Ecthion’s weary, armored hand placed his faithful sword on the stone parapet that stood before him. Its crystal blade that had sparkled so brilliantly only that morning was now caked with ash and gore.
From his vantage point atop one of the watchtowers, Ecthion could see the extent of the ruin that had befallen his beloved city. Tarocunion, once the greatest fortress of Men that had ever stood in the Lands of Niron, was broken. Its outer walls that had stood so formidably, circling the edge of the hill, had been thrown down mercilessly. The towers were crushed, forced to their knees by the heat of Dragonfire and the destruction of talons. Immaculate streets and citadels that had housed a proud, noble people were rendered to little more than shattered rubble amid mutilated fortifications. Even the pure, gorgeous white of the stone, which had been mined from the Mountains of Ilmara in the East and erected by the Dwarf Masters of said mountains, were mangled and scorched black with the relentless onslaught of Dragonfire.
Turning his stormy blue eyes to the lands outside Tarocunion, Ecthion’s gaze fell on the bloodstained carnage that was left from the battle that day. Thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, of bodies lie still on the grassy hill. The lush green of the long grass that had waved so welcomingly to them that morning was now marred a sickening red. Patches of it were scorched black or, in some places, still burning lazily with flickering tongues of fire. Ravens had already found the battleground and were descending on it anxiously in great flocks.
Beyond the edge of the hill was the Great Wood.
Ah, yes, thought Ecthion fondly. The Great Wood stretched nearly the length and girth of Niron and had been the refuge of Ecthion’s people for so many nights as they fled from the Dragons. Its vast green canopy had hidden them from the prying eyes of the Dragons and offered them protection from the elements for many months.
He could remember the days before the Scourge when the Kingdom of Men had been at peace. At night he would come out of his chambers and walk the walls of Tarocunion, looking out lovingly over the edge of the Great Wood. Its timbers had been a rich dark brown that gave life to the tremendous treetops of countless gorgeous green leaves that had shown golden in the afternoon light.
But no more. The powerful trees had been broken down, uprooted, and burned in unquenchable flames. Their timbers were splintered embers, scattered across the disfigured forest floor. No leaves had survived the bath of fire which had flowed over them, instead replacing them with heaps of ash.
It was here, in the marred edge of the forest that what remained of the Kingdom of Men had camped. They were meager in number, only forty or fifty thousand in the most optimistic count, huddled together in a sickeningly pitiful camp that was their only refuge for the time being. A small trickle of people had begun to make their way up to Tarocunion for the first time in over two years, but it offered them no welcome. Its warm, defending aura had been corrupted by the Dragon hidden within it until it was little more than a cold, looming structure of stone and masonry atop a desolate hill.
These first few that climbed up the hill toward their last hope of a fortress were plagued by the sight of their fallen. More than several stopped along the way to weep for the lost, the sons, brothers, and fathers that had been struck down in their struggle for the city. Ecthion was painfully aware that nothing could be done for these heroes that deserved the burials of kings, but would get that of criminals. There were not enough hands left to burry all the slain. Perhaps some might find peace beneath the ground should they have families that cared for them, but many were scorched or mutilated beyond recognition.
Ecthion’s thoughts were interrupted by gentle steps up the stairway that led to the parapet on which he stood. Turning, he saw the form of one of his captains, Jethro. The young man had suffered burns along the right side of his face, which had begun to blister, but otherwise was untouched. He, along with the few others in his condition, had seen to directing of the people and the healing of those who could be saved, of which there were not many.
“Sire, the perimeter is secure,” he said in a raspy voice. “We have given the order that the people enter the city, if they wish. Night will be falling soon and it would be best if they were not in the open when it did.”
Ecthion nodded his consent. “A sound conclusion. Are there suitable dwellings for them?”
Jethro nodded, but flinched as his burned face and neck moved. “Aye, though many of the houses on this side of the city are destroyed, much of the other side remains in tact. As for the eastern half....” his words hung stoically, but Ecthion understood. The body of the Dragon had not yet been removed from where it was struck down in that part of the city. In fact, the question remained as to whether or not it could be moved. For the time being it had been decided that they should leave it be and do their best to keep the people from it.
“Very good,” answered the old king. His gaze returned to the few climbing the hill and his heart cried for them. They had lost everything. Nothing was left to hope for other than the pursuit of simply living. In time, perhaps, they could repair Tarocunion, but it would not be for many, many decades, if ever. Jethro’s gaze followed his silently and together they watched the people for several minutes.
“Why did they do this?” Jethro finally asked. “Why did the Dragons attack us?”
The same question had been haunting Ecthion from the very moment he had seen one of the immense serpents flying over the fire-lit horizon. Why had they come? The Dragons had attacked without warning, flying on the back of an icy gale over the arctic North Peaks against the Kingdom of Men. Their fire had not left any mile of Niron untouched. After the Men fled to Ilmara in the refuge of the Dwarf fortresses, the Dragons had gone West and crush the glorious kingdom of the Elestil, or Elves, as the Men called them. Ecthion remembered with chilling vividness the day they had seen Queen Caitylia leading her group of refugees toward the steps of the Mountains and the despair he had felt knowing that the Dragons had destroyed another kingdom, a kingdom of Elves no less.
Then there was the day that the hosts of the Dragons had come against Dwarf King Orthgrund’s stronghold. The sky had darkened to the point the sun was blotted out as the waves of Dragons came against them. For three days they had fought for the survival of the people of Niron. For three days they had suffered the weariness of battle and the pity of death. For three days they had struggled against the hosts of serpents. When at last the smoke cleared and sound of battle dispersed, they had reigned victorious, but at what cost? Both Orthgrund and Caitylia had been slain defending their people. The Elestil were a nearly extinct race, doomed to be wanderers in the land of Niron without queen or kingdom. The Dwarves were filled with despair and resentment at their king’s death and had retreated under the mountains of stone into their tunnels.
And at our return, we find our greatest fortress ruined at they hands of yet another foe, Ecthion thought bitterly. When all seemed finally at peace, we were doomed to one last terrible battle.
“I don’t know,” the old king murmured. The words stung him, but they were indeed the truth. “I don’t know what drove them to come against us. Perhaps one day we will learn.”
Jethro nodded solemnly. Ecthion didn’t hear his steps as the captain descended back down the stairway. Drawing his finger across Erogrund’s blade, Ecthion cleared away the grit and grime, revealing the sword’s gorgeous crystal face. Perhaps one day. But, god be with them, I hope they never have to. The king smiled sadly. He wrapped his hand fondly around the hilt of his sword that had now slain so many Dragons. They may need a sword, Erogrund.
In time the blade of Erogrund became an heirloom of the House of Ecthion, but this House could never restore itself. The corroding of despair ate at the hearts of Men like a raging river breaking down its dirt banks. The Old Days of Men never returned and instead the City of Tarocunion crumbled into ruin and disrepair. The House of Ecthion dissolved and Erogrund was lost in the storms of confusion and war that were ever present among Men of Niron.
No city rose in glory or grandeur in Niron. No great Kingdom formed in the place of what had been lost at the hands of the Scourge of Dragons, but instead small settlements of Men fought merely to survive the hardships of life. Bandits and mercenaries were the only powers in the land that terrorized and tormented by their ruling.
It is in these days that the tale of the Blade of Erogrund was brought forth.