For centuries Gwernath had pillaged villages up and down the coast, damaging crops and plucking the farmers’ prize livestock right out of their fields. In a futile attempt to appease the beast, the inhabitants of Ribblesthwaite had decided to offer up one of their purest, most innocent offspring, just after dawn upon the first day of each new year.
This year, however, the village elders had stumbled upon a serious problem. It appeared that there was not one single young women of appropriate age who was as pure or innocent as her predecessors had been.
After considering all possible options, and in the spirit of gender equality, the elders prayed that an unblemished male sacrifice might prove an acceptable alternative.
In the early morning hours of the first day of the new year, the villagers made their way to the furthest end of the headland, overlooking the turbulent sea. There they would pay a silent and watchful homage as Drew, the youngest son of Arthur the Stonemason, would give up his life to protect those of his neighbours.
“Ouch!” Drew squirmed as the rope wrapped around his wrists pinched his skin.
A voice like a rusty saw came from behind him. “Stop whining, Lad, and hold your hands still. I’m almost done.”
He leaned back against the lichen crusted pillar as his father tightened the last knot. A heavy hand squeezed Drew’s bare shoulder in a silent farewell before the shuffling footsteps faded away. Arthur the Stonemason then merged into the shadowy circle of witnesses beyond the firelight; never once challenging why his son must die.
The waves dashed against the granite as Drew licked the salt that had dried upon his lips. He wondered whether they’d chosen this particular spot to season the previous victims as they awaited their fate. He shivered against the damp stone, ignoring the almost celebratory mood surrounding his family. Drew couldn’t resent their cheerful willingness to watch his final moments. He had three older brothers. Drew’s death would mean one less mouth to feed. Besides, his selection was pure luck; a simple drawing of straws.
It wasn’t personal.
Drew took a small comfort from being the first male sacrifice in his village’s history. At least they might remember his name, unlike the countless female victims who’d occupied this same stake over the centuries. After a while, they’d all looked the same. The glimpses of their pale, bare flesh between thick ropes. The terrified screams as Gwernath appeared around the headland.
The eerie silence as it devoured them.
The girls had always covered their modesty with their long silky hair. Drew’s auburn curls brushed his shoulders but did nothing to stop him feeling exposed and vulnerable in front of those who came to witness his death. In his younger years, full of spirit and curiosity, he’d regretted not having a better view of the sacrificial virgins. Today, he preferred to watch the crashing waves and listen to the gulls screeching overhead. Anything to take his mind off his short but grisly future.
His father had claimed he’d brought this doom upon himself. He couldn’t argue. If Drew had spent time chasing girls, like his brothers, and less on his stone carving skills, he wouldn’t have been eligible for the sacrificial pillar this morning. It was a shame no girl ever caught his eye. He appreciated their pretty faces, willowy waists and trim hips, but he’d never found any of them appealing.
Of course, in hindsight he shouldn’t have been so picky. One quick tumble in the hayloft would have spared him this humiliation.
A thud, like the beat of a leather drum, drew his attention to the craggy rocks jutting out into the turbulent sea. Any moment now, Gwernath would glide around the point, its wings stretched wide as it came to collect the yearly offering.
Drew’s legs wobbled and he clamped his teeth together, determined to hold his head high and die like a man.
History would remember him as the best damned virgin sacrifice the village had ever offered.
Thunder crashed over the hills as the massive bulk of the dragon came into view. Drew had always marvelled at the sight of its silver grey scales glinting in the rising sun. He found the image no less impressive this morning with an unobstructed view. As the beast hovered above him, the powerful draft of air whipped Drew’s loose curls into his eyes, blinding him to his terrible fate.
Eyes closed, he imagined the dragon’s hot breath as its ravenous maw came ever closer. Would it roast him on the pillar? Bite him in half? Swallow him whole to melt in a roiling sea of bile? Those mental images sent cracks through what was left of his sanity and Drew yanked against his bindings. He twisted his wrists, hoping to loosen the knots, and thrashed his head from side to side, the terror stealing his breath away. A bloodcurdling scream might have relieved some of the dread building in his gut, but he didn’t have enough air left to vocalise the panic that coursed through him.
Then the pillar shook as Gwernath landed, sending dust and small pebbles swirling into the air like mist. Drew screwed his eyes tighter.
This was it. He would die now.
After the next breath.
Nothing happened. Drew opened one eye, then the other. His gaze rose to the massive head of the beast not five feet away. Gwernath’s massive brow ridge crumpled, and its huge golden eyes gleamed with curiosity.
Dragon and youth stared across the rock. Drew counted twenty rapid heartbeats. With every contraction in his chest he expected the monster to pounce, tear, rend and devour. When the creature finally shifted, Drew tensed. Something moved behind him, grating against the stone. The ropes loosened and slid to the ground.
Drew sank with them.
Gwernath wrapped three giant claws around Drew’s waist, squeezing his insides. He’d imagined many endings, but death by squashing wasn’t one of them. As the dragon vaulted into the air its grip tightened, leaving Drew unable to breathe.
Ah, blessed suffocation. Considering the other options, it wasn’t a bad way to die.
With his eyes still closed, Drew might have been floating up to heaven. Only the heavy beat of the Dragon’s wings told him he was still alive, and still in danger. Why wasn’t he barbequed virgin already?
The sounds around him changed. He no longer heard the crash of the waves, or the beat of the wings. They were gliding in complete silence. Then everything went dark and Drew plucked up the courage to open his eyes.
Stalactites hung from the roof of the massive cavern, the dimensions hard to judge as darkness swallowed the jagged formations. The dragon lowered him onto a smooth plateau, some twenty feet above the floor of the cave. The constricting claws retracted and Drew sucked in a lungful of cold, clear air. It smelled like seaweed.
He lifted himself onto his elbows and looked around. The dragon sat at the back of the plateau, its attention fixed on Drew. He recognised the hunger in its eyes and hoped Gwernath wasn’t saving him for supper.
Fog swirled from nowhere, obliterating the hulking beast from view. When the mist cleared the dragon had gone, leaving behind a tall human figure in its place. He stalked across the rock, towards Drew, like a cat hunting a mouse. Small silver scales covered his skin, giving him a reptilian cast, but his form and countenance balanced this with such masculine beauty and grace it rendered Drew speechless. As impressive as the dragon had been, Gwernath made a stunning human.
Drew rose, appreciating now why he’d never found any of the girls attractive.
A smile grew on Gwernath’s lips as he offered a hand to his victim. “At last. After three hundred years, I’d almost given up. I thought your village would never understand.”
Clearing his throat, Drew swallowed. “Understand what?”
“The only thing those women were good for was breakfast.”
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The Last SacrificeShort Story
Why should the girls get all the worst jobs? When the village of Ribblesthwaite runs out of female virgins to sacrifice, it embraces gender equality to appease the wrath of a hungry Dragon... A Fantasy Parody in 1,300 words.