Deep under the fortresses that Arnulf the crusader was patroling an egg began to hatch. The strong brown stones of the fortress were ancient rock seated on a cliff.
The cliff face was assailed by wind and rumours of war parties constantly but night after night only the moon came to visit. No villagers remained by the walls and the huts had been torn down long before. The palm trees swayed gently as dust drifted past. The ramparts oversaw steep drops and dangerous paths, nothing else was left. The guards were a nervous lot. They were sick and plauged by fever dreams.
They were the ones slowing down the forced marches. All alone behind the stone walls they were terrified of both being discovered by another war party and of being forgotten by their own. They would survive neither. Their armours’ cold metal was harsh against their gaunt, pale skin and many slouching figures could be seen periodically shuddering.
After the scorching day came the unbearably night with a cold vengeance. The rocks used to build the castle, to build back it’s battlements and towers were old. Long before a spring ran through here and it had a different name. Pilgrims came for a different God, one that lived in the deepest valley, and built shrines and monuments in his name. Those structures were pulled down, those idols turned away and the carvings worn down to faceless figures piled up to make a rampart.
With old myths forgotten what hatched under the castle, deep in the well serving the sick had no name, no cause and no reason. In the moonless night an old Norman crossbow man was the first to scream when he saw what was in the bucket of water he was drawing. He slipped and fell right inside.
The castle was overrun with panic as everyone rushed to remove the sickly Norman from the water. Lamps were turned about in haste and something was seen in the water. Nothing came of this, except from curses directed at the Norman. He would not last long, not even in the minds of the party that set off abandoning the fortress after they saw it had taken away more than it was ever worth.
Arnulf’s lean figure grew in power as the crusader’s ranks and bodies thinned. He was sent to bury the dead in proper graves far away from those who did not want to be reminded of what awaited them. The castle grew quieter, the food went by faster despite the hungerless troops frozen in unease and the water, the water was worst of all metallic and bloody in colour.
A year had passed before the main host returned to the fortress covered in sand. No one remained but overturned graves and signs of battle. That night they met Arnulf’s dragon. Crocodilian in shape with a short snout, a scaly limless body that twisted and turned in the nature and speed of a snake. It had defended him as the guards turned on themselves, he nurtured it and it grew fast, the length of three men with the strength of ten.
It came on a moonless night when the troops were sick from the water and already dreaming of marching to Cairo. It came with all the uproar of a small skirmish, skattering troops, knocking over lamps and sending entire battalions lurching out into the valley looking for the ambush that had caused the chaos. While the troops tried to gather their skittish horses their lying eyes saw Arnulf’s dragon slither right out of the gate, he called for it from the valley, cursing and screaming in Norman, only worsening the uproar.
Brave knights charged in lamplight and were thrown by their horses. Their axes and swords were not made to hunt reptiles, their lances stabbed dangerously into the darkness where their comrades squinted. Quickly they cleared a path and the next morning at least 5 companies had slain the beast, then 10 and many more as the weeks past. The worm under the castle grew with every passing month as the crusaders marched further and faster from the path to Cairo.
For a few hundred years or more as crusader kings were annointed and dethroned, brave knights returned to the valley. Arnulf was never seen again but his dragon slew Knight after Knight till one had their vengeance. Again and the crusaders would return to be slain till they implailed the dragon with their steely lances. Yet with every crusade the dragon came again. Arnulf’s valley always took it’s toll.