Jenene Wright

Once upon a time in a land where all the magical creatures haven't quite disappeared, there lived a very old dragon. He was so old that he was quite ancient. He wasn't sure if he was the last of his kind, but in the particular range of mountains where he lived, he knew that he was the only one. He was extremely lonely at times and longed for the occasional companionship of another dragon. Solitary by nature, this wasn't very often, but as the decades went by he missed being in the company of other thinking, reasoning beings.
Time passed quickly. Sometimes he would sleep through whole seasons. He began to feel the toll of the years and he found that he wasn't feeling very well at times. He realised that his will to live was slowly disappearing. The urge to go out and hunt for his dinner was becoming rare and his skin had started to sag as the weight fell away from his bones. His ribs showed through and his joints ached. He hardly ever flew any more and his wings fell listlessly across his back, tatte|__ __ _________ __ ______ _He had been a magnificent dragon in his prime. Compared to the other dragons that had lived in these mountains, he had once stood taller and broader than any other. His marbled, black and gold scales had shone splendidly and his wing span was such that they had been able to carry him to the heights with only a couple of powerful downward thrusts. Now he just lay in the opening to his cave, watching the world go by and sleeping.
In another part of the mountains there was a village that consisted of a small group of people that survived on a livelihood of small crops and a few goatherds. They lived a simple existence and rarely ventured down towards the coast to the larger towns that were there. They traded goods to supplement their sparse provisions and occasionally one of the young maidens would find a husband from somewhere else and leave the clan to go with them to a new life.
There was a particular young girl, not far off reaching the age of marriage, who lived in this village. Her name was Lillian. She was a tiny, dainty little thing and as quiet as a mouse. She knew that her chance of finding a husband was less than the other young maidens in the village because she was a cripple with a foot deformed since birth. People rarely noticed her, even in this small community, and she took to looking after the goats. She would take the herd that she looked after farther up into the hills to where the greener, richer grass grew. As she watched that they didn't stray too far, she would sit and play a whistle. Her father had made it for her out of a branch of the apple tree she had liked to sit in as a child.
Her father had died not long after he had made the whistle, attacked by a bear in the foothills of the mountains when he had been returning from a trading trip to the larger towns. Lillian and her mother had survived over the years by cultivating a small vegetable patch and goatherd. The goats had bred well and now their herd had increased in size and the quality of their hair had made some of the better rugs and cloths that they traded on an annual basis. Her mother had eventually married another man in the village and had even started a new family. The young girl was now a big sister to a strong and chubby baby brother.
While she watched and tended the goats and played her wooden whistle, she would allow her mind to wander. It would fly off into the vast expanse of blue that stretched out like a cathedral ceiling, supported by the heights of the surrounding mountains. She would soar amongst the clouds and imagine she could see herself sitting under the tree in the shade with the goats grazing around her, like little ants below. Occasionally one of the goats would wander too far and she would return to herself again and limp after it, telling it in conversational tones that to go off on its own was dangerous. Who knew what would decide it would like to eat a succulent young goat for a lunch or dinner?
One day, when the last of the winter chill was still in the air, Lillian decided to take the goats a little farther afield. The snow had been melting up on the slopes and lush green grass h____ __ ____ _______ out early, when the sun had only just made its appearance in the sky, walking with her irregular gait across the hills. She carried a knapsack over her shoulder and a sturdy stick in her hand and sung softly as the sky became gradually lighter. Eventually she found a spot where she could lean against a tall rock with a clear view of the surrounding area. The goats, realising that this was to be their territory for the day, spread out. They began to pull with relish on the snow sweetened, new grass that grew in abundance on the levelled off part of the slope that the girl had chosen for the day.
Settling back against the rock the girl pulled out her whistle and proceeded to play a new melody that she was working on. She could play all the common tunes that she had learnt growing up but had found that she liked to create her own while she was out here by herself. She let the feeling of the mountains come through in the music she found in her little whistle. Sometimes it seemed to have a life of its own, her fingers automatically knowing where to go, and magic would happen as the beautiful melodies echoed out across the hills.
After a time she noticed that one of the younger, more curious goats had begun to wander off in amongst a scree of rock up on the hillside. She scrambled to her feet to go and follow it. Lillian made her way carefully up the slope and by the time she got to where she had last seen the goat, it had disappeared. Sighing with a mild feeling o _____________________________ around. As she searched in around the bigger rocks, she heard a sound that did not belong to any of the goats. It was not recognisable to her as anything that she had heard before. It was a low hissing, wheezing sound that came from higher up the hill. Cautiously, because predatory animals were a real danger in these mountains, she made her way as silently as possible in the direction it was coming from. Climbing onto a ledge she came into view of the origin of the sound and stopped petrified by what she saw in front of her.
Lillian had heard many stories of dragons but she had always thought of them belonging to a bygone era, long extinct from these more modern days. The stories she had heard revolved around the fierce and predatory nature of these huge beasts. Some stories told of virgin sacrifices made to pacify them and keep them from attacking the villages and stealing their animals. Others told of vengeance paid from disregarding of sacrifices and whole villages razed burnt to the ground in the wrath _________________________________She stood and stared for a long time holding her breath in case she woke this sleeping monster. He looked old but still powerful. She noticed that the scales had a lack lustre quality and that the body had a scrawniness that spoke of not enough food. There was a defeated beauty in the black scales, their faded gold highlights glinting in the sun. The head rested on outstretched talons and a proud fierceness showed, even in repose. Slowly and ever so carefully she began to back away trying very hard to keep any sound to an absolute minimum. She thought that at last she was going to be able to leave without waking the great beast when she slipped on some loose stones. The sound magnified as the small landslide settled into a new position. Little stones slid and fell down the slope for a distance and echoed even as they stopped. With her hand to her mouth, the girl froze and stood looking in absolute horror as one of the enormous eyes opened and fixed its intense gaze straight on her.
The dragon stared at the young girl and recalled some long forgotten images from his memory that told him what sort of creature this was. He blinked slowly and sniffed. The smell was fresh and appetising as well. Here was food on his doorstep and he felt saliva ooze across his tongue as he realised he hadn't eaten for a very long time. He raised his large head and looked down his long snout at the now very frightened girl. He eyed her from head to toe and then noticed the whistle that she carried in her hand. Music was something that he hadn't heard for a long time. To be able to hear a melody would be an entertainment that wasn't often given to dragons.
"What do you have in your hand?" His voice came out in what_______________________________ly but to Lillian it was loud enough to make her cringe back as she looked at the small wind instrument she held down by her side.
"It's a whistle. M- my father made it for me." She wondered at her ability to be able to speak to this giant beast. She was so frightened that her knees trembled as she stood.
The dragon considered for a moment. "Can you play it?" His voice seemed to be improving and this time it came out in a bellow making Lillian crouch down to let the sound wash over the top of her head.
"A little. Do you want me to play something for you?" She wondered at the dragon's interest in her little wooden pipe.
"I'll make a bargain with you. You play some music for me and I might let you leave here without making a meal of you. Interested?"
By this time Lillian had managed to recover a little and murmured under her breath, "As if I have a choice." With this comment she lifted the whistle to her lips and began to play.
At first the sounds came tremulously and her fingers shook as she endeavoured to find the holes for the notes. As the music took over the notes became clearer and rose up into the mountain air, clear crystals of sound that hung balanced in space for a moment and then evaporated on the wind. The effect on the dragon was amazing. He stayed as still as a statue with his eyes closed and a sound that was almost a purr came from deep in his throat. Lillian played the common tunes for a while and then she too got caught up in the music and began to play the freedom of the high mountains, the beauty of the lush valleys and the joy she felt as she wandered to these places in her imagination. She let her music encompass her and soar up into the sky above her following the trail of the clouds until eventually she returned to where she had started, exhausted yet refreshed by the magic of her creating. She stood with her head bowed and realised that she once again stood in front of one of the most powerful predators in existence. The dragon sat still for a long time with his eyes still closed. Lillian stood where she was and wandered what was going to happen to her now.
Eventually the dragon opened his eyes and shook his great head as if to clear it. "What is your name little girl?"
Lillian stared a moment at this unexpected question and then answered. "Lillian. My mother named me after the lilies that grow further down in the valley. She said that when I was born I reminded her of them. She said that I was so small and fragile and pale that she named me after them." Lillian considered a moment and decided to be bold. "Are you going to eat me?"
The dragon laughed a huge wheeze that nearly knocked the small girl onto the ground. "Lillian. It is a name that suits you. You have the fragility and the beauty of a flower. You also awaken magic with your music. It is a gift that is given to only a few. No, I'm not going to eat you. I would like to hear you play again and if I were to eat you I could hardly do that, could I? Maybe I can have one of your goats instead. I haven't eaten in a long time and am very hungry. I haven't been interested in eating for a long time."
Lillian became saddened at thought of losing one of her goats. She had names for all of them. She could however see the need for the dragon to eat so conceded to his request. After all he had decided not to eat her. "Would you mind terribly if you ate one of the older ones? I don't know if I could part with one of the younger ones. I've looked after them since they were babies." She stopped here as she gathered her courage to ask another question. "What is your name?"
The dragon considered her with a stern gaze. "That is not something that a dragon gives away lightly little one. There is much power in a name, especially a dragon's. Maybe one day the privilege of it will become yours. You have to earn it first. Now if you don't mind I think I would like to have that meal that I have missed out on for so long."
Lillian returned to the decreased number of her small herd and hobbled her way slowly down into the foothills. She had much to think about so made her way through the countryside without seeing much at all. The next few weeks saw her not going very far from the village. Eventually though, curiosity got the better of her and she made her way back up into the mountains to where the dragon lived. She had told not a soul about his presence there. She was fairly sure that anybody who listened to her tale would have doubted the credibility of it anyway. She felt that she was actually going back herself to prove that she hadn't imagined it. Spring was in the air now and the chill that had been this high up before had gone. Flowers bloomed in amongst the rocks and patches of grass. The air was filled with the sound of birds and busy insects.
She reached the spot where she had left the goats before and then continued on up to the cave. It was empty and she stood uncertainly for a moment, unsure of what to make of it or what to do. She knew she hadn't imagined it. Sitting down on a broad flat rock she brought her pipe to her lips and began to play. She played new tunes that she had been learning and practicing and embellished them as she went, creating again something that seemed to come alive in the air. She played and forgot about where she was and how much time went past until she heard a rush of air and flap of wings and the dragon landed at his cave entrance making the ground tremble at the force of his landing. He shook out his wings and then settled down on his haunches, tipping his head toward her so that he could see her better.
"I wondered if I was going to see you again. I have missed your music very much. Will you play again for me?" He seemed healthier than the last time Lillian had seen him. There was a sheen to his scales and a brightness in his eyes that hadn't been there before. Lillian brought the woodwind to her lips again and played on. Both the giant dragon and the small girl fell into a trance as the notes trilled out into the hills. Finally the music faded and they both sat lost in their thoughts for a while. Lillian roused herself and looked at the old dragon.
"You look much better than before. You seem younger and healthier. I was afraid to come back to see you and then when I got here I was afraid that I had imagined you." She stopped and played self-consciously with the whistle she held in her hands.
"I was out flying. I'd forgotten what it was like to be free in the sky. I have begun hunting again and have eaten at least every other day. I feel alive again although I missed your music. Will you come more often now? I enjoy having somebody to talk to. I promise I'll try not to eat you or any more of your goats." The dragon's attempt at humour was so rusty that it made Lillian laugh. She was amazed at the lack of fear she felt.
"I should like to visit you again." She made a simple statement of it and could feel the truth of her answer. It would be nice to have a friend even if it was a fire-breathing monster. They talked throughout the day and eventually Lillian had to take the goats home for the evening.
The year progressed and they met often at the dragon's cave and discussed many things. Always Lillian played her whistle for him. He was looking ever more fit and healthy and had taken a new interest in life. He told her many things about dragons and how they lived. He told her stories of long ago and what the land used to be like. She listened with rapt attention as he described a different world, one in which dragons were common sights. He explained that dragon's were not that dissimilar to people in that there were the good ones and then there were the bad ones and these bad ones were the ones that created the reputation of evil that was told in the old stories. She learnt that the lifespan of a dragon was phenomenal but that they did die eventually. They could be killed although that was not easy and needed knowledge of their vulnerability or in some cases plain luck.
One day, about a year from the day that Lillian had met the dragon, she decided to pay him another visit. They had not seen each other much over the winter months. It had been too cold for Lillian to make the long trek up the mountainside, risking slipping in the ice and snow, and the dragon tended to hibernate through the wintertime anyway. He curled up in his cave and slept the cold days away waiting for the warmer months to return. She reached the cave entrance and stood hesitantly outside wondering what she shoul_____________________ but as he didn't come out to greet her as he normally did she finally plucked up the courage to step inside. She had never been inside his domain before and felt intrusive. She looked around curiously as she followed a short broad tunnel that led back to a large cavern set into the mountain. The air inside felt warm and the layers of the mountain could be seen on the walls of the cave. Light came down through cracks that led up to the surface, and gave dim illumination so that she could see how big the space was. It took a moment to locate where the dragon was because his blackness had him hidden in the shadows at the rear of the cave. The stories that told of dragon's hoarding treasure troves fit for the wealth of kingdoms didn't seem to hold true for this dragon. He lay curled up on loose shale that was piled on the floor.
Lillian cleared her throat so as not to startle him, thinking he may have been sleeping. After receiving no response from this she stepped closer and gasped in horror when she realised that the shadow on the floor of the cave below him was his blood seeping from a wound on the shoulder of his front leg. Other gashes and tears could be seen on his body and his breathing seemed to be shallow and erratic. Hurrying forward Lillian took her cape from around her shoulders and poured water from her flask onto it. As gently as possible she began to clean up the rent on his leg. She could feel him flinch as she wiped the blood away and jumped when his great head swung around and he pinned her with his gaze. His eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared and for a second there was no recognition in his look and then he seemed to see her and his head slumped back down to the floor. Lillian made soothing noises as she administered her tender first aid. She applied balm that she carried in her pack in case of the goats being injured and covered the largest wound with the remnants of her cloak, knowing that this was inadequate but not having any alternative. Apart from the occasional wince the dragon lay still. After she had finished she moved up to his head and stroked the rough scales that covered his cheek and soon she felt him relax completely and his breath came in slow soft snores.
Lillian awoke to find herself curled up against the dragon's neck. She wondered how long she had slept. She lay still for a moment as full consciousness returned to her and then sat up quickly as she realised exactly where she was and what she had done before she had fallen asleep. She felt the large body stir beside her and she scrambled to her feet to inspect the injuries that she had tended earlier. A gruff rumbling voice greeted her as she stood on tiptoe and peeked beneath the makeshift bandage.
"Good morning little one. It is feeling much better due to your ministrations of yesterday. You have a gentle and healing touch. It will be a little stiff for a while but I don't think it will be too long before I can venture out again." The dragon did look more refreshed and from what she could see of the wound Lillian decided that the chances of infection were not likely.
"What happened? You look like you've been in a fight. You should be more careful. You gave me a terrible fright when I came here and found you looking like you were nearly dead!" Lillain's voice trembled as she remembered her distress at finding him bleeding all over the floor. The dragon managed to sound amused as he answered her.
"It takes a little more than a couple of cuts to kill me girl. As to what happened ... I managed to discover that other dragon's still live. Or one other anyway. I flew a long way yesterday. It was good to be back in the air after sleeping for so long over winter. I came across another dragon far to the north of here and he seemed to think that I was moving in on his territory. Didn't even want to talk. Just flew in and attacked me. I defended myself and then flew away when I got the chance. Only young fellow too, in dragon years that is. Shall have to go back and teach him some manners one day." At this point the indignation showing on his face nearly made Lillian laugh but the next words stopped her humour in its tracks and erased the words she was about to say. "My name is Croechodaigh. It means blood-friendship in the old tongue. I want to thankyou for your help yesterday. I think you have earned the right to know my true name. If you are ever in need of me all you have to do is call my name and I will be there if it is at all physically possible."
Lillian tried to absorb this honour and felt that she failed miserably. Instead of saying anything, truly she could think of nothing that would suffice, she reached into her knapsack and drew out her little wooden whistle. She played for a long time enjoying the acoustics created by the huge cavern. Croechodaigh had fallen asleep again by the time she took the pipe from her lips and she quietly picked up her stuff and left the cave knowing that he needed his sleep.
There was concern for her lack of return the previous evening when she got back to the village. She explained that she had been searching for a missing goat and night had come upon her before she had found it and that she had opted to stay in one of the many small caves that dotted the hillsides and return home in daylight hours. She was let be with a mild scolding and promises of not venturing too far in future. She didn't know why she kept Croechodaigh a secret other than a feeling that the others would not think of him the same way that she did. She had an idea that they would be afraid of him and maybe even try to harm him because of their fear.
Disturbing news was brought back to the village during the next couple of months. The traders that ventured down to the large towns were returning home with stories of bandits travelling the routes between villages. They spoke of caravans of goods being raided and people being killed while protecting their wares. A night watch had been set up and the people in the village were uneasy when one of the groups due back from a trading trip had not returned home when expected. Few of them ventured far even during daylight hours and Lillian began to miss her regular visits to the dragon.
One day when she decided she was going to take the risk anyway, Lillian set off along the now familiar trail that led up into the mountains. It was a warm summer's day and despite the anxiety that followed everybody these days she felt exhilaration as she drank in the warmth from the sun. The goats trudged along around her and the younger ones played as they made their way up the track. She chose a slightly different route for the day because the sun was so warm. The path she took them along led them through a forested valley floor before making its way up the side of the mountain that Croechodaigh lived on. She decided that it would be pleasant to make some of the journey through the trees where they would be protected from the summer heat.
She had no warning of what was going to happen, was not even aware of them until they were upon her. Her sole impression consisted of hairy faces, sweaty smelly bodies and pain as they gripped her tight and threw her to the ground. She had time for one piercing scream where she called Croechodaigh's name before the back of her head struck a rock and all consciousness fled from her.
Croechodaigh raised his head from the meal he was making of a wild pig he had been lucky enough to come across the trail of. He heard the fear and terror in the faint scream that carried his name. With a mighty flap of wings he was in the air and flying in the direction it had come from. It took him a while to find her. If it had not been for some of the goats that had wandered out from under the cover of the wood he may not have found her at all. He squeezed his bulk in amongst the trees and came across the small, bloodied body that lay crumpled on the ground. He looked around for signs of her attackers but they seem to be long gone. He would deal with them later. He would track them down and make them pay but for now his thoughts were entirely for the small, still form in front of him.
She was so still that he feared her dead but when he brought his face down close to her he could feel a faint breath against his nostrils. He gently pulled her tattered clothing over her and picking her up tenderly in his great talons he took out from under the trees and carried her back to his lair on the mountain. There was not much he could do. It was doubtful that she would survive her injuries. The blow to her head was severe and still oozed blood and they had not been gentle in their treatment of her as they had used her body to satisfy their craven and twisted compulsions. Even so the mental scarring would be something that she would carry for the rest of her life. The dragon sat and watched over her wondering what to do. Great tears crept into his eyes and rolled down over his scales to drip onto the floor. Dragons could perform certain magic but restoring vitality to this fading life was almost beyond him. The thought of this beautiful, courageous little creature dying was too much for him. He pressed his nose up against her face and felt the coldness that had crept in under her skin. Time was short. He acted quickly on his thought. Before he could change his mind he hurried to execute one of the few magic arts that were available to him.
With one of his razor sharp talons he cut into the unguarded softness of his breast and stood over Lillian as the blood flowed. The crimson liquid splashed onto the alabaster skin of her face and ran in rivulets over her throat and breasts. The dragon stood back when the flow from his wound had slowed and drew in a deep breath. He called up his inner fire and exhaled it over the limp body on the cavern floor and as the inferno engulfed it an incredible magic happened. Forms writhed and seethed in amongst the flames. A kaleidoscope of colours blossomed in the blaze and rose up high into the air. Finally the fire died away and a new form stood in the middle of all the ashes.
Lillian looked around and marvelled at how well she felt. She remembered excruciating pain. She remembered extreme coldness and then an intense heat. She looked at the huge form of the black and gold dragon in front of her and twisted her head to see herself. Her beautiful body was covered in green-gold scales. Her wings, folded against her back, were like the colour of the treetops in the middle of spring. She laughed happily as she spread them so that their span met the confines of the cave. She moved forward and realised that her limp was gone. She touched her muzzle to that of her friend expressing her gratitude and love and then went out into the open. As she sprang into the air, her wings pushing her ever upwards, she let out an ululation that echoed her newfound name across the mountains. She was reborn. Her new name was Tyinhm Laigdah, instrument of the spirit flight.