Hello and Valar Morghulis to all our viewers at home.

We want to welcome you back to our final week of coverage and our recap of the Westeros Olympics. It has been an exciting festival of talent and competition this year. Isn’t that right, Chuck?… Chuck?

Hold on, I’m being told that Chuck died. The note I have just been handed says that he was crushed to death by a falling bell after the Sept of Balor exploded. A truly horrible way to go, for such a decorated newsman. Let us have a moment of silence, and now we’re back.

I would like to welcome my guest co-host for today’s report, Ser Bronn of the Blackwater. Welcome, Ser Bronn.

You can cut the Ser, shite.

Right, of course… And now let’s take a look at some of the best and worst moments of these games so far. And as always, if you have not  been keeping up with the games, we want to remind you that there will be spoilers ahead.

10. Opening Ceremonies

Of course, we can’t forget the opening ceremonies, the pageantry, the parade of houses, and the unforgettable national anthem. It was quite a spectacular event. Don’t you agree Bronn?

Oh right. My favorite part was when all those musicians stood up and shot half the Stark team with crossbows. It really was… what word did you use… unforgettable pageantry.

Yes, that was unfortunate, but the Olympic torch burned brighter than I have ever seen it…

Well, it helped that that red witch put that little girl in the flame. I suppose, at least her screams drowned out all the moaning of those dying Stark men. A truly magical event, I’d say.

9. Diving

Well, the first event at least was an show of true poise and grace. The diving event has always been known as one of the most elegant and impressive expressions of sportsmanship and craft that these games have to offer. Taking bronze in the event was team Stark, with a somewhat of a sloppy dive from their young contender Brann.

It looked more like he was pushed to me.

The things we all do for love, but it was nothing compared to the performance by Lysa of team Arryn.

Aye, her screams of terror where truly elegant and impressive. It’s a long way down from that moon door. I know.

That meant that gold went to young Tommen of team Baratheon. His dive was perfect, well timed and with out the usual flailing that you so often get in this event. The audience could not have asked for a better performance and the judges agreed.

It’s only a shame he didn’t actually land in water.

8. Winemanship

This year the competition has been fierce in the wining department. The two strongest competitors by far were Samwise of team Tarly and Viserys of the Targaryen. Now Daenerys, Visery’s own sister, appeared to be a strong contender ever since she lost her dragons, but she is a relative unknown, and quickly got left behind.

Then, old Sammy boy went and found his dragon glass if you know what I mean.

I do not, but that was enough for Visery to find himself on the winner’s podium in this Olympic Wine competition. This seasoned veteran spent most of his time complaining about his lost throne, making vague and empty threats against his sister, even as he was molesting her, and basically perfecting the art of being a complete and utter loser.

He was a dick.

That is why so many people were thrilled to see him finally get the gold. It was certainly a memorable moment when that molten metal was poured over him like the true champion he is.

7. Trial by Combat

Next up is everyone’s favorite competition of these Olympic games, because everyone always seems to request it. Yes, we are talking about Trial by Combat, something my co-host knows a little about. Our viewers at home might remember you from your performance in the Trial by Combat event at the last Westeros Olympics, when you soundly defeated Ser Vardis Egan. What an exciting match that was.

Exciting? I threw his shiny metal arse out into a hundred foot free fall.

Yes, but you got the gold.

Well I got the only gold that matters to me. The shiny stuff I can use to pay for drink and women.

Yes, well this year’s gold medalist was Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane. This giant of a man had his Lannister team worried for a bit as it looked like the underdog from team Martell, Oberyn, might walk away with the prize.

Ehh, that flashy pole dancer never stood a chance. All that jumping around and twirling. It looks good, but take it from me, that sort of shite is just a fancy way to die.

Well that is something that The Mountain certain drove home to Oberyn during their match.

Aye, he drove it home through his head?

6. Boating

Of course, the one event that people will be talking about for years to come with these Westros Olympics is the tragedy of the Boating competition. Stannis of team Baratheon looked like he had it all sowed up, but as we well know that was not meant to be.

Well it boats tend not to work when they’re o fire

Yes, it seems that due to pollution and flammable nature of the harbor Stannis’ victory was cut short, but it could have been worse. He could have caught Zika. So, by default the win went to the brother and sister team of Theon and Yarra of the Greyjoys.

I thought her name was Asha?

I don’t think it really matters. What does matter is that these two are making people stand up and take notice.

Aye, it’s a shame that Theon can no longer… you know… stand up and take notice.

A shame indeed, Bronn, a shame indeed.

5. Archery

One of the most traditional sports in these games is the Archery competition, and there have been many contenders in this category. Everyone from Joffrey of Baratheon to Myranda of team Bolton to those musicians who killed the Stark team. All have tried their hands at this event.

Aye, and most have died horrible deaths.

It does seem that if you live by the arrow than you die by the arrow, and that was certainly the fact for our bronze medal contender. Ygritte of the Wildling nation was a fan favorite here for a long time. She proved her archery skills by killing Pip a beloved friend of one Jon Snow, but he knew nothing about that. Unfortunately, she fell herself to an arrow by another contender, Olly of the Night’s Watch. The silver medal went to Ramsey of team Bolten for taking down a giant, but even that feat couldn’t  hold a candle to the gold medalist in this competition, Tyrion of team Lannister.

You got love that little sod. He pays well too.

Well a Lannister always pays his debts and he certainly proved that when he put one right between the heart of his father, Tywin. It was a moment that made the crowds cheer and question if killing someone on the toilet was going perhaps a bit too far.

I’d say that matters if they were done or not.

Thank you for that visual, Bronn.

4. 400 Meter Dash

There is only one name everyone is talking about in this event, Rickon of team Stark.

Poor little bastard.

As many of our viewers have pointed out on social media this scrappy Olympic Stark contender should have zigged when he instead zagged and paid the price in a heart breaking loss. It was a tragic end for this Cinderella story.

I mean c’mon. Serpentine patterns. Don’t they teach folks nothing up in those fancy castles.

Truer words were never spoken.

3. Pie Eating Contest

The pie eating contest is an honored and time-worn tradition of these Olympic games. For years the man to beat was the relatively unknown, Hot Pie.

I mean c’mon, it’s in the kids name.

True, but that was until this year when a new champion took home the gold, Joffrey of team Baratheon. He proved that no person out there could eat a pie like him.

Nor choke to death on one neither.

Sadly, during his gold medal attempt the young Baratheon boy choked to death on the very pie that won him the competition, turning as blue as the blueberries that were baked into the award winning pastry.

2. Scheming

This competition was neck and neck from the start, with Tywin of team Lannister seeming like the clear winner until his run was cut short.

Yeah, much like his shite.

Taking up his crown was his daughter Cersei, and certainly Eddard of team Stark would agree that she is a worthy opponent. Poor Ned finished dead last in this competition. It was the kind of performance where you just know heads are going to roll. Yet for Cersei, she found herself quickly faltering by making shaky alliances with religions and then resorting to naked terrorism in order to solver her problems.

Aye, but its effective.

True, but not the mark of a master schemer. Still, it was enough to land her the bronze in this Olympic event. The man known as Varys, on the other hand, showed that he is a master manipulator. He has expertly proved he could move pieces around the chess board whether they be Lannister, Targaryen or even Martell. Yet the silver medalist did not have the selfish ambition of our gold medalist, Petyr of team Arryn. Petyr, also known as Littlefinger, has proven himself a fierce competitor. He has plans within plans and even when his pawns think they have escaped his machinations they still find themselves calling upon him and his army of Arryn soldiers to bail them out of a slaughter at the gates of Winterfell.

He’s a prick.

Also true, but he is an effective one. It has earned him gold for now, but we’ll just have to wait and see if it ever earns him the iron.


One of the most exciting competitions to be held each Olympics is the riding competition, and I have to say Bronn that the Dothraki team made a strong showing. Many thought they would sweep this competition.

Well, they should. I mean they do everything but f**K their horses.

We’re on network TV, Bronn, not HBO. You can’t say those types of words here.

Well that’s just f**king perfect than isn’t it?

Unfortunately the Dothraki team was bested by none other than Daenerys of the Targaryen team. She has earned a gold medal that has been a long time in coming. For too long it looked like this girl was just going to live in obscurity, content to sit on the sidelines as the rest of the teams vied for dominance in this year’s Olympics. Up until this point many agreed that she has not living up to her potential.

Aye, but she is a cute little wench. I wouldn’t mind it if she rode me, if you know what I mean.

No, but it worth remembering that she is riding a dragon, Bronn.

I never said I was dumb enough to ask. I tend to like my girls a little less, fire proof.

Well that is all the time we have for you tonight. This has been the Westeros Olympics. So for all of us here in King’s Landing I am Mike Michelson here with Ser Bronn of the Blackwater wishing a good night and a safe tomorrow. If you missed any of the great events don’t worry we’ll be back in another two years for games such as Whitewalker Wrestling and Freestlye Wildling Skiing, because remember: Winter is Coming.

How do I keep finding myself in these blooming situations? thought Egan as he stalked carefully through the darkened trees. What am I doing here? I’m not anyone special.  Silhouetted by the moonlight he looked back on the road he had come. It was too late to turn back, too dark to even see the way home. His fate lay only ahead of him now.

Nothing more than a figure of shadow and fear, he gazed at the woodland around him. Every tree limb, every animal, any and every movement played across the young man’s doubts. Each rustle and crack became an imagined beast capable of devouring a man whole. Of course, that could very likely be my true end before this night has run out

Leaving the safety of the path for the greater concealment of the forest, Egan moved through the trees silently, navigating the treacherous undergrowth as only a practiced Heroner could. Growing up in the woodland village of Heron’s Haven the youth had learned how to move through trees, quickly and quietly, when the situation was called for and this one most certainly did. As children he and his friends often played hiding games among the forest, but always close to the village itself. To journey further had always been a child’s dare. Maybe that’s all I am, a fool kid who never grew to see the reason of his elder years.

In the forest there was one place none would ever go, a place all knew for its dangers. Not even the most foolhardy of village boys would journey so deep into the nightmare wood. How could a mere boy step foot where even his father dared not travel? Dark and villainous, I had become to be known only as The King’s Lair, and it was this very place where Egan now found himself.

Around him the vibrant life of the forest had grown dim. The triproot was much denser underfoot as if not an animal or other had passed through within recent memory to trample down the thick litter of the forest floor. All had known better, which meant he was face with the reality that he truly was less intelligent than a squirrel or racmonk.

As the brush became denser so did the treetops. Only a few shafts of moonlight managed to pierce the heavy tree canopy, providing but a brief glimpse of light every few hundred steps. It was a long journey through the blackness, and perhaps, the Pits of Death were darker, but at least there one could be certain they were already dead. In this place, Egan had not even the comfort of that certainty.

Eventually, even the darkest of journeys must end, and his concluded in a small clearing, a break in the shadow, where the cloudless night was allowed to bring its gentle glow to the land. Set inside was a great cave opening emerging from an even greater mountain side. Along the outer edge was a small stream, pooling at the foot of the mountain, and continuing on into the forest and untold places. The moon reflected off the rippling water trickling down from its mountain origin. For a moment, Egan stood taking in this little utopia buried among the nightmare of the surrounding forest. To one who had not known better it would seem an oasis of hope in a desert of darkness, but he knew better. This moment of silent observation was brief, for in this angelic place there existed a greater demon then any that had been conceived of by the mind of a slumbering man.

No sooner was Egan out of sight then did he hear the sound of wings. They were not the feathery wings of a bird. The sound was much crisper, like the snap of leather, but neither were they the sound of a bat. It grew steadily to a near deafening roar as the creature approached. The beast was larger in size, than any bird, any bat, or any man could ever be.

Egan chanced a brief look, as the creature crossed the moon. It circled once before easing into the clearing, its arrival announced with one last flap of great wings, and a massive thud that shook the ground. The breezed gusted as the creature’s landing stirring up loose leaves and tree branches all around him. Mammoth in size, it towered over the very treetops themselves, a terrifying sight, yet compelling. Like a man mesmerized by fire, Egan could not look away from the beautifully frightening giant.

The beast’s crystalline scales flared brightly in the moonlight, with an almost unnatural shine. Its head was arrayed with a crown of sharp horns, and a no better or majestic cap was ever laid upon a king of man then what sat atop that great beast’s head. It folded wings behind its back, a royal robe of scarlet leather and green crystal. The creature’s noble gaze slowly scanned its domain, searching for anything that dared to disturb its realm.

Egan caught sight of the creature’s eyes. They burned like the flame of death, but there was something more that he could not place, a spark deep within the flame, a mere hint of something concealed. Awe struck by this impressive monster he could do only one thing, think only one thought, say only one whispered word, “Dragon.”

The word, barely audible, snapped the creature’s head to rigid attention. Stupid, boy, he cursed in him mind. Egan flattened himself among the underbrush which no longer seemed as thick as it had a moment earlier. The great beast lowered his razor snout to where he lay, sniffing the air with nostrils larger than a man’s head and absorbing the smells around him, like a village dog on the hunt of dinner scraps. Is that all I am, all I was ever meant to be?

The youth’s hand fell to his hip, a sweat-soaked palm coming to rest on the hilt of his sword. That familiar weight was always an odd sort of comfort, like man bare and naked suddenly remembering his trousers. A good sword could make a man feel invincible, as if he could stand against any foe mortal or otherwise.

Egan’s fingers tightened around the hilt. He knew that the dragon was sure to find him now. The time had come to be weighed and measured, to move or die, but he he could not move. Something in him was compelled to inaction as if his muscles were suddenly stone.

Yet, the beast did not kill him were he cowered. The dragon backed his head away slowly, almost cautiously. Once certain of no movement the creature retired to its cave with not a second glance. Egan found himself alone and freezing, shaking in his cold sweat.

Regaining a composure he never had he reprimanded himself for his near fatal mistake, but he still dared not move. The night was suddenly open to him, every sight, sound, and smell were tangible. The taste of the crisp early spring air, the very distant sound of night birds, the feeling of noiseless wind on his face, the slight smell of sulfur, and below it all like a deep heartbeat, he could hear the breath of the dragon within the cave. For a very long time Egan listened with no nerve to move as the great beast settled and slept. Thoughts whirled through his head as he lay among the dirt and undergrowth.

*  *  *  *  *

It had been an unseasonably cold night for spring, but not in the Spitting Pig, the local tavern. Draen having finished his seventh pint had boasted he could kill a bear with his hands, and demonstrated it on Ferris who moments earlier had boasted to take any man. The Blacksmith brothers, Hector and Dorvin looked on laughing. Rathel watched quietly as he always did, never having much to add but enjoying the company. Egan, always the leader, egged the two on boasting that he could best them all. That was where it had begun and with the eyes of the bar mistress, Evia, whom no man could ever seem to form a proper sentence around.

The trouble thus began where it usually starts with most young men, women and pride. That was the night, while Daen and Ferris wrestled like drunken bears, Egan approached her. Slowly at first the conversation began, but with well placed laughs and compliments it quickly picked up momentum, much like Draen’s meaty hand had before it hit him unexpectedly. The whole tavern, the whole village laughed, especially Evia.

The larger man, having finished with Ferris, wished to test the claims of Egan and had struck, not hard, but enough to make the other feel a fool. That was when the simple yet dreaded boast erupted from his mouth. “I could take you. I could take the King if I wanted.”

“Could you really?” asked Evia with her eyes as much as her lips.

“He’s just fooling,” said one of the Blacksmith brothers before they both fell over laughing.

“I will,” said Egan as he stood. “I will kill the dragon.” With no more to say to the stunned crowd he walked out.

Even after he sobered up Egan was never one to back down from a challenge. His friends knew him and the strength of his words. They tried to talk him out of fulfilling his claim, but there was nothing to be said. He had said the words and put his solemn vow to it. Others may have saw it as foolish pride, but to him it was a matter of honor, at least what small honor the son of tanner could have. Even if he died he planned to do so with his word unbroken.

*  *  *  *  *

What if I don’t die? The dragon had failed to pick up his scent. The feared and ferocious King, talked about in the legends of his small woodland village was perhaps less than the god he was believed to be.

The stories had stretched back for generations, told from grandparent to grandson, down the lines. A great beast, an efficient and deadly hunter, and a monster that would devour anything unfortunate enough to run across its path, these were the stories of King the Dragon.

Perhaps long ago, but what of now? Could it be true? Could King be as old as to be feeble? Some believed that dragons were immortal, but Egan had begun to hope that those beliefs were wrong. So it was, from that small thread of hope, a gilded suit of courage began to be forged in his mind. What if King is much older then most people understand?

Suddenly, he was already feasting at his own victory banquet. The beautiful Evia sat upon his arm, the arm of a hero. She listened intently as he told the daring story of how he slayed the dragon for the another countless time. His name would become legend. The great celebration of his mind’s eye played before him until eventually he succumbed to slumber.

It was from this dreamless sleep that Egan awoke with a start to find himself staring into a great fiery red pupil centered among a golden yellow orb. Immediately, he pulled his blade clear of its scabbard and dove into the clearing away from the mighty beast. He hit the ground and rolled into a low fighting stance.

The dragon gave the rolling, jumping, jittery man a dispassionate eye. The great creature lazily turned towards him as the little man waved his sword around, like a twig in a driving wind. Raising his head to the moon, it gave a powerful cry that rocked the trees, shook the ground, and turned Egan’s very bones to porridge. All his high talk of honor and pride fell short of the actual danger he now faced.

As Egan’s nerve drained so did his color. With one mighty swing of the beast’s talon the pale youth’s sword landed several paces away with a sharp metallic ping as it became wedged in the trunk of a near-by tree. With the loss of that last symbol of courage his nerve finally broke, but it was too late. Every attempt he made to run the dragon was there, around him, ahead of him, behind him. He soon realized that the surprisingly nimble giant was herding him into the cave, into his very den. With no choices left to him, the man ran desperately into the dark mountain hole in hopes of finding even the smallest exit. Clawing futilely at the walls to no avail, he understood with a grim determination that he was trapped.

King entered the blackened cave, his massive shape silhouetted by the moonlight, blocking all light momentarily as he moved through its entrance with a cat-like grace. Egan considered hiding in the darkness, but when he caught sight of those flaming red eyes, he knew it would make little difference. They followed him warily, always on him no matter how he moved in that blackened cave. Suddenly, a flash of light and flame burst forth from the creature’s mouth. He cringed and awaited the searing pain that never came.

Opening an eyelid he found the cave basked in the warm glow of a fire. In its center stood a large pile of kindling cracking and spewing forth a flame that illuminated the bleak darkness. The dragon, however, was still staring at him. King sat for a long time, his eyes upon the young man, and after the great beast seemed satisfied with whatever private sentence he passed upon the invader of his domain, he moved slowly into a lying position, those scarlet eyes never once leaving Egan.

How odd to see a dragon lying down. After the shock of his initial fright, his fear-stricken-mind seemed to wander toward odder thoughts. Lying down is the sort of thing that seems very much out of character for such a great beast. Dragons were havoc and destruction, they ravage towns and steal maidens, but surely they did not lie down. It looks more like my old dog than any great specter of death. Yet he needed no more reminder of what the creature truly was than to look to its scaled and talon wings, folded along his backside. It was no domesticated pet.

This was how each remained for several arduous moments, but after a time Egan’s nerves began to calm. Not even the tightest of cords can stay taught forever, and the now overwhelming cold he felt was beginning to demand more attention then his residing fear. Slowly he approached the fire and sat down opposite the dragon.

“Are you comfortable?”

Egan jumped looking for the voice’s source. “Who said that?” He had hoped his own voice was not quivering too much.

“I did.” The youth turned his head settling it upon the dragon. “Yes, that’s right. I was the one who spoke,” said King. To see words pass from the lips of the great beast was almost too much, akin to watching a fish leap from the water and fly like a bird. “I take from that look you never expected to see a dragon talk.”

“What black art makes this possible?” was all the dumb-struck man could mumble.

“I know many languages. I talk to many different animals, even humans.”

“But you’re a dragon?” Egan stammered.

“And you are a human. You think yourselves far superior to all other things, and yet you, young one, had no idea that dragons had the ability for speech. Perhaps that makes you just a dumb animal.”

His words were not harsh, but King’s voice had a velvety quality to it. Words of stone were draped in a layer of compassion and caring. The words spoken were ones of a teacher correcting his student for a simple mistake. They were not the words of a violent being.

“In all the stories I heard about the great King, I never once heard about his being able to talk.” It was a thought spoken aloud more for Egan’s sake, but King could only shake his massive head as he considered it. Even such a slight movement seemed so human that it threatened to overwhelm the poor youth’s threshold for understand.

“How foolish are humans and their assumptions?” King turned his head to the cave entrance where a small figure, about the size of a large dog, was entering. It came around the massive body of the intelligent beast, to lie down near the fire.

A small animal, its scales were a more vibrant green then that of its larger counterpart, but the same burning bright eyes marked its origins clear. The horns on its head were not as developed, and its wings still seemed more slender in the comparison, but no mistake could be made. It was a baby dragon.

“Are you female?” asked the bewildered Egan.

“All dragons are one gender,” responded the larger beast. “Though I suppose the closest a human could understand would be to see us as female, but such a mark is not accurate. How could something be called day without night? It is another arrogant judgment passed upon my kind by the race of man.”

“Then how do you have children?” Egan hoped the question was not inappropriate, but his curiosity was suddenly overwhelming.

King looked lovingly at her child as the small creature drifted asleep, warm and safe by the fire. “All dragons are born with-child. We, however, do not lay our egg until a certain age. It takes a dragon egg ten summers to hatch. My child was born three summers ago. She is still very young. She cannot fly, and her flame is yet small. You see, young one, my only have one offspring. Every dragon in the world is only capable of bearing one child.”

“All this time, you’re not a King, you’re a queen,” said the man momentarily lost in thought. “Wait, if that is true then the number of dragons in the world could never rise.” Understanding began to dawn on his face.

The great creature nodded. “A dragon lays her egg toward the end of life. Once hatched, a mother has only about a hundred summers left of life. In that time she must raise and teach her child all which it must know. When the parent dies the child will take her place in the world. If a dragon is killed, not only does she die, but so does her lineage. Thus, forever will there be one less dragon in this world.” King’s eyes wandered toward the fire as if lost in some distant memory.

“I was always taught the dragons were immortal?”

King’s eyes shifted toward Egan. “To the butterfly, a tree is immortal. My kind is long lived. I myself have existed for over a thousand summers.

“I can remember when there were no humans in these woods. When I was much younger I caught some of the best prey where you village now stands, long before your kind came to these lands.” King smiled a little at the memory as it faded from her eyes. “No more. Your people have over hunted this forest. I am lucky if I can find enough food for a season anymore. I have to keep going further from my home, and my child, to find even meager hunting. Sometimes I resort to stealing one of your sheep or cows, like a common wolf, just to get any food.”

The dragon’s gaze hardened as her anger flared. “Man thinks only of himself. This is not your forest. You did not create it and you were not the first ones to inhabit it. You should learn to respect it, as all others do. You should learn take only what you need.” King’s voice grew to a roar and Egan once again found himself fearing for his life.

However, the dragon upon seeing how afraid the youth had become pulled her temper under control. “I apologize. Sometimes I forget myself and my emotions.”

“I think it is I who must apologize. I can understand how you must feel.” Egan relaxed again, but remained wary. “Why me? How come you didn’t just kill me?”

“You humans have begun to grow bolder. I used to go many summers without seeing any of the race of man. Now it seems every time I leave my cave, there is one here in hopes of receiving a new trophy. Most are men, grizzled by warfare and years of hardship. None listen to reason, and I wonder if anyone in the world misses them. You, however, are a child. You must be no more then 20 summers old?”

“I am 19 years old. A man by all rights,” he said defensively.

“Of course, but in my experience, youth means idealism. You are young enough yet to have your mind changed. I need one, such as you, who can speak on my behalf. One who can convince your race to stay away from my home and my child. Everyday now, I fear to go out hunting for food, and leave my little one alone. Yet, I have no real choice. It is either hunt or starve and she is too little to fly.” Her gaze moved to the sleeping drake curled by the fire. “I do not know what you can do, but I ask that you try.”

“Why not go yourself and plead your case? You can come with me back to my village.”

“To go to your home, would be certain death. Most humans do not even know dragons have to ability to speak. Before I could even utter a single word your people would try to destroy me.”

“But you’re a dragon. Surely, you could force them to listen.”

“You yourself are bigger and stronger than a hornet. Would you willingly put your hand into a hive? No, I am too old. It would be my death.”

The pair sat in silence for awhile. Each lost in their own thoughts. The young man stared into the flaming fire, before returning his gaze to the flaming eyes of the dragon. “How come you’re kind has never tried to talk to humans before?”

“How come you’re kind has never tried to talk to dragons before?”

“Fear, I suppose.”

“We are different, and differences breed fear, and fear breeds violence. I have watched you humans for generations. You war with each other unending, over your own slight differences. Your people would not hesitate to kill me for mine.”

“I suppose you’re right.” He looked outside the cave. The sky was beginning to redden with the first rays of morning. “The sun is coming up. I should be going.”

“Yes and thank you for listening,” said King.

Egan got to his feet. Dusting himself off, he walked near the dragon. “Thank you. I will try to tell them what you have told me. Farewell.” He walked out of the cave into the rising sunlight.

“Farewell,” followed the voice from behind him.

As he left the clearing Egan looked back to see the outline of King standing in the cave’s entrance. She was glowing in the morning light. He smiled to himself and plunged into the lightening forest.

As the sun continued to rise, the nightmare forest of the previous night no longer seemed threatening. In fact Egan was surprised to find that he was actually happy. Picking his way through the thick underbrush he forged on toward home, excited by the new things he had learned he could not wait to tell his friends.

He was not far along on his journey when he heard the great cry pierce the morning air. It was some distance behind him, yet clear. It brought back to him the frightful memories of the night before. With no thought he turned and started back toward the cave,, running, charging, tripping several times in his mad rush.

He knew what he would find in that clearing. The sounds of a battle could be heard ringing through the trees. Egan slowed as he approached. Panting from exhaustion he observed the scene ahead of him.

A group of five men were circling King their naked swords catching the growing rays of sunlight, but not just any men, they were his friends.

“Stop!” Egan yelled between ragged breathes as he broke into the clearing. No one heard or no one cared. In desperation he threw himself at the closest man, the wiry Ferris. Both tumbled to the rocky dirt.

Ferris’s stern gaze turned quickly to bright smile as he saw who it was. “You’re alive!” he yelled. “When you didn’t come back last night we came here looking for you. Then when we got here we saw your sword,” he pointed to the blade lodged in the nearby tree. “We feared you dead, but now you’re here.”

“So you don’t need to kill anything,” Egan said desperately.

“No, now we can all do it together. Think of it, Egan, we’ll go home heroes with the greatest trophy anyone has ever seen.”

“No, I can’t let you!” shouted Egan as he came to his feet.

“What are you talking about? Think of it, we’d be the men who defeated the mighty King.”

“No you don’t understand…” The man stopped at the sound of a scream, a human scream. Both men looked to see one of the Blacksmith brothers lying on the grassy floor, a deep gash across chest and stomach. Dorvin lay on the ground crying out in pain.

“No!” yelled both men in unison. Ferris left his friend’s side, and charged back into the fight.

“Stop, you all have to stop!” pleaded Egan but his appeal went unheeded.

Then his heart stopped as the baby wandered from the safety of the cave. Draen was the first to reach it, threatening it with his sword. King lost control of her temper and charged the man. As she flew at him, Hector and Rathel drove their blades into the soft underbelly of the beast. The noble creature cried out in pain as her side ran red with little streams of blood.

With a single breath the dragon let loose a ball of fire that consumed the offending men. The heat created waves in the air, blasting the sand underfoot to glass. Two lifeless charred bodies were all that remained of Egan’s friends.

Draen abandoned the baby dragon in favor of her mother, and lunged with his sword. Impressively he managed two quick cuts in her vulnerable area, but that was the last thing he ever did. With another breath of fire he too fell dead, cooked where he stood.

Ferris taking up the fallen sword of the now motionless Dorvin struck with twin blades. King slowed from her injuries was only able to block one. It went spinning away into the forest but not before its twin found its mark. Moments later Ferris fell nearly sliced in two from King’s razor sharp claw.

The clearing was peaceful once again. Egan could even hear a songbird singing. The transition had been eerily quick, chaos to peace. He looked around at the bodies of his five friends. The five men he’d grown up with, joked with, and cared about. Next his gaze fell onto the fiery red eyes of the great beast.

King wavered as she stood there in the morning air. Her breath was ragged and quick. She was in great pain. “I am sorry,” was all she said before she fell to the battle marred floor. It shook with the impact of her massive body.

He watched the creature for a moment where she lay, her gut rose and fell rapidly. Each breath was short and accompanied by soft groans. Walking over to her he could only think of holding her head. “No, I’m sorry. This is my fault. They were my friends. They came here after me. If I hadn’t come…”

“Do not blame yourself,” said King softly. “The fish does not know where the stream may lead him. It must follow and do what it can when waters become troubled.” The man looked into those noble eyes again. He finally realized what the spark was. It was intelligence and compassion. They were the eyes of creature who wanted nothing more than a quite life for her and her child. They were so human, yet somehow so much more.

A small figure emerged from its place of hiding, crying out as she saw her mother. The drake fell against her parent with a howl that told of true sorrow and pain. King spoke to her in a strange language of ancient growls and throaty rumbles. Perhaps, she was trying to comfort the small defenseless creature or to tell her something more, Egan never knew.

Looking back up at him, she spoke softly, “They were your friends and I know how much it must hurt. Know that I only did what I had to, to protect myself and my child. They arrived only moments after you left. As I said before, most humans do not want to talk. They just want blood.”

Egan just nodded.

“Now she will be without a mother. She will die unless someone teaches her how to survive.” Her words were strained, coming much slower.

He looked down at the little creature that was clinging hopelessly to its parent. “I will raise her. I don’t know what I may be able to do, but I promise you, I will try.”

“I know you will. I am at peace knowing you will be here. You are a very rare person, I think.”

“Don’t die,” said Egan, as if his futile plea could stave off the inevitable. Tears fell steadily from his eyes landing soft against the dragon’s emerald scales.

“I will not, as long as my child lives. Through her part of me will always be alive.” Her eyes began to grow distant. They gazed past the young man to something beyond. The noble beast took one last breath and was still. Her stomach ceased to move, and that spark of life and spirit left her great scarlet eyes.

Sensing the loss the drake gave a loud cry. Egan’s heart broke at the sound of it and at the loss of such a creature. Soon however sorrow became resolve. I will not allow this death to mean death for another. I will raise her.

*  *  *  *  *

Egan never returned to his small woodland village. As far as the people of Heron’s Haven knew all six friends had died that day, but all were too afraid to make certain. That was how they left it.

After he had buried the dead men, he burned the body of King. The flame rose white hot, as the dragon’s own inner fire mingled with the pyre that consumed her remains. He spread the ashes among the wind from a place higher up in the mountain. Everything was done with the greatest reverence. Egan was not just burying a dead beast, but a queen among the forest.

Appropriately he named the little dragon, Princess. The two lived together in the cave in the clearing. Each grew and aged as time went on, as did their friendship. Princess grew up strong and beautiful. She had her mother’s eyes.

Egan lived up to his solemn vow. He taught Princess to hunt, and talk, and even to fly. He protected her, raised her, and cared for as if she was his own child. He lived to be ninety-five years old, as if by some magic, and when he finally died Princess burned his body and scattered it among the wind to join the soul of her mother.

After his death the young dragon left the clearing and the woodland in search of better hunting grounds and maybe even others of her kind. She never did return to that forest, but she never forgot the man and all the lessons he taught her. He truly was a specual type of person.

One of our great modern adventurers once said, “It’s a dangerous business going out of your door. You step into the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” The name of that explorer was none other than Bilbo Baggins, and he is someone who knows a thing or two about dangerous and far-off expeditions. In fact, to a hobbit who is standing at the door of his comfortable and well furnished hole in the ground, a journey to the Lonely Mountain must seem as impossible as a trip to another planet.

2015 marks 50 years since humans have been exploring the red planet, Mars. Mariner 4 was the first human made craft to successfully approach the planet on July 15, 1965, giving humans our first real view of the Martian surface. Since that day we have been sending probes, satellites, and rovers, but we have yet to set our big hairy feet on the planet’s surface. This is the dream of space exploration, the golden ring that NASA and others are reaching for. Our precious. However, to achieve it we need to embark on a journey unlike we have ever undertaken. We will face goblins and spiders, there will be peril and discovery. Yet we cannot turn away, because the riches we will find will be greater than any dragon treasure or magic ring.

Riddles in the Dark
There are many questions we must answer if we hope to get humans to Mars, and not the least of them has to do with the distance. Any communication between Earth and Mars could face a delay of up to 40 minutes and that means if our astronauts run into trouble anywhere between home and that far off land there will be no eagles there to catch them. Self-sufficiency and training is going to be key. Right now the plans for sending humans to Mars calls for a six person mission. Each crew member will not only need to have a specialty, such as mechanical engineering, flight training, Elven archery, or medical training, but also a good amount of cross training as well, because if you only have one doctor and he/she falls to the Balrog what do you do then? Additionally, the distance means that the crew does not have the ability to resupply. Any journey between Earth and the red planet could take anywhere between 150 to 300 days, depending on how the orbits of Mars and Earth line up. Astronauts will need to take all the water, air, and food they need to survive with them. It is true that we can recycle water from human waste and oxygen from the air we exhale, but the return is not 100%.

Of course, bringing all this extra oxygen, water, and food adds extra weight, and we’re not even talking about hobbit-meals with the option for second breakfast. At the bare minimum, NASA estimates that a crewed mission to Mars would need to lift twice the mass of the International Space Station, about 1.76 million pounds (800 metric tons.) Even worse a need for back ups and secondary expendables like air filters and spare parts also adds more weight. These are the types of things that, if broken, the astronauts would not be able to repair on their own, and are mission – if not survival- critical.

Then of course there are the more intangible dangers, the subtle Sauron-esque black magics of the universe. Environmental hazards, isolation-based psychological issues, and possible long-term health problems. Mars is a lot like Mordor except instead of orcs and the Dead Marshes, you would probably be more worried about things like freezing to death or getting microwaved. In fact, the planet has an average temperature of about -75 degree Fahrenheit (-60 degree Centigrade) which is colder than the average temperatures in northern Russia. There is also very little protection offered from solar activity. Mars does not have a magnetic field like Earth and the atmosphere is too thin to breathe, let alone absorb UV radiation. Even the gravity can be a problem, being only 38% of Earth normal. When humans are exposed to weak gravity for too long our muscles and bones degenerate, growing weaker and atrophied. Astronauts on the space station exercise constantly to combat the effects, and even then they still come back and go through months of physical rehabilitation, so you can imagine what an extended trip to and stay on the red planet might do to the humans who undertake it. Combine all that with the isolation, possibly claustrophobic travel/living conditions, and constant danger and our astronauts are going to be have to made of mental mithril just to make it through one mission, which could last up to two years.

Barrels Out of Bonds
The good news is that, much like Biblo, we can handle the journey, even if we don’t realize it yet. Any adventure starts with putting one foot in front of the other and we have already been doing that for more than fifty years. Everything we have learned from the Apollo missions, the Mars probes, the International Space Station, and more are being applied to vanquishing these trolls. New technologies are being developed every day, nano-tech materials that are harder and lighter than anything we currently have, new power and engine solutions, and even renewable food sources. Some of our best and brightest are already close to making breakthroughs in several of these fields, and most top thinkers believe that we will have the solutions by the time we are ready to finally face down the dragon that is the red planet.

That is not to say we have been sitting around and waiting. We already have a lot of the answers we are looking for. First of all, no Mars mission will happen in one blast-off, which means that the weight can be distributed over several rocket launches and trips to Mars. Equipment will be sent ahead of the manned crew capsule and will be waiting for the astronauts upon their arrival. We even have techniques for possibly extracting air and rocket fuel from the Martian environment for the return journey. That means we can send a return rocket to the Martian surface and let it collect fuel and confirm remotely that it is working and safe before we ever even send any humans into space.

Secondly, NASA has also been testing the Orion capsule and the SLS rocket, both of which are on track to get humans to Mars by the 2030’s. The Orion capsule will hold a crew of six people but will need to work in conjunction with a larger trans-planetary vessel. The Orion is little more than a modern version of the Apollo capsule and it will be too cramped for six people to spend four or five months making the journey to Mars. After all, even Bilbo had more personal space with thirteen dwarves and Ian McKellen always hanging around on his journey. So a larger ship with room to move about and some personal space could go a long way to helping our brave adventures keep fit both physically and menatally. That vessel is still begin designed.

Over the Hill Under the Hill
Human beings have been obsessed with the red planet for as long as we have had the capability to look up into the sky. Mars has always held a special place in our legends and stories, and that is odd when you think about it. Mars is not the closest planet to our own, that is Venus. It is not particularly large either, at least as planetary bodies go. Yet, we have had an obsession with it for at least 120 years, when Percival Lowell first believed that he discovered the canals of an extraterrestrial civilization. Much like Thorin Oakenshield and his Lonely Mountain there is something compelling us to go, as if it was our destiny all along, but we still need to find the will to undertake this incredible endeavor.

Gandalf pushed Biblo Baggins into his journey because he knew he was ready. The hobbit was more than comfortable to stay at home and live out a peaceful, if uninteresting life, among the creature comforts of the Shire. Like Bilbo we too could stay on Earth, biding out time with iPhones and blackberry tarts with slabs of butter, or we can accept the calling that has been set before us. Gandalf recognized something special in the small hobbit, and though we may not have a wandering gray wizard to give us a kick in the right direction, this is an adventure we know we must undertake. We can feel its pull as keenly as Bilbo did.

Chalk it up to curiosity, stupidity, or the human need to explore, but Mars is the next logical step, and not just for NASA but all of us. We went to the moon with Apollo, to prove that one country was better than another. Now we need to go to Mars to prove that humanity is better than what we once were. The goal of any journey is the destination, but the experiences along the way are what change us. There will be challenges and hardships, triumphs and cheers, but if we choose not to take the road laid out before us we will regret it. The Bilbo Baggins that returned to the Shire was not the same one who left it. Like the hobbit, humanity will emerge from this great endeavor bolder, wiser, and with a new understanding about what we are capable of accomplishing. Watching members of our own species set foot on an alien world and shift the red sands of Mars will remind us of how small we really are and the amazing things we can achieve together.

On the Doorstep
We are going to Mars. NASA has the plans laid out, and have been underway with preparations for years. In our lifetimes we will see a human being touch the surface of another planet. There are still a lot of questions about budget and technology, but those can be resolved. Our science, our understanding of the universe, and even our drive have never been higher. The journey will not be an easy one, but the best ones never are. We do not yet have all the answers to escape the goblins and slay the dragons that lay ahead, but we will learn. Whether it be a magic glowing sword, or an answer for artificial gravity we will discover new solutions for whatever stands in our way, and we will be better for it.

We are not saying that humanity will change all at once, but it will happen. We have already come so far from the world that once sent three men to the moon, that one small step for man. It would be easy to rest there, to not push on. We have already reached Rivendale, a milestone in our greater journey, a place we could stop and say look what we have already done. Yet, we must once again set out into a cold world full of danger and possibility. Mars is the destination, and even that is just another step in some greater journey. Humanity will expand our reach to another planet and beyond, because that is where the road is leading and it is one we must follow:

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And [we all] must follow, if [we] can.

The men and women jumped around the blazing fire like wind sprites dancing near the spray of some great ship. They leapt and trotted to the song of the flute and the beat of the drum. The stars glistened brightly down upon the little party as the shadows of men and elves shimmered across the tree line. The flickering silhouettes, like shades of some elseworld, foreboding in their contrast to the happy party they reflected. Laughter and drunken talk echoed throughout the modest forest village and the smell of roasted meats and assorted foods wafted upon the air. The children, glad for a night without curfew, burst through legs and past dancers, running and teasing as they played and chased one another.

Page looked around at the gathering and could find none without a smile, almost none. The young wizard was perched on a large log carved into a bench meant for a man of smaller stature, but he barely noticed. He sat around the fire laughing at some retelling of a story they had heard a dozen times before. Others gathered around him watched the dancers or chatted lightly about happier times. The darkness of what was to come seemed forgotten to all, except for one.

To his left sat Carmithius looking uncharacteristically melancholy. The only one to take no notice of any of the merrier tidings. “Carm?” Page nudged his friend jovially, “Cheer up. You should be having a greater time than all of us. You’re home.”

The touch seemed to startle the elf away from his thoughts. “Oh, I am happy to be home, do not misunderstand that,” he started.

“But Carm has always had a tendency to be too serious,” finished the round and sandy-haired human sitting to elf’s left. He took a draw from his flagon.

“Yeah, ol’ Carm could depress an imp, he’s so gloomy,” laughed a second, noticeably quick witted elf, sitting nearby on a large flat rock. His human nearly spit out his drink to join in on the laughter.

“Justin, Flaksus, that is enough. Why don’t you two go check on my wife and the other cooks? See how the feast is coming,” said an older looking elf from the ground. He sat near Carm, long dark hair framing a content smile.

“Yeah I’m starving,” said John. The thief was idly fingering one of his daggers, a habit he performed only when nervous or drunk. From a look at him, Page guessed that it was the latter instead of the former.

“Yes, Master Taphitus.” Both youths stood and walked toward the cooking area.

“What troubles you my former apprentice?” said the old master once the other two had left the circle of light.

“I am not unsettled, master,” replied Carm.

“Carmithius Huntsman, I helped raise you. You are always unsettled.”

The old elf known as Taph let his gaze wander the revelry that surrounded them before bringing his eyes back to the forlorn Carmithius. “Tomorrow will come, and it may bring the darkness we fear or only another sunrise. Worry does nothing to stop fear or sunrises. Tonight is for celebration.”

“I do not fear the sunrise,” said Carm an uncharacteristic touch of offense in his voice. “My companions and I are prepared to face what is to come. That is not the source of my mood.”

“Then it is worse than I feared.” Taphitus Huntsman nodded and sighed. “I know you miss her, but your sadness will do nothing to change what has come to pass.”

“She was my mother and the last time I was home was the last time I saw her alive. I watched her die, murdered before me,” Carm clenched his hands at the last words, “right here in this very village. How can I not think of that moment as I sit here among all this happiness?”

“If it is foolishness to worry over the coming sunrise, than it is utter madness to lament the passing sunset.”

Carmithius took out a silver token that hung from his neck by a leather thong. It caught the light of the fire and flickered like a diamond in the night. “This is all that remains of her.”

“Untrue,” said the master huntsman. “You have your memories. Take it from an old man, who watched both you and your mother within your birth cribs, she is among us. Everything you do, everything you are, I see your mother’s hand in it. Her presence is now within you, and me, and everyone who was lucky enough to have known her.”

“Thank you, master.” Carm tucked the pendant back into his shirt.

“She is proud of you. I am certain of that. You have done great good in the land, and you have true friends by your side. Now you are home, but for a brief time, surrounded by friends both old and new. She would not have you worry. She would want you to feast and dance and enjoy the time that is left to you, because that is what she always did.”

“I will endeavor to be happier,” said the younger golden haired elf.

“Ye damn well better,” growled the dwarf that sat across the fire. “Ye know how much blasted trouble tha’ damn wizard went through to set this up.”

“Thank you, Bowen,” said Page surprised by the other’s words.

“Shut up, ye damned wizard.” He finished off his tankard and tossed it away with a satisfied yell. “More ale.”

“I wish you had not arranged this,” said Carm ignoring the dwarf’s outburst.

“You’re welcome,” said Page with a small smile. He had his own fears, which he dared not show. Their enemy was growing and there were very few places left in Allion to hide. Even at that moment he could feel the dark power as it searched for them, but its search would be in vain, at least for that night. Carm’s village was a sanctuary protected by old magic. Their enemy would not find them. At least, that was his hope. Outwardly, he just kept smiling.

Taph laughed, a twinkle of mischief in the old man’s eyes, “It is not everyday that a group of heroes comes to…”

Thak burst into the fire light, stumbling as he moved. He was panting heavily, his silvery hair drenched with sweat. The half-elf collapsed as if all his bones had suddenly given way. He landed on the ground between Taph and Bowin, almost spilling the dwarf’s drink.”

“Watch where ya going, ye silvery haired half-wit. Ye nearly spilt me ale.” Grumbled the dwarf with no hint of anger. In a moment it was forgotten and Bowen resumed his happy drinking as he watched the nearby dancers cavort around the flame to the sound of flute and drum.

“You have to go and dance,” panted Thak. “Its bags of fun.”

“Yes, I think you should go and dance,” said Taph with a knowing smile. “There is a certain maiden who has not taken her pretty young eyes from you all night.”

Page looked over to a group of young ladies, both human and elven. An attractive mousey-haired elf maiden batted her eyes toward Carm before she noticed the wizard’s gaze. The maid turned away, and suddenly the huddled group of ladies erupted in high-pitched giggling.

“Aria?” Carm said. “How has she been?”

“She has grown, and ever since you left on your grand adventures you have become her favorite topic of conversation.”

“We used to play together, when we were kids.”

“Aye, I remember,” said the old elf. “She has blossomed, and I am sure she would not refuse a dance with the great hero.”

“C’mon, Carm,” chided John, “It’ll be fun. You remember fun? Even Bowen is having fun, and that only happens when there’s a chance we’re going to die.”

“Keep up that kind of talk, thief, and there’ll be a good chance that one of us might die tonight,” growled Bowin with a smile.

“Fine.” said Carm, but it was already too late.

“Carmithius Huntsman,” said Arai as she approached the group. “You have been home since before sunset and you still have yet to say a word to me. Do I mean so little to you?” Aria was standing behind them, her gaggle of friends only a few paces off, just outside the circle of light. They whispered together like darkhawks perched on a branch together, making secret plans.

“Of course not,” stammered Carm as he rose to meet her. “I do apologize. So many people have wanted to talk to me since I got home, I am sorry that I did not come and see you sooner.”

“Sooner?” she said.

“First,” he corrected. “I apologize that I did not see you first.”

“Dance with me and all is forgiven.” There was no chance to refuse. Suddenly Aria had his hand and they were gone. Carm disappeared from the warmth of their circle with very little protest.

Page and the rest of the men laughed as Carm was dragged away, but then the hawks descended on them like helpless field mice. The girls appeared, a war party emerging from the darkness. Before they could move Page, John, Thak, and even Bowen found themselves being dragged after Carm and Aria.

“I am not really a good dancer,” protested Page to the pretty red-haired human girl that held his arm in her abnormally strong grip.

“It’s alright,” she said, “Just follow me.” She took him in her surprisingly firm grip and he found himself spinning around the fire with all the others. The world was a blur of colors, blues, blacks, oranges, and the wild red of his dancing partner’s hair.

“Let go of me ye daft banshee,” Bowin yelled as he went spinning by. The dwarf was at the mercy of a tall dark haired human girl who had the usually fierce warrior trapped in a mad twirl.

They danced into the night pausing only to feast upon all sorts of meats, vegetables, fruits, and pastries. Taphitus was right, the sun would rise and their trials and tragedies would be waiting for them. This night was a night for mirth and friends. By the end night even Carm was smiling, and for a moment the darkness was forgotten.