by David Stevens
Welcome to the Kingsland, a place where the unthinkable can happen and often does, where life exists that can be found in no other such place. Welcome to the old man’s front porch, where he holds court and regales all who will listen with his tales of mystery and magic, but mostly of dragons and his life with one such supposedly mythical creature.
The Simple Facts that Changed a Simple Life
The old man sitting on his porch, on the outer edge of a small village, was lost in the past. He absently packed his pipe as his mind wandered. The group of children sat before him in silence, patiently waiting, filled with expectation.
He found himself looking out at a distant sky where clouds formed and rain filled the air. It was going to be another one of those nights, long, cold, wet and damp to the bones, which made them ache. Something caught his eye, something flitting, something flying - something more of a moving dot hidden within the clouds. Something was there above him, something he had not seen the like of for many, many years. Something he had hoped, but never really expected to see again in his lifetime.
The dragon would be there to claim its vengeance, if indeed he had really seen a dragon high-up in the clouds?
Life for the old man was just that, a life he had lived. He had no choice in its path; he took everything offered to him by fate. The only thing that came out of his life that was any good had been his children. He had a son who lived in the Castle and Ruled. That had been many years before. Now even the son was gone, taken from him at the point of a creature’s nature, and still he somehow was alive, but lost to the old man and the world around him.
No parent should ever have to outlive his child he thought, as lightning flickered through the air above them. No parent should ever have to watch as their offspring was stolen from them to be forever lost.
The old man lit his pipe. Slowly the rain began to pour, it swiftly built and continued to build until he was looking out from under his shelter at a downpour, the like of which he had never seen before in his life. He leaned forward, the smoke from his pipe escaping the confines of the porch to the cloudy skies above. Somewhere up there hidden from sight there waited a dragon. He could almost feel its presence, but then he always could. A dragon he shared a portion of his life with and a dragon he had called his friend, but that was so long ago he realised, so very long ago.
So many years lost deep in his past. It was at a time when he was young and he was nothing more than an adventure filled youth.
In his mind’s eye the old man trawled his memory as he sat intently watching the sky, always watching the sky whilst waiting for his life choices to catch-up with him.
Finally he settled on what he believed to be the start of his life as it was to become.
The old man faded away from the world, his mind lost in the distant past, words began to flow from his cracked ancient lips, as the children leaned forward in expectation. He began to talk, though if asked later he would deny having said anything, but still he spoke; his voice clear and strong for one of such great age.
“Once there was a dragon. Once, the dragon was my friend,” he said clearly. “Now I wait knowing that one day the dragon will return. One day justice would be done. The things that I have seen and done will have to be atoned for!”
The old man began to spin his tale. As the children listened the words flowed and the tale being told unfolded before their young eyes. A tale you are invited to listen to as well.
He saw her from afar and liked what he saw, but she hadn’t seen him. That was the way of poachers and he was a poacher. He was on the Kingsland, a place that young lads like him should never be found. So, he endeavoured to never be found. He crept down to the waters edge intending to tickle a trout, preferably without being caught.
He nearly reached the lake and was about to push through the last of the dense bushes, prior to his stepping out into the open air and heading down to where the rocks and the fish waited, when something caught his attention. What he saw stunned him into immobility; it was a woman, a young woman, perhaps only a couple of years older than himself.
She was dressed in what looked like a flowing ethereal gown, and walking with a fixed purpose. Slowly she was approaching the far side of the lake. He hesitated, ducking back from sight, but making sure that he could see her clearly. She looked around her, even glancing across the lake; her eyes passing over the place that he was hidden in. Something happened to him. Some feeling of being drawn by her presence entered into him. Only his deeply held desire for caution stopped him from standing up and showing himself to her. Her lightest of gazes passed on, departing from him and taking the draw he felt with it. He ducked down even further, feeling terrified by the thoughts her simple passing gaze generated in him.
She stepped lightly down the sloping bank seeming to almost glide over the mud that separated her from the water’s edge. Then much to his surprise, she waded into the lake and vanished beneath its smooth surface, leaving barely a ripple on the water. He nearly dove in to save her thinking she was drowning. Then he realised that she lived there. She was of the water. She was a creature living beneath its surface. She was one of those from the darkness, one of them from the dark tales told around fires by old men with nothing better to do than scare the young, but she was real not some character in a tall tale. They, it is said, rise up breaching the sunlight on occasions when it suits them for whatever purpose. He remembered the tales he listened to always said, when they rose, death and misery would follow in the wake of their irresistible beauty.
His trout tickling forgotten, he remained hidden watching the water, looking for ripples but seeing nothing. Still that didn’t stop him looking after all she was worth looking for. He waited, he waited longer than he might have intended to because eventually night fell and then the rain closed in. He watched as the falling rain water splashed and splattered on the lake’s surface, he watched the raindrops joining with it, he waited some more and then she finally reappeared.
First a hand reared out of the water, followed by a head covered with beautiful golden dripping wet hair. He held his breath watching, there was nothing else he could do. If she saw him, he knew he would be lost. He remembered the tales of how these creatures of the river sought out anyone that they could drag to their doom. He didn’t want to be dragged to his doom, but he did want to see her one last time even if it did cost him his life - so magical was the draw she exuded even at the slightest view of her.
He saw her. He was granted a touch of her magic from afar and he remained concealed and therefore safe from her allure. That was the first time - the first of many times to come. That was the day his thoughts turned to creatures both mythical and distant and somewhat dangerous. She didn’t look dangerous, yet deep in his heart he knew that she was. She just looked beautiful to his eyes. What was a boy to do he wondered? He watched her move around the lake and then she vanished, gone from him, a vision lost.
It was on the way back from seeing her he found the egg. He picked it up in desperation intending to carry it home. His intent was simply to crack it open, than cook it, as there was no food on the table and the cupboards were bare. In fact, there was no food at all, the reason why was quite simple.
His father was killed in the wars, his mother left him. He was alone in a shack that leaked in the rain, he was hungry, and now he had an egg. His luck was beginning to change he thought. As he walked back he also found a dead rabbit, which had been clearly hit by a bird of prey of some sort, but it was then dropped.
He could see the claw marks that ripped into the flesh. He picked it up, as there was no point leaving good food behind. So now he was carrying the egg and the dead rabbit. He headed back to his humble shack, departing or was it escaping the Kingsland and its threats. Anyway he was safe and free from the Kingsland. Away from the lake and the river and the threats contained within.
He wondered as he walked if anyone actually knew about the girl or who she was, what she was or where she had been? For some reason he decided she was his secret and would remain so. He wondered if she was alone like him, lost, forgotten and unwanted, or was she something quite different? He wondered what would have happened should he have spoken to her, if he called out or dove in and swam over to her. The answer was simple; he figured that he would now be dead - a corpse rotting on the bottom of the river. His natural reaction, his being cautious, meant that he, instead of being dead, was walking towards his home with a rabbit and an egg; food enough to keep him going. He had fresh water in the well, a roof of sorts over his head. In fact, his life was a good deal better than it had been for quite a while.
A small fire burned in the fire-pit, the rabbit skinned and speared through roasted quite nicely in the flames. Luckily his father, before he went gone to war, taught him how to skin, gut and prepare the likes of a rabbit. That was before he disappeared, gone away and died fighting for some stupid cause and for some stupid King that really didn’t care whether he fought or not.
It was as the rabbit roasted over the fire that it happened. That was when the egg cracked. From within, something little poked through a hole in the shell, he thought it was beak, he thought the egg was some sort of duck or similar. He was wrong. It was a dragon – a tiny baby red dragon. A dragon with wings that unfolded as it forced its way out from within the egg shell. The dragon that would be his, that would accompany him, that would help him, that would be his friend was born (or was it hatched) he remembered thinking. That was when he acquired a dragon. That was the day his life changed forever. It was also the day he set out unwittingly on a series of adventures would change his life forever.
It was the dragon that later, much later in his life he would betray. A dragon that should have died, but never did.
The old man took a deep breath sucking on the clay pipe and then he looked around. Seated before him, with the sunshine now burning down on them were a number of children. The skies had cleared, as had his thoughts. He smiled, realising that he had wandered into his past and was telling the children how his life was changed.
The children liked his stories; they loved listening to him especially when he was talking about the dragon and their adventures together. They listened, absorbing the scared lonely old man’s tale as though it were nothing more than a fairytale told for their pleasure. They did not know his story was real. The dragon existed. The water creature indeed swam for him.
They would return tomorrow or another day to hear more. When they did he would drift off once again into his remembrances, and so he would entertain them with what they believed to be tales of wonder and magic. He would sit with his pipe regaling them, but for himself he would at the same time be laying away a few ghosts, clearing his mind and preparing his soul as he awaited justice to catch up with him.
Sometimes he wondered if it ever would catch up with him, it had been so long ago since the fateful last day of his friendship with a true dragon passed, but then high above his head there were clouds and dragons liked to fly amongst the clouds.
He watched as the children, called by their parents, departed for their beds, a frightened lonely old man sitting on a bench placed on a rickety porch many miles from where he was born, waiting for something that might never happen.