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Kevin G Hare

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The Lore of Dragons

There was a time when Melhainy of Gavan was an average girl, but that changed when she used a dragon to save her village. She would never interpret the tale beyond the heroics upon which she was placed but only state she did what she had to do to help her village. She never imagined her life would become part of the lore to children for ages to come.

On an unparticular day, much like any other, she was in the high forest hunting deer or mountain goat for her family. The game had become scarce, forcing hunters to scout farther regions and higher elevations for food. The other hunters stopped so far up though, like a line drawn in the dirt, a point they would not cross. Melhainy was accustomed to hunting these hills for days and dressed in thick, wool clothes and heavy leather boots to combat the chill. She left her brown hair long and untied to keep her ears and neck warm. She lived off squirrels she could snare and dried fruit she packed with her and there were plenty of fresh streams to fill her water skins. The lower night temperatures were the only great concern for her for the cold of the forest in its brown and grey world was a constant reminder of the torture suffered by the land she lived in.

She was born and raised in Gavan. Once a province of beauty, lush with greenery, vibrant with life and a bounty of produce to feed a population of happy villagers for a lifetime. Travelers from afar knew of their spirit and knew it was a place to rejoice and revitalize the weariest of woes. She remembered those good days of happiness but since the shadow came, and for the years that followed, the people soon learned to cower from the misfortune that plagued them. Hate spread, gloom wrapped their hearts and minds and travelers steered their horses around the city.

For years Queen Shirlayn had counselled with her advisors, contracted the services of wizards and heroes to cleanse her land but no finality could be reached. The wizards could not sense the presence of the thing, the heroes could not track it and the advisors had no advice to give. Rumours sprung from the fear, whispers from the dark that engulfed the city and spread through the village, dispersed through gossip and the courage of drink in the tavern.

“Spirits,” said someone, “it is the ancient souls of long dead soldiers come back for vengeance.”

Others thought dragons. They have been long feared in the minds of men. Never had a knight met a dragon without a bloodied battle that laid lands to ruin for miles around. They were man-hating beasts of the air that would fly down from the skies to snatch men and cattle from the ground, leaving no trace nor track to be found. Every effort was pressed but try as the queen may, the mystery of the shadow just could not be solved.

Mel read the notices asking for a hero’s aid and fantasized winning the prize offered – the title knighthood and all the land awarded the position. She dreamt of moving her family from their desolate hut to the comforts and splendor living in the queen’s favour. This was the thought she held every night to help her sleep.

Morning came again without the golden light of the sun, just the murky remnants of tint with little colour at all. She had been on the trail of a nice ram since three days into her hunt and her determination had brought her further away from home than she would normally venture but this ram would feed them for the month. The air was cool and she finally tracked the animal into an alcove in the mountain where it rested after a long climb. Mel had wondered why the goat had not stayed with the rest of its herd but as it was in shooting range of her bow, she put no further thought into it. She nocked an arrow and drew back with a clean sight to the ram’s side and fancied herself as the hero about to take down the dark plague.

The sun’s waned light was behind her as she steadied her breath to release the arrow. The hide of the ram gleamed almost white making the target that much easier. Almost too easy after tracking so many days. Her vision was dimmed slightly when shade suddenly blocked the light between her and her prize. A sudden gust of wind pounded the ground before her and she was forced to lower her bow to shield her face form the bluster of dust that was thrown at her. When she looked again, her target had disappeared. Not run off in haste for its life but completely disappear. No sound, no warning, no sighting whatsoever, as if the wind itself swallowed the ram whole. Mel sat as the shadow passed over the mountain and she watched it move in a direction different from the shadows of the clouds overhead. She raised her eyes to the sky, looking for something not normal, something large and oddly shaped. Her head rolled in every direction in her search when she finally heard the scream of a beast she had never heard before. It was soon followed by sounds of large blankets, flapping rigorously in a strong wind then her sight caught the vision of the thing. She watched it intently as it beat its wings feverously to perch on the peak of the mountain before her.

Mel had no cover to dodge to on the open face of the rock so she froze, hoping not to be noticed by the beast. She always thought they would be magnificent creatures to behold and indeed, to look upon one it was quite true, but to be directly in the presence of one, she could only convey the terror of the enormity of it. Her wide eyes could not move from it with its dark, scaly hide, black with blotches of bleed red, horns that spiked back from its jowls and chin and eyes that captured the essence of both wisdom and ferocity. Her mind reeled with every story she ever heard of dragons and her chest churned with the sudden wash of blood that coursed through her.

The lore she knew was the stories of heroes and villains and adventures lived by daring and often rebellious souls seeking glory and immortality. Lore is what bound common folk to their own realities for they had not the heart to seek such danger and certainties of doom but are still mesmerized by the feats and unbelievability of greater people.

Her grandfather told her lore was not always told for the glory of their heroes. ‘There are times when the deed is simple but the impact of the story reaches the center of our hearts and leaves a mark so deep we are forever changed, scarred with the beauty of the actions of another who believed there was something more, something beyond what was believed by others. Such stories are imprinted into our minds, remembered always and given the true definition of immortality.’ As she stood, she did not feel she was about to become a hero, she felt instead she was about to become a snack.

It moved its large head back and forth, scouting the terrain for some unknown thing. Mel watched in horror as its deep eyes came to rest on her smaller form trying to hide in the rock. Her doom was about to crash down upon her.

“Stand, little human, there is no place to hide here,” the dragon spoke.

In her disbelief, she complied with the order, “I did not know dragons could talk.”

“There many things humans do not know about dragons. Presumption seems a stronger guide than understanding.”

“Then I presume you took my sheep?” Mel asked.

“What made it your sheep?

“It was in my sights and it would have fed my family for a month.”

“Hhmmm, unfortunately, it fed me for only a moment,” the dragon’s deep voice shook the air.

The statement had her worried, “Do you mean to eat me as well?”

“I think not, you would be only a morsel to stick between my teeth and annoy me as you rotted.” He glanced at her with a mordant eye. “Besides, I don’t eat humans.”

Mel cast him a quizzical stare, “And why is that?”

The dragon lowered himself to his belly and crossed one claw foot over the other in a casual manner, “Too many clothes.”

Mel tried in vain to resist a chuckle, “Well I shall be thankful it cold out!” The dragon’s tone put Mel a bit more at ease as she dropped her shoulders and exhaled. “How long have you been here?”

“Several years, actually. I came in search of something I thought to be in this area.”

“What this thing be, if you don’t mind me asking, that hold a dragon’s attention so?” Her eyes narrowed.

The dragon looked upon Mel with a uncomforting stare before he answered, “I am aware of the darkness your land suffers.”

“Have you brought this evil?”

They stared at each other and shared a brief silence as Mel catered to her thoughts before the dragon resumed. “We dragons share a connection with the earth by spirit. It is such a binding that allows our exceptionally long life. If I were truly evil then my visit coincides with the turmoil of Gavan and the mystery of your plague is revealed before you.” He lowered his long neck closer to her, “Do you believe me to be evil?”

“My mind tells me yes,” she paused, “but my heart tells me it is not so.”

The dragon raised his head to study the girl, “You seem unlike most young humans to me, and I have known many. What are you called, young human?”

“My name is Melhainy.”

“Melhainy, well met, I am Fharedaigh.” He said. “What do you know of the poison that has cursed your lands?”

Mel shuffled her feet and looked to the ground, “We know nothing. Queen Shirlayn has summoned many wizards and heroes over the years to unveil the mystery but none have discovered the secret,” she answered. “It is a strange thing they did not find you.”

“Travel by air leaves little trace and I stay closer to the peaks. A few groans here and there and the minds of men and wizard alike are simple to convince the hills the haunted. As of the evil, I can tell you the curse of your city is called the Shadow Plague, a dark destroyer that feeds on the spirit of the land. Your land was once great and wholesome and so attracted the plague and it has fed on your land ever since.”

“Then have you come to hunt it?”

Fharedaigh gazed off into the distance, “I have tracked it here, yes, though such a thing cannot be hunted or killed conventionally. It is not of substance that can be broken with swords or arrows.”

“Then how do we rid ourselves of it.”

“It is a creature of energy ad must be destroyed as such. I came with the hope that I finally found the spirit required to banish the shadow but I have witnessed hope fail me for I have not seen the strength in your people.”

Mel’s eyes narrowed, “You speak as though there is no hope at all.”

“No, there is always some glimmer of hope, Melhainy of Gavan. If the spirit of the people were to become strong to confront it.”

“The people of Gavan are of strong spirit. We were known for it across the land.”

“Once, perhaps, long ago. Now it would take a great act of will to break them of this spell, such is the curse. It attacked while you were unknowing of its presence, armed with the knowledge of the thing, it can be defeated.”

“Then we must tell the queen. Perhaps with this information she can devise a means to combat this evil.” Mel’s eyes brightened with the idea of delivering good news.

“Do you believe your people would receive well the knowledge of a dragon that has been hiding in their hills since the plague arrived?” I know of the stories men tell of the fear and destruction dragons cause?” Fharedaigh cocked an eyebrow at the girl who stood mesmerized in thought before him.

“There must be a way to make them believe.”

Mel met his eyes with a hardened determination, “Aye, I do believe it.”

“Then there is nothing left but for you to try.”

Mel kept her pace as quick as her heart raced as she descended the mountainside toward Gavan. She hoped Queen Shirlayn would accept the news of Fharedaigh and the plague. The queen was wise and just and never faulted to hear the pleas of her subject, but a dragon was big news, especially a dragon who was not a blood thirsty killer. The people would be the challenge to convince. Mel knew of the lore of dragons within their hearts, bringing Fharedaigh into the city would be cause for the townsfolk to mob against him and surely destroy him or destroy themselves should he choose to defend himself. Her heart trusted him. She could not bring herself to believe he would so willingly harm any villagers. If Fharedaigh was the example of the nature of dragons, then the lore mankind had created was sorely misinformed.

She rested briefly over the night and continued very early in the morning on nothing but water and she soon emerged from the near leafless trees of the south forest to trod into a field of wheat. Late into the season already, the wheat still barely reached her knees and the ground was resistant to her boots, shouting back with a resounding crunch with every step. It was a colourless sight, without flavour and it always made her reflect on the days before the shadow, but now her thoughts filled of the life of the days before returning to bless them again.

Mel passed passed the scowling faces of the front door guards and waited as she was announced to the queen. Shirlayn was so loved by her people because she had embodied the true spirit of her city. Even though she was subjected to the dark that had claimed her people, she always remained hopeful in their presence. In her palace, dull with the lack of the sun’s touch, Mel could hear her question her advisors from outside the council chambers.

“Are there no more heroes to be hired?” she asked. “What options have we left?”

Jo-Rann, she believed, replied, “That remains the prominent question, Queen. The distraught in the peoples’ faces paint a dark picture for the future of Gavan, I am afraid.”

“We are at such desperate times. Are the notices still posted across the land for any who would aid our plight?” Her brow was raised in concern, the price was great to pay in a dying city but the need to cure the land was greater.

“They are. All we can do is wait but word has spread, the stories of our land being haunted works against us.”

The doors opened just then and a guard motioned for Mel to enter. She was brought before the queen and the staring eyes of her advisors. The queen addressed her first.

“I am told you have news for me. Come, tell me what you know.” Shirlayn motioned her toward a chair beside her.

Mel bowed properly first before she took the seat. “My Queen, I have spoken with… a wise friend in the hills yesterday morning. He has tracked this shadow from his lands to ours and claims to know what it is and how to cleanse ourselves of it forever. It is called the Shadow Plague, it feeds off the spirit of the land leaving the gloom we have endured these past years.”

“My child, that would be a great blessing indeed! We should have his council immediately, bring him here at once and let us hear this truth. He shall be shown our utmost courtesy.”

Mel looked about the room, “I believe you Majesty, however, there is something you should know. I beg you to forget the old tales for I have found them false in their meaning.”

“What is it, child?” she took her hand and leaned closer.

“Fharedaigh… is a dragon.”

The queen dropped her hand and leaned back to absorb the information. “This can’t be true.”

“I have no reason to lie, Majesty.”

Jo-Rann chimed in, “You understand the magnitude of this? Of accepting the word of a dragon? Assuming of course we are to believe they can talk!”

Mel replied, “I understand what will happen if we don’t. I believe him.”

The queen paused, “I can’t have a dragon within our boundaries. You are fooled child, lured into a false sense of trust.”

“But he says the people of Gavan must have hope! The Shadow Plague has consumed their spirit and it is in the spirit of the people that will drive it out. They must see it within themselves to believe again.”

“I am afraid not, I must forbid it. Dragons have always been and will always be evil and for the welfare of the people, he must leave or be hunted down.”

Mel’s expression turned fowl when her eyes saw the truth of it. The evil was not in the hearts of dragons but in the hearts of humans, clouded with fear of what they do not understand. She stood and bowed to the queen, “I shall convey your message,” and she left the chambers.

“Melhainy,” the queen started, “A dragon is a dangerous path to tread, I implore you to keep this knowledge to yourself. It would not be safe when the people hear of him, they will retaliate and chaos will ensue.”

“I believe if they could see past their hate and fear, they would see him as I do, not how they were told to see him.” Mel sighed and did press any further. She may not have the queen’s trust on the matter but she was going to follow what was in her heart, she would do the unthinkable. She would bring Fharedaigh to Gavan.

Following her driven determination, Mel drove herself back up the mountain. Such an assortment of emotions pulsed through her. She was proud to solve the long hidden mystery of the plague, elated to have befriended a dragon, saddened to think she may bring him or the townsfolk harm should her idea turn for the worst. She looked to the pale sun which was lower on the horizon than she was so she decided to camp for the night and start fresh after some needed rest. A fire was started to keep some warmth in her while her shelter was set up then she ate for the first time she remembered in almost two days. Her mind reeled with anticipation and rest was not coming easy. Mel stared into the fire, allowing the dancing flames to lull her into sleep. Tossing a last large log into her fire, she settled into her blankets and finally gave in.

Morning came with a crispness in the air. The fire was a smoldering hill of ash and black twigs and for the first time in an age, a single song bird was heard to greet the first dull rays of the sun. Mel recouped the thoughts of her quest and looked fondly to the mountain peak. She found her feelings about the plan were as strong as the day before, the idea had to work. The people would see Fharedaigh as a creature not to be feared and rejected but as an honourable and sentient being who wanted to help, not hinder the existence of mankind. Without breakfast, she quickly packed her campsite and continued her journey to the higher slopes, eager to find him and get him Gavan.

A cool wind swept over the rocks of the mountain’s summit and the sun offered little heat when it cast its light between the intruding clouds. She glanced around, searching for the dragon but saw nothing. He was gone. Her chest heaved with despair at the impossibility of her quest without him and her thoughts went to the people of Gavan who had nothing left to look forward too but an eternity of this curse they had no hope of destroying.

“FHAREDHAIGH!” she called into the air and was only answered by her own voice as it bounced throughout the stone and cracks of the mountainside. 

“FHAREDHAIGH!” she called again, her glistened with swelling sadness. She looked back down the mountain behind her, the journey back seemed so much farther now. A trek down a slope into the jaws of tragedy.

Just as hopelessness was about to embrace her completely, a faint roar came over the winds followed by the flapping of heavy canvas and reached her ears. She turned to search again as her heart pounded in her chest. Another beat and the mass of the dragon soared up from the depths of the canyon, bringing a rush of wind with him. He perched before Mel and brought his head close to her.

“I am here, little human.” Fharedaigh said in simple manner.

Mel’s eyes were teary but her smile was wide, “You had me worried you had left!”

“I would not. I was only scouting for breakfast. What has your queen decided?”

Mel paused a moment to settle the joy and relief before delivering harsher news, “She will not trust you as I do. The people still hold to the old lore and have much fear in their hearts.”

“Hmm. I thought as much.” The great dragon said, looking beyond the mountain range.

“Would you be willing to go to Gavan and help them see your truth?”

“You would risk this knowing what they say of dragons?”

She met his stare, “We must. I believe this is the only way to give hope back to the people. To see you for what you truly are would remove the shroud of untruth they have been told for generations. If they could believe dragons are kind and wise, they may shake the curse of the plague forever.”

Fharedaigh chuckled with his deep voice, “You are a devoted one, I will give you that. It is agreed, I will go to your city and perhaps together, we can make them believe. We will save much time if I carried you.”

Melhainy’s eyes went wide and her smile faded quickly, “You want me to ride on your back? I can barely ride a horse!”

“Come, you have a spirit that yearns for adventure, I have seen it in you.” He leaned his massive head close to the ground. She looked over the scales and horns, so much more in focus. The cracks and nicks, the slight variations in colour, the texture as she reached out touch him. She was hesitant but her adventurous ambitions took over and she climbed up and settled herself comfortably between the mounded ridges along his back.

“Lean forward and hang on, little human!” Without further warning, the dragon turned on the peak and dove off the edge into the canyon below. Mel tried to scream but the rush of the wind pushed her voice back into her throat.

Fharedaigh waited to gain enough speed in his descent before he opened his great wings to catch the rushing air and soar back upward and around the mountain. Mel nearly smacked her head into the ridge she held onto as his weight shifted from the fall. When she regained herself, she could not help but succumb to the smile and joy and excitement that subdued every other emotion within her. Still unable to speak, she moved with him as he drifted around high above the earth and show her wondrous sights before they started downward.

There were few townspeople in the streets as the pair drifted overhead. Unlike the days of a more glorious time when there was always a bustle of markets and shoppers, there were only the few now managing daily chores and those who traded their good amongst other craftsman to keep their own households alive. None on the streets this day showed any greater weight of emotion than the normal dreary depression until the shadow of the dragon flitted along the ground. They began to look up, suddenly sensing the worst thing their minds told them to expect as Mel knew they would. She saw one woman trying to hang wet clothing on a line watch them pass over and react with the fear reserved from her knowledge of such things. Knowledge improper.

“DRAGON! Run for your lives!” she screamed.

More and more people looked up and panicked as the pair circled overhead. The men scooped up anything they could use for weapons and the women rushed their children into their houses. Mel and Fharedaigh dropped closer to the ground with every pass as the villagers followed to the courtyard of town center. The mob of angry people edged forward as the dragon’s feet touched the cobblestone year, leading with their weapons. Fharedaigh raised his head up high and stomped a large, clawed foot on the ground before lowering himself to allow Mel to climb off his back. When she touched the ground, she stepped toward the mob, keeping her hand on the dragon’s cheek as she moved without fear. Bewildered expressions donned their faces as she approached and they did not  start to attack.

“One of our own is in league with the beast! She has been bewitched against us!” One villager declared, forcing an eruption of chaotic disbelief through the crowd. They jerked forward more, some aiming at Fharedaigh, some at Mel.

She raised her hands to them, “NO! STOP! I come with Fharedaigh to help!”

She heard more voices shouting from them, “Help bring about our ruin!”, “They can’t be trusted!”, “Bewitched, I say!”

“It is you who have been bewitched! By your own stories have you been misinformed of the real truth! Dragons are not evil creatures preying on us and our livestock. They are attuned to the earth and only seek to maintain the balance of its energies. We have all been poisoned by an evil spirit for far too long and Fharedaigh can help us rid ourselves of this curse!”

“You are the misguided one! The stories speak the truth, I heard them directly from one who has seen it!”

“You heard a story from one who did not know what they saw and spoke out of fear. Every tale you know of knights fighting dragons, the battles began by the knights themselves seeking out the dragon. A dragon has never sought out the fight, they have only defended themselves from extermination!”

“She calls you a liar!” came another voice from the back of the crowd.

From beyond the knowledge and notice of the angered townsfolk, the colourless shadow around them stirred. Mel was aware of it now and saw it pulse beneath their feet and devour the hateful notions in silent bliss as the anger in the crowd escalated further. They raised their weapons more and a couple even made jabs into the air toward her and the dragon. Fharedaigh raised his head up and issued a growl of warning toward them.

“No, stop! You must understand…” her voice was cut short as a garden tool sailed through the air and struck Mel on her head. She gasped and dropped to the ground thrusting a hand up to check for blood as Fharedaigh stepped over her to shield her from more harm. Streams of smoke wisped from his nostrils as the mob edged in closer. The Shadow Plague surged with new power, flourishing in the anger of the people and spreading its dark power deeper into the city and its inhabitants. Mel saw it clearly where they remained unaware. The colour seemed to drain from everything even more and become duller and lifeless.

Behind the excitement of the proceedings and horn bellowed a triumphant call, signalling the arrival of the queen’s guards. The crowd jeered louder as they marched into the thick of them, dividing them to either side of the courtyard to make a path for the queen’s carriage. The noise of the villagers ebbed as the carriage door was opened and Queen Shirlayn stepped out in a pale yellow gown. Obviously unafraid, she strode, unescorted, toward Mel and Fharedaigh, her eyes fixed all the while on the dragon’s. She stopped short of them while the crowd stared on. Fharedaigh raised his head again to peer down at her.

“You must be Queen Shirlayn,” he said. The collective gasping sound from the townsfolk was unmistakable. There was a shift in things Mel could feel, not only in the people but the plague as well. It was suddenly aware of a change in them.

“I am… pleased to meet you,” and she curtsied before the dragon and all the people. “It appears we have been trusting in fairy tales for too long. They have clouded our sight to the truth but Melhainy has shown us who the real beasts have been of late.”

Mel sensed the plague shiver. Waves of colour pulsed in and out around them and she saw some of the villagers see it as well.

Shirlayn turned to them, “The time of the old lore is at its end. From this forth we shall write new tales to remember for those who follow. This is the proof, this is a friendship we believed impossible but Melhainy has proven the better of us all. She saw past the stories and dared to believe where we could not. Drop your weapons and your hate this day and rejoice so we may expel this Shadow Plague from our lands!”

A pause flowed through the crowd, a humble reasoning that passed from person to person as they looked to each other for support. First one, then others followed in a chorus of wood and metal dropping to the cobblestone. Hate was overpowered by compassion, anger overruled by sincerity and the only pain felt by anything was the sour sting of communal joy the Shadow Plague perceived but could not endure. All at once the people started to cheer and clap and laugh and truly rejoice at feelings long since buried. The shadow retreated, Mel watched it slither away from an atmosphere it could not tolerate and in its wake, colour, glorious colour returned to the scene around her and she too laughed with the queen.

Fharedhaigh lifted his head to the skies as the clouds parted at last to allow a stream of rich, yellow light settle upon him. From him, the light spread thick and warm and with it, rich hues became more vibrant and the people of Gavan looked upon each other with eyes renewed. The great dragon looked down upon Mel. Their eyes locked in understanding and thankfulness.

“Well done, little human. It is a great thing you have done this day.”

“It is a great thing we have done, my friend.”

 

Queen Shirlayn ordered a great feast to be had in celebration of their victory over the plagued. It lasted for days and new stories arose from a new understanding of dragons. Eventually, Fharedaigh brought more of his kind to Gavan and the lands enjoyed a form of peace that was a first in any land. Travelers sought out the city to see for themselves the place in league with dragons and with them came new trades and a flourishing marketplace. The good stories were passed on from person to person and from town to town. Dragons were no longer hunted or feared, shadow plagues were no longer able to dwell in the lands of mankind and the story of the girl who saw past the lore was never forgotten.

Long after her days, visitors came to pay homage at her homestead, a vast stretch of land, a beautiful mansion to live in where a family was raised and continued to thrive generations after. The entrance gate to her estate was erected with a statue of her likeness and Fharedaigh’s for visitors to see. The words inscribed on the stone base read, ‘To our Knight, Melhainy, believer of truth, saviour of Gavan, deminisher of shadow.’


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