Oswin, Iriel, and the Dragon of Lost-Bones Mountain (Excerpt taken from “The Age of Heroes: A Collection of Legends” by Professor Clifton G. Weste at Universitas Ariaslandis.)

2023 Barrett Winner

1st Place Kathleen Majeska

Once upon a time, there was a mountain that had existed since the formation of the world. It was twice as ancient as its brethren in the west, who teemed with both human and nonhuman life, and by the time written records came around, the mountain was either a footnote or an unsolvable mystery. This was for two reasons, the first of which being the bones that lined pathways worn down with constant travel and age, and the second being the dragon.

Sometime, long after the macabre trails were made, a dragon moved into the cave systems of the mountain. The dragon did not hoard gold, and it certainly didn’t kidnap maidens. Only about one in every five dragons fit the stereotypes. However, the dragon lived in the mountain, and when humans moved in at the base they were greeted with a rather rude awakening when their livestock was eaten, and their houses torched.

Humans and human-adjacent beings are some of the stubbornest creatures to walk the earth. They rebuilt their town and raised soldiers from their ranks to guard against the dragon. They built walls and towers, and every few nights when the dragon came for a snack, they engaged in fierce battles that did more harm than good. Thus, the dragon of Lost-Bones Mountain became a serious problem, and the people turned to the mayor of the town for a solution.

The mayor knew that any fighting done in the town itself would lead to more destruction, and though they had been lucky so far, people might not escape with their lives. He asked the new regiment of soldiers to climb the mountain and face the dragon. The soldiers, who were not being paid nearly enough money for the fighting they were already doing, refused vehemently. With no one else to turn to, the mayor sent out a plea for heroes to all neighboring towns and cities.

The Age of Heroism was defined by random acts of good in a largely ungoverned world. Individuals often blurred the line between bravery and stupidity, breaking curses, saving royalty, and- perhaps the most impressive feat of all- slaying dragons. The mayor’s plea attracted many amateur heroes, all searching to prove themselves and join the ranks of those whose names had already passed into legend while they still drew breath. They climbed the mountain, walking the bone paths that had existed long before both the town and the dragon had moved in, and they searched the caves for the foul beast they had come to slay.

No heroes returned, but the dragon stopped coming down to eat the livestock. So, the mayor kept sending out requests for heroes, and every week new heroes would arrive. They’d go up the mountain and never come down, and the town was safe. In a twisted way, the heroes were doing exactly what they had set out to do. It was their sacrifices that kept the houses intact and unburnt, and the livestock from being digested. One day, two new heroes wandered into town and declared that they would slay the dragon and claim the reward money the mayor had promised. The mayor gave them his customary warnings and sent them on their way, sure that the dragon would eat them.

These were no ordinary heroes. The boy, a mere nineteen years of age, was a fisherman’s son from a sleepy little village on the banks of a great lake . His name was Oswin, and he had trained from a young age with both a harpoon and with the village sorcerer, a woman who had seen the gift of magic in him and taught him how to use it. The woman was an elven adventurer, only one hundred and twenty-three years old, as elves don’t reach adulthood until their hundredth birthdays. She was Iriel, an archer whose arrows never missed their mark and whose hands never shook. Iriel and Oswin had met only a few months before in a tavern, where Iriel promptly beat Oswin in a drinking contest and in the morning as they nursed their separate hangovers, they decided to join forces in their shared quest to become heroes.

So, Iriel and Oswin went to the butcher’s shop and bought as much meat as they could carry. They brought it up the mountain and tossed it into the cave before hiding. The dragon, who had been quite glad that its relationship with the humans below had been turning around ever since they started sending it sacrifices, simply saw this as another gesture of goodwill. It ate the meat, which had been laced with a sleeping draught Oswin and Iriel had carefully brewed, and once the dragon was asleep, they snuck into the cave.

Unfortunately, sleeping draughts meant for humans had very little effect on dragons, and the dragon woke up to Oswin and Iriel debating the best way to kill it. Realizing it had been fooled, the dragon decided to eat these humans as well, more out of spite than anything else. Oswin and Iriel barely had time to dodge before the dragon was scorching the place they had been standing. Iriel fell back behind a stalagmite for cover as she nocked an arrow, as Oswin charged at the dragon with his harpoon at the ready and a protection spell already halfway out of his lips. The dragon slashed at him, its claws glancing off the protection spell, which shuddered in place but held firm enough to keep him safe. Iriel fired her first arrow, hitting the dragon’s paw that was coming down for a second strike. The dragon reared back at the sting, and Oswin took the opportunity to drive his harpoon into the dragon’s other leg. In return, the dragon whipped its tail around and Oswin, who refused to let go of the harpoon to dodge, went flying. Iriel emerged from her hiding spot once more to distract the dragon as Oswin got back up, shooting at the dragon’s face. Though the arrows were tiny in comparison to the dragon itself, any that didn’t bounce off its scales were quite infuriating, and the closer the arrows got to its eyes, the more worrying the elf with the bow became.

The dragon decided to get rid of Iriel first. It opened its mouth, the tell-tale glow in its throat warning her that she was about to be reduced to ash, and then an arrow pierced its tongue. The dragon snapped its mouth shut at the pain, huffing smoke from its nostrils. These humans were much pointier than the others had been. In its haste to stop Iriel from pelting it with arrows, the dragon had forgotten all about Oswin. He had slipped around behind the dragon, his presence only becoming known once more as he hauled himself onto the dragon’s back like a particularly annoying flea on a dog. The dragon attempted to turn around, snapping its jaws as Oswin stayed just out of reach. He called out another spell, and suddenly the arrows weren’t the only thing raining down on the dragon. It raised its wings to protect itself from the hail coming out of thin air above it, and as it swung its head around to get a better angle to bite at Oswin, Iriel managed to get an arrow right in its eyes. The dragon had been roaring before, but now it was screaming.

Oswin used the distraction to get to the dragon’s unprotected neck, attempting to reach around to the front and stab through. The dragon flung him off, but the harpoon stayed in. Half-blind and battered, the dragon made one last desperate attempt at roasting these intruders alive, but Oswin and Iriel stayed to its blind side, and as it lowered its head to send fire sweeping across the cave floor, they both grabbed ahold of the harpoon and pushed it upwards. It sliced through veins and arteries , and when they pulled it out, the dragon’s legs gave out. It couldn’t manage a last cry, as the damage was too great. Death came quickly, and the great dragon of Lost-Bones Mountain was no more.

Oswin and Iriel came down from that mountain with the dragon’s head and left the town that evening with bags of gold that the mayor really couldn’t afford to give away. No dragon would ever move to Lost-Bones Mountain again, and eventually the bones would no longer be considered lost, as an ancient temple to a long-forgotten god was discovered at the peak. The mountain was a graveyard, not just for the dragon that had once called it home, but for the people who had laid the bones of their loved ones along the paths to guide them to a place to pray for the deceased.

Both the town at the foot of the mountain and Oswin and Iriel would eventually fade into relative obscurity, as people and places in legends are wont to do. The fame that the discovery of the temple had brought was only temporary and couldn’t keep the town afloat after Iriel and Oswin had left with most of its treasury. As for Oswin and Iriel themselves, eventually they would disappear, and a new age would be ushered in where magic was regulated. There was no need for heroes anymore, and the do-gooders of the past became less inspiration for other aspiring heroes and more tales to tell children at bedtime.

Once upon a time, however, anyone could be a hero. There was no better proof of this than Iriel the Fair Folk archer, and Oswin, the fisherman’s son.

1. Dragons were hunted to near-extinction with the creation of the Council of Magic Regulation in 631 P.V. (Pazhanum Verch, the End of the Division). There are no known dragons residing in the wild (See “Zoology of the Ancient World” by Dr. Edgar Ready).
2. See “Blurred Lines: The History of Fair Folk and Human Interactions” by Jolene Wallis Blythe.
3. Following the final stabilization of magic in formerly Ordinary communities, circa 542 P.V.
4. There is no documentation that can be used to trace Oswin back to any village, and many scholars such as the High Priest Cato (1029-1103 P.V.) believed the village and lake in question do not truly exist. Elder Audric of the Council of Magic Regulation insists that the village in question once existed on Lake Nostos in the historic kingdom of Arete. Archaeologists have yet to find evidence of any settlement in that location.
5. Accounts of their first meeting vary, but whether Oswin approached Iriel or Iriel approached Oswin, the drinking contest is largely regarded as historical fact.
6. It is widely believed that the fight has become dramatized over time. It’s very unlikely that Oswin and Iriel were able to get close enough to the dragon to slice through its neck, even with it being half-blind. Elder Audric of the Council of Magic Regulation is one of the few authority figures who disagrees with this.