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 chill of fall had arrived, surrounding the home of the elderly man of mystery. The trees were shedding their deep covering of leaves, scattering them across the barren ground. Beyond him, as he looked out of his surroundings, he saw men and women working, doing the back-breaking toil of turning the soil for next year’s crops. Behind them the older children splattered the gathered and prepared droppings, taken, collected and saved from the domesticated animals that the village kept, which had been mixed with fresh river water and had been turned into a thick soup which would refresh the land and revitalise it for the next year’s planting. The fertiliser was held in hide bags with a drip nozzle at the base which the elder children held out to their right as they walked the turned field, letting the liquid drip to the ground.
The old man reached into a deeply carved and hollowed out tree trunk. It resembled a huge glass which tapered up from a wide base to a narrowed middle, then flared out creating the area from which the flames of burning logs would erupt. With a delicate click of his fingers, which was hardly heard, but the effect of his action was clearly seen, flames leapt upward generating heat to keep the ancient porch and the children gathered around warm against the light chill of fall.
The rocking chair waited as the old man stepped over and turned bowing slightly to the children, who were all seated on the plank floor cross legged. Each child attentively waited in eager anticipation of the tale he was going to tell them, an old tale of magic, mystery and dragons. Especially dragons. The children loved the creature the old man had introduced them to…
Having sat down, he looked around him seeing, but not seeing what was all about him. His eyes glazed over and his breathing slowed as he looked deep into the past.
“Now where was I?” He asked of no one, his voice barely a whisper not meant to be heard. “Where indeed?”
He coughed making the children jump as all around them the air warmed up, as though the flames burning so brightly were to be a part of the tale they would hear.
He began to speak slowly and clearly, and the children listened.
“The fresh meat peeled free from the carcass with ease. I placed it on the hide I had removed intending to take it indoors. Above me, eagerly watching and waiting, was my new dragonish companion. I glanced upwards, seeing it open its wings slightly whilst puffing up its chest as though getting ready to do something awfully brave.”
The old man lifted his head surveying the eager and interested faces of the gathered children before him.
“I picked up a small hunk of freshly trimmed meat and held it high, before tossing it upwards towards the obviously interested hatchling. The creature leapt forward, lean’t down and launched from the roof to intercept the flying offering. One wing opened revealing the deep, but slightly lighter red colouring within, the other did not. The dragon had not quite got the idea of flight, despite it having flown out of my home and up to the roof.
“It spiralled in the air corkscrewing round and round until with a splash and a leaping of water it tumbled into the water trough! I stood up with fear for the hatchling bursting in my chest. Far away over by the trees a screech erupted and then fell silent, having filled the sky and the land around me.
“I reached into the water lifting the creature from its near watery grave. It flapped its wings, both of them, sending glittering droplets of water cascading across the dry ground and at the same time soaking me. I smiled down at it, soothing it, whispering tender words of reassurance to it as it beat at the air. Its claws gripped my thin arms hard, but not hard enough to draw blood.
“I eased myself to the ground reaching down to where the meat I had thrown up had landed. Picking it up I offered it to the hatchling who had stopped his agitated flapping. The meat vanished from my hands, then his head tilted back and with a single swallow the meat was gone. At least feeding the hatchling was not going to be a problem judging from how easily it had devoured the offered food. I looked up at the sky and wondered, then I turned my attention back to the now and to food for us both.”
Beyond the Knowledge of the Old Man.
Three Days Earlier Deep in the Woods of the Kingsland
Trees mighty and tall surrounded an open dell in which tall grass reigned. To the far side of the dell an area had been flattened, and within that area there waited a female dragon with ancient eyes and a faded blue green scaly hide. Slightly behind her and in total contrast to the large female was another, her scales glowed with bright iridescent colour. Her size was dwarfed by the female who was her mother.
Beneath the curved tail of the larger dragoness, tucked gently in grass that had been ripped from the ground, there lay three newly laid dragon eggs. Each had been cleaned perfectly. Each was the pride of their ancient mother and the delight of her young daughter.
People rarely if ever penetrated the darker woodlands of the Kingsland, but on this day a lone mounted rider burst from the far side of the woods. His horse effortlessly parted a clear path until animal and rider had entered the open area. The dragoness looked up. Her discomfort at laying three eggs passed away instantly as she reared up. She looked down from on high at the new arrival, noting the white armour covering the interloper from head to foot, whilst he sat astride his white horse. Something odd drew the dragoness’ attention and sounded a warning in her thoughts. A warning she swiftly passed to the younger dragoness behind her.
“Run child, and fly,” she whispered in desperation, even as she turned her head back to face the slowly approaching threat. The whiteness of the armour shimmered as though it was wet. In fact, not just wet but covered in flowing water. The fading sunlight splintered when it touched the watery coating, shattering into rainbows of great beauty and dire meaning.
Behind her the mother dragon of the three newly laid eggs and a nine year old daughter, heard the scuffling as her daughter obeyed her warning. The dragoness dare not take her eyes off the mounted creature, for she knew that the thing before her was no human knight out to make his name, but something much older, something much more dangerous and intrinsically evil.
A large bow lifted smoothly from the knight’s side. It was drawn back to an impossible length and the shaft released. She in her defence tried to burn the shaft, but it sailed untouched through her wall of flame. The tip of the shaft pierced her just beneath her breast bone, driving deep into her chest before being pulled out by her reaching teeth. The metal of the tip remained behind it having parted from the shaft. The poison it delivered spread fast, burning through the female dragon, death reared its ugly head and she knew it was her time.
For over a thousand years she had ruled over the skies, travelling where and when she wanted, but even with her mighty age she could not resist the white knight’s intent. He front legs collapsed beneath her as the knight astride his horse approached slowly. The bow vanished back where it had come from and instead clasped hard in the knight’s hand was a single spear with another metal tip, though this one looked fine and almost delicate as it tapered to a point.
The dragoness resisted the urge to lie down. She eased her pain filled legs together lifting her body back upward, determined to fight back. Flame roared as she squeezed fire towards the mounted knight. The flame surrounded and reached out to enclose the knight, but at the last second it withered away unable to penetrate the watery coating of the armour. The dragon, her strength gone, collapsed to the ground, her hind legs kicked back in uncontrolled spasms of agony. Two of the eggs she had so laboriously laid shattered, crushed by the impact of her clawed feet. The third lifted out of the nest and was cast into the long grasses hidden from sight.
The knight approached her. He dismounted or rather the horse became a part of the knight as the two blended together. The spear shortened, a pennant of red and black appeared just behind the steel of the tip. The knight carefully took aim. A single thrust and it was all over for the dragoness. She bellowed her defiance just once and as her voice faded to nothing, so followed her life.
The knight withdrew the weapon. His mission complete he turned away from the ancient corpse, changing himself as he walked across the grass to the woodland edge. He had become a she! He had become a woman of sorts, a slight built woman wearing a flowing white cotton dress that was soaked with water. She vanished into the woods, gone but not forgotten by the young female dragon who had watched her mother killed from her concealment.
She felt sorrow and anger as a great loss filled her young chest. Her head reared back and a single flame burst forth to illuminate the fast passing day. Wails of despair replacing it to be cast into the coming night. She stopped her keening eventually and approached her mother, hoping to be able to do something to save her. She realised that the mighty head lying on the folded front legs was no more her mother. She was gone, taken from her. All that was left was a shell that would soon vanish back into the world that had given her life.
She looked at the shattered eggs, seeing the remnants of two, then wondering where the third might be. She searched and soon found it. The egg was intact and still alive, but it would not be for very long if she could not provided it with a warm safe environment. She tried, she flattened the grass surrounding the egg and wrapped herself around it to keep it warm. She knew even as she tried that she could not look after the young creature that would soon hatch.
Her mother had pointed out a young boy to her. One she had said would be a great friend to all dragons if he lived. She wondered, then decided as dawn approached. Gently she picked up the egg in her mouth and with her wings outstretched she took to the air. One thought filling her mind, one desire remaining before she departed from this evil land. She had to save her sibling. She had to.
The boy was easy to see as he walked with little concern along the path that led to his humble home. She circled in silence, selecting the perfect place along his route, a place where effortlessly she landed and gently she placed the single remaining egg. She flew upward suppressing her desire to screech. She sought the clouds and waited. She had to make certain the boy found the egg and more importantly took it home with him, if she was to have any peace of mind.
A rabbit flitted into the young dragoness’ keen sight, even as she watched the boy bend over the discovered egg, and carefully after studying it he picked it up, taking it with him. She swooped fast on silent extended wings catching and killing the unwary creature instantly. She floated ahead of the walking boy, depositing the dead rabbit where he was certain to locate it. Tomorrow she would see to the provision of a more sturdy satisfying meal, but for tonight the rabbit would have to do. She screeched, her young voice tearing at the night air as the boy and her sibling reached the shack her mother had informed her was his home. She departed into the clouds again, leaving behind her sibling and her best wishes.
The next day she dropped the dead carcass of a deer outside of the front door and departed never to return, never to know if what she had done had been the right thing for her to do. She understood that she could not look after a baby dragon and that the boy could, or so she hoped! She had a life to live and she desired nothing more than to turn her tail on the corrupted land beneath her wings; a land with an unknown evil walking its surface.
She vanished as the door to the home opened and the meal of fresh meat she had deposited was discovered. She did not know that she had been seen briefly by the boy as she had hastily departed, not that it would have mattered to her if she had known. She had done her duty to her mother and her sibling and now she was free to live her life…
Beneath her the world of a young lad changed yet again, his future altered, his life took a new pathway. He was no longer alone and free to do as he pleased, instead he had company and responsibility for another.
The children had listened as many others before them had listened to the old man, and his tales of creatures and dragons. Like many others before them they wondered if the stories were true, if the dragon had really existed, if they were living in the place he talked about.
Some looked around, others looked up towards the storm livened clouds. Beyond them others, fathers, mothers and siblings tended the fields, as one day in the not too distant future they would. For now they were being allowed to listen and learn and wonder, and they did. For it was said that those that lived on the outer edges of the Kingsland often wondered.