A Gift of Dragons – Scene 16

Moonlight glinted on the water as boy and dragon flew into the night.  Aithan clutched tightly to the dragon’s neck at first, but his grip loosened as his arms tired, until he found he did not need to hold on at all.  Some force kept him firmly on the back of the dragon and he just lay against the creature’s warm fur, softly rocked by the rhythmic strokes of the long wings.

After a time they came upon land, and the dragon began to circle down.  Aithan saw a cluster of torches below them and the dragon glided to the ground, coming to a gentle landing with a final great thrust of its wings.  Aithan sat up and looked around them.  He was surprised at the bite of the cold air against his warm face.

“Others!” he blurted out, to the dragon as much as to anybody, as he saw other furry, golden-eyed dragons in the field.  Even in the flickering light he could see that no two looked alike.  They stood behind a group of horsemen, with a man of clear nobility and authority at their head, and a woman – a lady – rode next to him.

“This is the boy?  Ha, I think I would not want to face this ‘boy’ in a test of arms without having your ointment at hand, good lady!  Yes, of course, excellent!” The man laughed as he spoke these words to the woman, and a younger man behind them him laughed as well, and rode to a place beside the two.

“I would perhaps prepare a double portion, my lord,” answered the lady, and the man roared his approval.  “It seems that master Gaufridus sees the child with different eyes than our own,” she continued, smiling at Aithan.  On hearing his uncle’s name, Aithan scanned the group again, but he was not with them.

“Is Uncle Fri here, my lady?” he asked, and was immediately horrified at his own imprudence.  But she answered warmly.  “No, master Aithan, he has not come here but has been taken elsewhere.  However, we are informed that he too was freed from imprisonment, so have no concern on that score.”

“Thank you, my lady,” Aithan said quietly, looking down.  The lady spoke no more, but soon the nobleman broke the silence.

“Climb down, master Aithan, climb down and refresh yourself, and we will attend Holy Mass to give thanks for your safe arrival!  It is time you learned of your place in the world!”

At this a mounted man brought forth a horse and offered the reins to Aithan.  The boy stood and stared.  “My lord,” he said finally, “I have never ridden a horse before.  Only a donkey.  I can walk behind.”

At this the man laughed again.  There seemed to be nothing that did not amuse him.  “Help him up!” he commanded.  “He must ride, as befits his position.”  In an instant, Aithan found himself lifted onto the horse, higher and wider than any donkey, and the party turned and rode into the night, torches sizzling.  At this, the dragons, including the one that had rescued Aithan, took flight and disappeared.

 

A Gift of Dragons – Scene 15

The magician was sleeping as Fr. Ambrose entered the cramped room, but he awoke at the noise of the door latch and watched the priest approach, holding a small box.  “Where am I?” he asked.

“You are in my room, brother.  You have been sleeping for a day and a half.  I hope the fire has kept you warm; I have fed it prodigiously.”

The magician sat up.  “Very warm.  I cannot take your bed, Ambrose.  I should leave.”

“True, you cannot take my bed, but I can give it to you.  I have straw and blankets in the kitchen, so I am quite cozy.”

The magician sat for a long time, staring at the feet of the seated priest.  Finally he spoke.

“What is this talk of demons, Ambrose.  You know I do not believe in demons.”  There was no conviction in his voice.

“So you think magic just fell from the sky and entered into you?”  The priest paused for a moment and then laughed.  “Actually, that is exactly what did happen.”

“Nonsense, why would a demon care about me?  I am nobody.”

The priest looked serious once more.  “Every soul is a great prize to any demon, my brother.  How can you pretend not to know this?”  The magician stared at the floor.

“And then there is the boy,” the priest continued.  “I do not know why, but Satan desires the boy, and he has attacked you to get to the boy.”  The magician squirmed on the bed.  “Did I say attacked?  No, Satan knocked softly and your vanity flung open the door.  Now one of his demons, or perhaps many, makes a home in your heart.”

The magician’s expression changed, his eyes became unfocused.  “Burn in hell with me, priest!  I know you dream of being between your mother’s legs!”

The priest sighed and made the sign of the cross.  “Yes, the demon speaks.  He speaks because he fears what is about to happen to him.  He fears the power of God, but most of all he fears the love of God, because he has made himself unclean, a festering pustule.  And now he will be cast out once more.”  At this the priest opened the box, and removed a crucifix, which he kissed gently, and a vial of water.  The magician pressed against the wall and cursed in long-dead languages as the priest began to recite the ancient litany, his breath frosty in the icy air.

A Gift of Dragons – Scene 14

After a short flight across the water, the dragon flew on across the moonlit countryside for perhaps an hour.  The magician alternated his thoughts between wonder at the flying beast, concern for the boy, and a sick feeling in his stomach that would not go away.  Then he could tell by the growing smell of pine trees that they must be coming down to the ground.  The dragon landed softly next to a small stone church, and the magician slid down the creature’s sleek furry side.  A man stepped out from the door  of the church holding a candle, and walked towards them.  The magician’s eyesight had long since adjusted to the dark, and he quickly recognized the man.  It was his brother.  The man now stood in front of the magician and the dragon, and his priestly garb was clear even in the dim light.

“Ambrose,” said the magician, without emotion.

“Gaufridus,” came the reply.  “I am so glad that you have arrived.”

“Why am I here?” asked the magician, looking from his brother to the dragon.

“Do you want to help save Aithan?” asked the priest in return.

“Save him from what?  And why do you ask such foolish questions?”

“You must decide how badly you want to help him.  You must decide how much you are willing to give up.”

The magician grumbled at this.  He felt the sickness in his stomach spreading.  Without warning, he vomited.

“Do you know why you are sick, brother?”

“Leave me alone!”

“You do know.  You have known for some time, and for some time you have forced the knowledge out of your mind.”  The priest looked at the dragon, who’s gaze was fixed on the magician.

“You know that you are possessed by a devil, brother.  The devil is the source of what you think of as your magic powers.”

A terrible pain shot through the magician’s body and he collapsed to the ground.  He moaned and pulled himself into a ball.  “Go away!” he called, feebly.

“Will you allow me to exorcise the demon, brother?  This demon must be driven out if you are to help the boy.  It must be driven out if you are to live.”  The priest paused, and the magician began to wail and rock on the ground.

“You must decide, brother.”

The magician cried out and rolled about.  The candle in the priest’s hand flickered and went out, and he fell to his knees and began to pray.  Then the dragon carefully lifted the magician and cradled him as he sobbed.

A Gift of Dragons – Scene 13

The magician paced about his cell, searching in his mind for a way out.  How could they have found them so quickly?  How could he find Aithan?  How could they escape?  The magic was his only recourse, and he feared it would not serve him well in the attempt.  He began to despair.

“Come with me if you wish to save the boy,” came the voice, and the magician turned as if struck.  When he saw the soft, golden-eyed dragon, he flung himself back into a corner as if thrown.  “Leave me!” he cried.

“The boy needs you, my friend.”  The soft dragon looked at the magician with beaming affection.

“Get out, I have seen you in my dream!” shouted the magician.

“You have not seen me, friend.  But you have seen those who have come to destroy the boy.  Will you allow this?”

The words stung the magician.  He wanted to trust the dragon, to go with him, but there was some deep revulsion that kept him from moving.

“The demon struggles against us both, friend.  You must find the strength to choose.”

Instantly the magician felt his revulsion vanish.  He knew, in some way he could not describe, that he had been given a moment of perfect freedom to act.  “What must I do?” he asked the dragon.

“Come with me,” replied the dragon, and it went out the door.  The magician followed and looked upon the sleeping guards.  He suddenly stopped.  “What about the boy?  We must save him!”

“The boy is safe for the time being.  But he will need you soon enough.  You must come now.”

And so it was the magician’s turn to climb out of the dungeon and into the courtyard, to look into the hate-filled, fearful eyes of the bound demons, and to fly off on the back of the soft dragon.

 

A Gift of Dragons – Notes to Self (1)

As I said, these episodes are first-draft or pre-first-draft efforts.  I can already see things that need to be addressed, as I expected.  The main problem I need to attack in the next round of rewriting, IMO, is that Aithan is far too much of a blank slate.  His personality and motivations and desires are much too vague at this point.  Certainly a problem that can be fixed (and must be fixed).  Also, the story world in general needs fleshing out.  Again, not in insurmountable problem.  I once read, regarding J.R.R. Tolkien and “Lord of the Rings,” that he made you feel that you were dropped into a world that had a rich and ancient past.  Yes, yes, yes.

Finally (and here my admiration for J.K. Rowling is boundless), I am terrible at fictional person and place names.  This is a bigger problem than you might think, because a character without a name, or with a “wrong” name, just refuses to come alive.  Think “Percy the Hun.” I’ve actually written a program that generates random names based on user-entered vowels, consonants and  combinations of multiple vowels and/or multiple consonants.  Maybe I’ll post a few lists of generated names, just for fun.  I also entered into the computer a huge list of saint’s names I found on the internet.  Lots of name possibilities there (but not place names). List of Saints

A Gift of Dragons – Scene 12

Aithan sat on the dank straw that covered the floor of the cell.  In the hours since his capture, his mind had raced as he imagined again and again the dragons he had seen.  They were real.  They were big, and cold, and dangerous.  And they had come for him, for Uncle Fri and him.  He stared at the wall in front of him, seeing nothing, as his mind churned.  Just like that, doom had come to them.

“Aithan, child, turn around, I have long desired that you should meet me.”  It was a small voice, not heard, imagined.  He ignored it as thoughts and fears boiled in his head.

“Beloved of my heart, turn and face me.”  The voice was gentle but more insistent.  Aithan was suddenly brought back to reality.  He had not imagined this voice.  He turned.  Before him, he knew instantly, was the soft, warm dragon of his recent dream.  It filled the cell, and it looked at him kindly with golden eyes.  It was covered in sleek fur, even its long, slender wings.  He could feel the heat of its body in the cold cell.  He sensed the fear rising in him, and then sensed it immediately pushed down, overcome.  He stared without speaking, without moving, and the dragon gazed intently into his eyes, and it smiled, and Aithan felt himself smile back.

Finally he had gathered his wits, and spoke.  “How?  What are you?  I dreamed of you…”

“All good questions, my child,” came the answer, but the dragon’s mouth did not move.  Aithan heard the dragon speak, but its mouth did not move.  “Now, we must leave.  Follow me.  You will be safe.”  And the dragon turned and went through the open cell door and out of sight.  Aithan did not move, and presently the head reappeared in the door, golden eyes shining.  “Come, child, do not be afraid” it spoke into his mind, and Aithan got up and followed.  The narrow corridor was lit by torches, and Aithan saw his guards asleep against the walls.  The dragon moved quickly, fitting through openings that seemed impossible to pass, and he had to run to keep up.  Up winding stairs and through one final iron gate and they were in a courtyard.  It was night, and torches flared in the wind.  Against the far wall were a half dozen hard yellow dragons.  Panic filled him, he stopped and turned to flee back into the dungeons, but a great paw stopped him.

“Do not fear these demons.  They have been bound.”  The dragons glared at Aithan but did not move.  Then one unleashed a torrent of unspeakable curses upon the boy, and he was frozen in fear.

“Silence, unclean creature!  It is your Lord and King who commands you be silent!”  barked the soft dragon.  Instantly the cursing demon began to gag and the curses stopped, as all the other dragons (demons, Aithan remembered) continued to glare.

“Climb on my back, child,” said the soft dragon.  Watching the demons warily, Aithan obeyed, climbing onto the dragon’s back as the heat of the creature’s body flooded through him.  Then, in an instant, the dragon reached back with its paws to hold Aithan firmly, and with a tremendous bound it shot into the night, and its great wings began to beat against the sky.

A Gift of Dragons – Scene 11

The boy awoke in the dim morning light.  The warmth of the fire was long gone, and he huddled against the cold drafts coming under the door.  He saw the magician asleep next to him, and pulled the magician’s cloak back up over his shoulders.  Then he closed his eyes again, but suddenly he knew something was wrong.  He sat up quickly and looked about the room.  Nobody else was there, none of the travelers that had covered the floor the night before.  “Uncle Fri!” he whispered loudly, shaking the magician.  The old man awoke with a jerk.  “There’s nobody here!”

The magician struggled to fully waken and pull himself up, and Aithan jumped up and helped him.  At that moment the door burst open and armed men rushed into the hall, mail clattering and swords drawn.  Two of them rushed towards the boy and grabbed his arms.  “Stop!” shouted the magician, and the two men went flying head first into the fireplace with a crash and an explosion of ashes.  They did not move, their necks grotesquely twisted.

“Wizard!  If you dash me against the stones, I will take the boy’s head with me.”  The magician turned away from the fireplace and saw a man with the bearing of a leader, holding his sword to Aithan’s neck while others came and reached for the boy’s arms and legs.  The magician sagged to the floor, and he was dragged out into the street right behind the boy.  Aithan, who had been struggling desperately against his captors, froze at the sight which was before them.  Hard, scaly yellow dragons, larger than war horses, prowled the street with men seated upon them.

“So soon!  Lord, help us!” the magician cried out.

A Gift of Dragons – Scene 10

They walked along the narrow forest track until towards dusk they came to the edge of the woods and before them lay the walled port city of Eldonas.  Working their way across fields and pastures they reached the main road, which was more crowded than the magician had ever seen it.  As they entered the St. Mark Gate they passed through a large contingent of armed guards, surly and anxious.  The magician quickly worked his way along side streets and alleys until they came to an inn with candles dimly flickering behind small oiled paper windows.  The magician entered while Aithan stayed in the street with the donkey.  After a while, the magician reappeared.

“We can stay here tonight.  They don’t have a room, but we can sleep in the hall by the fire.  It will do until we can find a ship.  Go stable the animal.”  Aithan began to speak but the magician cut him off.  “Much has happened since we have been on the road.”  The boy nodded.

“And don’t draw attention to yourself,” the magician added, in a quiet but commanding tone.

They ate a simple meal while the magician listened to the conversations in the hall.  Aithan saw his features darken, but the food and the warmth of the fire had dulled the boy’s senses, and he was soon asleep at the table.  When he awoke he was laying by the dying fire, and the hall was empty except for the sounds of others sleeping on the floor.  The magician was sitting next to him, staring into the dwindling flames.  The magician noticed that the boy was awake, and leaned over to him.  “Go back to sleep.  We must find a vessel very early in the morning.”  Then he resumed looking into the fire, and Aithan once more fell asleep, secure in the warmth of the great fireplace stones upon his face.

A Gift of Dragons – Scene 9

The king went about the castle checking each door and gate in turn.  All were closed, locked and guarded with double guard.  He knew the evil was close, but there was no enemy at the gates, no enemy scaling the walls.  His family and trusted aides followed him as he went about his rounds, and when he was convinced that the castle was well guarded and all within were safe, he turned to retire and the glint of the huge stinger flashed against the torchlight as the scorpion struck.

A Gift of Dragons – Scene 8

Towards midday the magician finally spoke.  “Lots of very excited bees in the air today,” he observed.  Aithan had seen them too, moving in vast liquid swarms past them.  As they continued walking they came upon a great buzzing cloud at the base of an oak tree.  The bees were agitated but did not seem aggressive towards them, so the magician moved closer and Aithan followed.  Around the base of the tree were countless dead bees, and thousands more were crawling over some bloated creature, many stinging it even though it was clearly dead.  The magician gently moved the bees off the dead thing with his staff, and took a sharp breath at what he saw.  It was some form of winged lizard, twisted and demented in death, showing rows of sharp black teeth in a cruel mouth.

“A dragon!” cried Aithan, stepping back.

“Seems to be,” agreed the magician.

“I told you so!  You never believed me!”

“Not until yesterday.  I thought they’d be bigger.”

“Yes, much bigger!” said Aithan, suddenly delighting at the thought.

“The bees have done a good day’s work,” said the magician, poking the dead dragon one last time.  At the same moment, another small dragon glided onto the ground near the oak tree.  Aithan and the magician both stepped back, but the dragon seemed only to see its dead comrade.  It bit the dead dragon and shook it roughly, then released it when there was no reaction.  Then it looked up at Aithan and the magician, black teeth glistening.  The magician raised his staff, and Aithan wished his wooden sword were nearby.  The thrum of the bees grew angry again.  The three stood that way for some time, the dragon jerking its head back and forth and occasionally biting at its own wings.  Then it screeched and tumbled backwards as a dark form flew between the travellers and overwhelmed it.  It was a wolf and it quickly had the dragon’s neck in its mouth and was shaking it violently.  The dragon screamed and scratched and bit at the wolf, but soon it was dead and limp in the wolf’s mouth.  The wolf dropped the broken dragon, turned and looked at the travellers.  It was frothing at the muzzle, and it attempted to wipe the froth away on the grass.  Then it trotted off, shaking foam from its mouth as it moved.  Other wolves now appeared out of the thick growth and began licking the froth away, and after a time the pack moved off, back into the high grass.

“An entire pack of wolves, and they show no interest in us,” said the magician.  “It seems that the world changed while we were asleep, boy.”

“But at least they’re small dragons,” said Aithan with obvious relief.

“Two of them are small,” corrected the magician.  He moved in and poked the second dragon, which remained dead.

“It seems the simple creatures of this world do not like these dragons,” he said.  As they stood there looking at the disturbing bodies, the dragons began to putrefy.  They dissolved into lumpy puddles of green and yellow decay, and Aithan and the magician had to move away to avoid the terrible odor.

“I never knew there could be such a stench!” said Aithan when they had reached fresh air.

“No,” said the magician.  “These are evil things indeed.”