“Sam will stay with me as a knight,” Adam finally said, the sound of his hard voice holding no room for argument.
“If that is your wish,” Katherine replied tightly. There was a swish of fabric and then her quick steps from the room, the door slamming shut behind her.
Adam sighed and the bed dipped; soft lips brushed against the corner of Sam’s mouth. “She makes me so angry sometimes, especially when she tries to separate us,” he breathed against Sam’s fevered skin. “Mother thinks she can control me, but I am future king and my word is law. Not hers.” He shifted slightly and kissed Sam again, his time directly on the lips. “Come back to me, brother.”
Sam awoke a couple days later from a fading dream of wolves to find the sun streaming through the windows, bathing him in warm light. He turned his head to find Adam still beside him, blinking blearily and rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“You look like shit,” Sam croaked, his throat as dry as sand.
Adam laughed and retrieved a glass of water from the nightstand, holding it to his brother’s lips. “You’re one to talk, Sam. And you stink.” He sobered as he leaned back. “I hate to tell you this, but…”
“What? What is it?”
“Your amulet… it was lost in the woods. I’m sorry.”
Sam immediately looked down at his chest and his heart sank. The necklace had been black cord, worn and comfortable by age, and had secured a small, golden amulet in the shape of a head with horns. He’d gotten it from Sir Bobby Singer when he was nine, though the older knight had forgotten where it had come from, and was supposed to be a gift for Sam’s father. But Sir Jonathan Winchester had died before it could be given so Sam had kept it, telling himself that although John had never actually owned it, the amulet was still a connection between them.
Sam had never taken it off and now it was lost. He felt was though a piece of him was missing.
“I wanted to go out and look for it for you,” Adam said hesitantly, “but I wasn’t sure exactly where…“
“It’s better you didn’t,” Sam cut him off. “It’s not worth you being attacked by another monster.”
“It’s fine, Adam. It was just a stupid necklace.”
“It wasn’t stupid. It meant something to you.”
Sam looked up at his younger brother. “Your safety means more.”
Adam’s smile was bright and Sam took comfort from that, but he couldn’t help feeling like he’d lost a limb. He just hoped that if someone found it the necklace would find a good home. He didn’t want to think about it in some creature’s belly.
“Let me tell you a story.”
Sam laughed. “You’re joking, right?”
“Not at all. You used to tell me stories when I was stuck in bed as a kid.”
“I thought you told me I stink.”
“You do,” Adam smiled, “but you can’t get up yet anyway, so I might as well use my wonderful voice to distract both of us from your odor.”
Sam rolled his eyes and sat up against the pillows. He gestured for his brother to start. Adam made a show of straightening his back and squaring his shoulders, his hands rested on his lap as he cleared his throat.
“Alright, so this is a story about dragons—“
“Wait, wait. Is this the same story I used to tell you, that Father told me?”
“Yes, now shut up. You’re interrupting my artistic flow. As I was saying, this is a story about dragons that took place a long time ago. They were sensational creatures that used to roam the lands, owning the skies with their massive wingspans and the earth with their fiery breath. Humans were so in awe of these magnificent beasts that they began to worship them in the belief that they were living gods with the power to bring them succulent harvests every year. So they treated the dragons with respect and offered sacrifices of goats, sheep, pigs, cows and fish.”
Sam smirked. “Don’t forget horses.”
Adam made the same disgusted face he always did when reminded of that. “Yes, and horses, too. So impressed were the dragons with human loyalty that they started letting their guards down to become closer to them. There was one dragon in particular, Threa, whom allowed herself the friendship of a human man named Theon. Over time her feelings developed into love but she knew that as a dragon she would have no chance with him, and thus her feelings remained secret.
“Theon delighted in the days he would spend with Threa, talking to her about what was going on his village and listening with rapt attention as she spoke of soaring through the air and the ability to control flames. It was during one of these talks that he confessed to her about a beautiful woman named Sarah that worked in the local smithy who he had grown particularly fond of. Threa listened to the young man with feigned delight while her heart was breaking. So great was her fear of losing Theon if he married this woman that she took to the sky that evening and did not return to her clan, but instead traveled to the other side of the Dire Forest where she knew a demon of dealings dwelled. Dragons did not fear demons and knew that this particular one was said to make all sorts of pacts and deals, so Threa hoped that if she could get the demon to help her then perhaps then she could have Theon.
“But Demons also hated dragons and so this one wasn’t pleased to see Threa, turning her away. But the dragon would not be deterred.
“There must be something I can offer you in exchange, she pleaded. Ask for anything and I will make sure it’s yours.
“The demon was intrigued. You would give anything for the love of one measly human?
“Threa agreed and once again the demon told her to leave. However this time the demon instructed to leave not just the forest but the village behind for no less than three weeks, and at that time the demon would have the means to turn the dragon to human. But only on the condition that she told no one of the deal or it would be immediately revoked.
“Delighted, Threa did as she was told. She spent the solitude dreaming of Theon and the life they would have as husband and wife. When time was up, Threa quickly returned to the demon who gave her a foul-smelling potion stewing in a large cauldron.
“But what is it you want in return? Threa asked.
“The demon smiled. Nothing right now, dear dragon. The debt between us will be paid in good time. Remember though, that what is done with this potion cannot be undone.
“Skeptical as she was, Threa was too excited at the thought of being with Theon not to drink the mixture and after she did, her body shrunk and changed and before long she was no longer a dragon, but a slender human woman. She immediately raced through the forest and to the village, eager to find Theon and fall into his arms. However upon reaching it she found everyone in the village square attending a beautiful wedding. And there in the middle of it were Theon and Sarah, their hands clasped as they finished reciting the vows that would forever tie them together as husband and wife.”
Sam opened his eyes at the end of the story and looked at Adam. “Before Dad told me that story I always believed tales were supposed to end happily.”
“Me too,” Adam replied. “But it just proves that it’s stupid to trust demons. What bothers me is that the story isn’t even done. What happened to Threa? What was it the demon got in return?”
Sam shrugged. “Revenge. The story said that dragons weren’t afraid of demons and demons hated dragons, so the demon probably figured it would torture one instead by forcing Threa not only to lose her beloved, but forever taking her away from her own kind as well. Demons are always said to be sadistic and evil.”
Adam shuddered and climbed onto the bed next to Sam, then shifted to lie against his brother’s side. Sam’s arms immediately went around him like so many times before and together they watched the play of light across the floor as the sun moved across the sky.