It was seven years ago, in the Alterac Mountains south of Strahnbrad.
“Ye can’t, I dunno, magic up somethin’ to take care of them?” Ringo Flinthammer asked, taking another gulp of beer and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“What are you, simple, rookie?” one of the other dwarves snapped.
“Sigrun,” the older dwarf sighed, holding up a hand to calm his apprentice. “Ringo, that’s not how enchanters work. We’re no more mages than you are.”
The group chuckled a little at the notion of dwarven mages.
“But the answer is, no, I don’t know any formulas that would let us take out a whole nest of dragon whelps and skeletons before we even reach our quarry.”
“That’s what we hired you boys for,” Sigrun growled. “This outfit is called the Dragon Hunters for a reason.”
“Aye,” Ringo nodded. “Right enough.”
The other three riflemen nodded. Like Ringo, they had answered an ad posted on a notice board in Thelsamar. For veteran hunters like them, dragon hunting had sounded like fun, and a new challenge after endless boars. Sure, they might have to dodge brigands, but human lands always had as many bandits as a dwarf has whiskers. Everyone knew that.
“Someone’s coming,” said another of the riflemen, getting to his feet, looking out across the meadow. “Humans. Bloodhill Bandits?”
“Nay,” said the senior dwarf, “Not with that warhammer. By Magni’s beard! That beardless pup … Mind your manners, boys.”
The blond figure dismounted, the sunlight turning his hair into a halo, something Ringo suspected the young man had practiced countless times for just this sort of effect.
“Well met, good human!” the dwarves’ leader said. He bowed, much to Ringo’s displeasure — Arthas wasn’t their prince. “Have you come to join in our hunt?”
“What are you dwarves hunting in this region?”
“We’re hunting black drakes. It’s said that drakes’ blood can bestow fiery enchantments upon weapons.”
“The fiery enchantments you seek could prove useful,” Arthas mused.
Ringo was about to open his mouth to reply, when Sigrun shot Ringo a “don’t say anything stupid, or you’ll get a smack in the kisser” look.
“The name of the beast we’re hunting is Searinox,” Feranor continued. “With your aid, the monster won’t stand a chance!”
Arthas nodded at this, and gestured Feranor toward him. The two spoke in low tones, with the knight pointing through the hills toward Strahnbrad.
“Sigrun, this human wants the enchantment fer hisself!” Ringo hissed. “He’s not me prince; let him kill his own dragon!”
Sigrun cuffed Ringo’s ear sharply.
“Boy, he’s Silver Hand. We can trust him.”
Within the hour, the Dragon Hunters stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Arthas’ footmen at the mouth of Searinox’s cave. Well, four of them: Feranor and Sigrun had stayed at the abandoned smithy (the rest of the buildings around it had been burned to the ground by bandits some time ago) to prepare the enchantments for the prince, should the group succeed in their raid on the dragon’s lair.
Arthas Menethil, Prince of Lordaeron and Knight of the Silver Hand, glanced at the group around him, nodded to himself, and pointed with his mighty warhammer at Searinox’s cave.
“FOR LORDAERON!” he roared, charging into the cave, his footmen following behind, their armor clanking as they ran.
“Bugger that,” Ringo muttered to his companions. “FOR KHAZ MODAN!”
What the Dragon Hunters couldn’t do alone was easy, following in the wake of Arthas and his men. The dwarven riflemen hung back, blasting at Searinox’s whelps as the paladin and footmen shattered the skeletons.
All was going well, until …
“RINGO!” one of the Dragon Hunters yelled. “MOVE!”
While willing his feet to start moving, Ringo followed the outstretched finger: Above him, a whelp, its wings in tattered from the riflemen’s shot, plummeted down toward the cave floor and Ringo. He took a half-step left, then a half-step right, unable to decide where the spiraling whelp would land.
So naturally, he was right beneath it when it landed.
“AAAGH!” Ringo roared, the sound of his leg snapping echoing loudly in the cavern. “Khaz’goroth on a cracker!”
Once the skeletons were shattered and the other whelps were downed, the group huddled around him.
“Broken in two places,” said one of the other Dragon Hunters. “I reckon that hurts.”
“Ye reckon?” Ringo growled. Glancing up at Arthas, who was standing apart from the group, facing deeper into the cave.
“Let’s get in there and destroy the beast,” the prince said, nodding for his footmen to join him. The other two Dragon Hunters shrugged and followed the prince’s lead.
Ringo pulled himself backward across the floor until his back was to the wall, and clutched his musket in his hand. It was little enough if Searinox killed the others, but it was something.
“YOU DARE CHALLENGE ME?” the dragon’s voice boomed through the caverns, momentarily shifting Ringo’s focus from the pain in his leg to the ringing in his ears. “YOU MORTALS BECOME MORE RECKLESS WITH EVERY GENERATION!”
Ringo listened helplessly to the sounds of battle. After several long minutes, Arthas and his men, covered in the blood of the dragon, with the paladin clutching the heart of Searinox in one hand, returned to Ringo.
“Your companions are dead, master dwarf,” one of the footmen said, creating a splint around Ringo’s leg. He and another footman helped Ringo to his feet.
“Let’s bring this heart back to the dwarves,” said Arthas, not acknowledging Ringo’s condition nor the loss of the other Dragon Hunters.
Feranor was true to his word, and used much of the heart’s power to enchant the young prince’s warhammer. He and Sigrun then armed themselves and followed Arthas away from the smithy, where Ringo had been left on an old bench, clutching a bottle of strong liquor.
“Where are ye going, then?”
“Hunting Blackrock Clan orcs,” Feranor said. “It was part of my deal with Prince Arthas: He helps kill the dragon, the Dragon Hunters help him with some orcs who have taken some of the villagers from Strahnbrad prisoner, or something. We’ll be back for you after.”
As they turned to leave, Sigrun stopped and turned back to Ringo.
“And you: You’re fired, you useless git. I don’t know why we bothered to bring you along.”
Ringo watched the pair ascend the hill to join Arthas, the Knight of the Silver Hand’s finery spattered with dragon and dwarven blood. The prince never looked back at Ringo, had never even made eye contact with him once.
Ringo raised his right hand, pantomiming a gun aimed at the back of Arthas’ head. His thumb, the hammer of his imaginary gun, dropped and Ringo imitated the recoil of firing. Prince Arthas Menethil didn’t flinch, and Ringo watched the man until he rode over the crest of a hill and vanished.