Chapter VI: The Wings of Winter

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The walls of the cave were shining ice. There were more than a hundred corridors and halls, shaped as the snow had drifted, and the largest of these extended for many a mile. All were lighted by the flare of the blue lights. All of the halls were so immense and so empty, so brilliant and so glacial. There was never a touch of joy in them. Empty, vast, and frigid were the dragon’s caves. In the middle of the greatest hall of ice was a frozen lake. It was cracked into a thousand pieces, but each piece was shaped so exactly like the others that it seemed a work of wonderful craftsmanship. The great cold-drake sat in the exact center of it when he was at home. Dragons, the most evil creatures that Morgoth has made, and the most uncouth, yet of all are they the most powerful, save it be the Balrogs only. Many are the dragons that Dark Lord has loosed upon the world and some are more mighty than others, and the lust and greed and cunning evil of these is the greatest of all creatures.

He growled as he snored. Echoes of his thunderous voice danced throughout the icicles of the cave. He was only dozing, his double lidded eyes only half closed; his inner lid obscured the world around him so that he could rest but still be partially aware. The state was always the one he returned to after a good hunt, and earlier that day he had hunted well. He had feasted on a rather large warg, Wolf King from the mountains and his pack, more for the challenge than the meat. It made his victory sweeter when his prey fought back, providing further proof that there was nothing that could stand against him.

Long ago from an eyrie high over mountains he took to the skies, and beneath his wings, the land froze. His scales were of the purest white, his eyes as cold and clear as the winter skies and his breath carried the chill of eternal frost, for he was the essence of winter. His mere presence covered the land near him in a thick layer of ice. He became known throughout the Middle-Earth as Vethúg Wintermind, the conqueror and undisputed lord of these lands. Cold and death were his only companions.

Burrowing further into his hoard, he allowed the coins and jewels and treasures to pour over him. He revelled in the metallic feel of it as they slid over his scales, he basked in its glow. Initial digestion almost over, he settled for true sleep, wanting to enjoy a good slumber to last for several weeks until he would need to hunt once more. Wargs of that size were good for a challenge but not for good eating. Perhaps a troll, or maybe even something from the plains close to the glacier next time.

It occurred to him that the notion did not incur much enthusiasm. Nothing in these lands offered the same challenges to him as they used to be. Sometimes, he complained, he even missed his days of youth. At least there every day was filled with hunting and battling for supremacy. There was no time for rest when survival took his full attention. And then, when he had drifted further afield to win himself great prizes in personal wars, mortals had offered their deaths as his entertainment. Centuries ago he killed King Dáin I and his son Frór, and drove the dwarves out of their kingdom in the Grey Mountains. Back then, he had been young and impulsive, doing what he pleased.

Now, he was a full male in his prime; strong, and with a hoard that could rival that of any drake in all of Middle-Earth and the wastes beyond! Despite the lack of variety this life offered, Vethúg was rather pleased with that notion at least. Nothing could persuade him to exchange this ice cave or the gold within. The thought made his wings ruffle smugly. The dragon prided himself with the fact that he had everything: the finest jewels, gold and riches untold, works of art both mortal and immortal, and even his home was a thing of magnificence all to itself, where he played with the blood-clotted necklace of a dwarven king in his taloned hand.

Vethúg snorted, spraying gold coins from his nostrils. He nuzzled his chin deeper into his costly bed. A happy rumble gurgled through his throat, the precursor to another snore ad he felt oblivion creep into his consciousness.