by David McLeod
Boys and Their Dragons
Reagan was a tween, who had been introduced to us as the valley's storyteller.
"I've been thrust into my role untimely," he said. "My master died suddenly after eating a mushroom to which he was allergic. The healer did not reach him quickly enough.
"I know all his stories," Reagan asserted, somewhat defensively, I thought.
"I am happy to hear that," I said, without trying to sound conciliatory. "And I will gladly trade our story for one of yours."
Reagan knew that there was something unusual about us, but it wasn't until I finished relating our adventures—a somewhat abbreviated version—that he realized how unusual we were. His first statement surprised me, perhaps as much as my story had surprised him.
"I do not understand your anger," Reagan said. "You are a dragonrider; you will lead the greatest wing of dragons in the battle for the Light; you—"
"Larry and I were taken from our home and families, "I interrupted. "Families who must have thought us to be dead, and who are by now, dead these many years, themselves. We weren't asked if we wanted to come; we were kidnapped." I figured that kidnapped was as good a word as any for what had happened. "We washed dishes and scrubbed floors. We hoed weeds. We—"
Reagan interrupted me. "Hoed weeds and washed dishes? Oh my. Perhaps you aren't the heroes we expected, after all." I sensed, and heard sarcasm in his voice, but more than that, I heard disappointment.
I was abashed. Reagan waited while I thought. "I'm sorry," I said. "That was childish. Stupid and illogical." I looked at Reagan. His smile told me he wasn't going to argue any of those points.
"You say you were kidnapped? Please, will you tell me?"
It took most of the afternoon for me to tell him the rest of our story. I think he found it not only exciting, but also somewhat dumbfounding, if that's a word, especially when I said that I believed he—or his people—had been responsible for bringing us here.
"Paul, when Carver said that we expected you, it was because always in the past a great leader—a First Rider—has come to recruit, select, and train others. When you arrived, he and I assumed that you were that First Rider." He paused to think. "You believe something—no, you said someone—someone brought you here? From your world, and then to this place?"
I nodded, afraid to speak, afraid to break his train of thought.
"I think you answered your own question," he said. "You said that you thought that Good was not an entity, but the power of all the good thoughts of all the good people.
"You know that everyone has some magical ability?" I nodded. He continued.
"When I tell stories, I can often feel the magic they evoke. One of those stories is about the two boys who were destined to unite the dragons and the dragonriders in the next great battle for the Light. It is a popular story. It creates a great wonder and, yes, a great yearning in the hearts of the boys who hear it. I think it is their magic that brought you here. I think that my master was responsible."
Before I could ask what he meant, he jumped up. "But that must wait for the telling," he said. "It is time for bathing and supper."
Larry and I were tweens, and by now a lot closer to 100 years old than to the 12-year-olds who met and discovered their sexuality and love so long ago. Still, when we were alone, I called him Little Buddy, and he called me Big Buddy. He still looked like the 18-year-old he was when we left Earth. Perhaps a little younger with the bangs and over-the-collar haircuts we'd adopted. He was still shorter than I was: short enough that when we cuddled, his head nestled under my chin.
After what I can only think of as a sexual free-for-all on that night in the loft of Reagan's home, Larry and I found one another and cuddled.
I loved Larry so much I was afraid to tell him what I'd figured out from what Reagan had said. Larry still wanted to go home, but I knew now that we never would.
"Something's wrong," Larry whispered. I felt his concern for me.
"I thought I was the preceptor," I said.
Larry wiggled his bottom into my groin. If we'd been standing and facing one another, he'd have punched my shoulder, gently, and grinned. It meant the same thing: I love you; so don't try to pull the wool over my eyes.
So, I told him what I had figured out. "If I am right, then the stories of heroes who came from far distant places, told and retold to rapt audiences of magic users, have been responsible for our coming to this world and to this place. If that is what happened, then only a great magic can get us home."
Larry was quiet for a long time before he said, "So, to get home, all we have to do is make up a story about going home, and get enough people to tell it enough times."
Before I could answer, he said, "Wouldn't work, would it?" He sighed. I hugged him.
"It's okay," he said. "They're all dead. Have been dead for a long time. But we're alive, and we have friends, and we have something to do that's a lot more important than anything we might have done back home."
He rolled over and kissed me, and I felt his mouth move down my neck to my chest. He paused. "Besides, the sex is incredible." He giggled. I hadn't heard him giggle like that since we were 13 or so, and I'd first performed fellatio on him. I pulled him up and kissed him. "My turn," I said.
The next morning, Reagan told us the story that he thought had summoned us to this place.
"A thousand, thousand lifetimes ago, in a place where the mountains touch the sky, were born two boys who had been companions in lives beyond count. Through this bond, they found one another while still children. Through this bond, they rediscovered their love for one another. Through this bond they remembered the Mysteries, for those secrets had been forgotten by the people of that place, who dwelt in superstition and ignorance.
"Driven by memories of which they were unaware, these boys became dragon riders. Riding together, they shared their skills and knowledge to guide the dragon's flight.
"And, oh, what a dragon it was! Her scales were mithral, the legendary metal of the elves. Her eyes were clear crystal and through these eyes the boys saw the world unfold before them. Her ears had their own magic, and through them the boys heard the voices of other dragonriders and of people who watched from below. The voice of the dragon, herself, was the drone of a thousand angry bees."
Larry nudged me, and I nodded. That's not a dragon; that's an airplane!
Reagan didn't see the nudge or the light of revelation on our faces. "The world was at war," he continued. "And the boys and their friends and their dragon and their friends' dragons practiced the skills that would prepare them to join this war when the time came.
"The war became more intense as evil coalesced and found allies among the people of the desert and of the far mountains. The leaders of the boys' country sent calls to their allies and others who served the Light. Meanwhile, in the hidden Valley of Valeus, boys practiced the arts of war and waited, longing for their dragons to wake, and for the arrival of the great dragonriders who would lead them.
"When the call came, it was unexpected, for the boys did not know that they would be summoned. The boys were plucked from their home—" Reagan paused. "One version of the story says they were plucked from the back of their dragon, but that's probably too fanciful.
"They were plucked from their home and family and friends, and came at last face to face with war."
Reagan stopped speaking, and looked at us.
"You do weave magic with your story," Larry said. "I saw it. Imagine what power you could create in a room full of boys, full of their own magic and that of their companions."
Reagan nodded. "By custom and tradition, this story is told every First Market at the boys' convocation. The convocation is attended by scores of boys. It is an old story, and one that they have heard many, many times. Still, it stirs them. The boys alive today know—they know—that they are the boys who are waiting for their dragons to awake; and, the most perceptive of them have said in the past months that they have heard dragons."
I sighed. "I have wanted an explanation for our being here. So far, every hypothesis has failed, usually because it was too complex or because it required the intervention of some meta-physical power—beyond even the powers of magic that I understand.
"I was unwilling to concede an impersonal power great enough to bring us here—from farther away than your story suggests—but, well, I believe I've found the answer: your stories in a room full of boys full of—and eager to share—their magic!"
Dakota had sent a call, and told me the day on which it would be answered. One hundred and twenty boys stood, arrayed over a broad meadow north of the central town. They were waiting for their dragon. Each of them had heard a dragon calling to him—or had hoped that he had. I had questioned the location, knowing that it would be hard for a large number of dragons to gather enough magic to take flight from a low place. "It's all about trust," Reagan said. "For the rest of their lives, these boys will trust their dragons with their lives. Today, the dragons trust the boys with theirs."
"Look," one boy said, alerted by something no one else had yet sensed. "Dragons!"
They came from all points of the compass; they came in all colors of the rainbow. The sun glistened from their scales until the sky, itself, seemed to scintillate. Larry was perhaps the first to notice. "There are fewer dragons than boys," he whispered. "Some will be disappointed."
I nodded. "Dakota says there are eighty dragons. Forty boys will—" A gust of wind blew the next words from my mouth. Hey, I thought, not so close! I thought I felt a note of chagrin from the dragon who landed beside the boy closest to me.
"The boy is Edouard," Reagan said. "Eddie to his friends. And he has many friends. They will be happy for him."
Reagan seemed to know all the boys, and named one after another, as more dragons selected—no, found—their riders. Throughout the process, which took nearly an hour, I agonized over what we might say to the boys who were not selected, how to ease their disappointment.
It was Larry who came up with the answer.
"Helpers. Messengers. Give them a uniform. Make it special. Make them special. Make them squires to a dragonrider, but let them and the riders select one another," Larry suggested.
"How?" I asked.
"You're the leader—" he began.
"No, I'm the commander," I said. "Big difference."
"You'll become the leader by making the right decisions," Larry said. "I'm sure that this will be one of those."
Larry was right. I asked Reagan to gather all the boys who had not been selected. It took only a few minutes to outline Larry's plan. "You boys are special in your own way. It may be that your dragon will find you in this life; it may be that it will not be until a future life. Dakota assures me, however, that he sees, that he knows, that you all will someday be dragonriders. Until that day, you will be squires to these dragonriders, if you will. You will become sparring partners, cartographers, scribes, smiths and fletchers, and companions to dragon riders, if you will. You will ride dragons as couriers, heralds, and mages—if you will."
Larry stepped up. "As your talents reveal themselves you will be offered appropriate training and duties. If you have a magical talent, you will be trained to become a mage. If you have other talents, you will be trained in those. My first duty is to do whatever is asked of me to support and defend the Dragon Corps, the dragons and their riders. No duty, no task is too small or unimportant. That is the first rule. The second rule is that we . . . we auxiliaries will pledge absolute loyalty to the First Rider."
"That oath will be mutual," I said. "As long as I am First Rider, I will swear absolute loyalty to all the members of the corps, both riders and auxiliaries."
Most of the 40 who were not selected accepted the invitation to become auxiliaries. Que sera, sera: whatever will be, will be, a pragmatist on Earth might have said about not being selected. It is not, however, a concept with which these people are familiar.
That notion rests on a belief, perhaps unconscious and usually unexamined, in some higher power: karma, destiny, god. No one we've met on World seems to have any such beliefs. The closest expression to Que sera, sera we've heard is the one we heard echoed with sincerity by the boys and by their friends: If not this life, the next. Underpinning this expression are both a belief in reincarnation and a belief in some sort of selection of who one will be in the next life. The matter of who one will be in the next life is poorly understood and seldom discussed.
"How will we know?" Larry asked.
I felt more puzzlement than curiosity, and more curiosity than fear. But there was fear. "When and where we will go into battle, you mean," I said.
"It's an assumption—that we will have to fight. It's an assumption," I added.
"Always before…" Larry said. "That's what Reagan's stories say. That's what Dakota . . . ."
He didn't have to finish the sentence. Always before, riders mean war, Dakota had said.
Across the valley, one of the 40 who had not been selected, a boy named Landon, looked around the room he shared with his brothers. He was alone. His family were all in the fields. Yesterday, they and his friends had surrounded him, offering encouragement and what became hollow commiserations. He had not been selected by a dragon.
Farmers, he thought. They're content to be farmers. The work is always there. Except for First Market, there's nothing but work. I will be a dragon rider! Even if I have to find my own dragon. Those two boys found one, and I'm as good as they are.
He pulled two woolen blankets from a bed and rolled them together. He looked at his feet. Robbie's new boots are better than mine, and they'll fit if I wear extra socks. He put socks in a bag and added trousers and shirts. He fingered the row of parkas that hung from pegs. This one's better than mine, and I'll need it to cross the mountains more than Edgar will need it. The parka went into the bag. He tucked his sling into his belt and then grabbed a handful of his littlest brother's marbles: smooth, round, the perfect sling ammunition. He looked at the few that were left, shrugged, and stuffed them into a pocket. He took a last look around the room and reached for his quarterstaff. He paused, and took another, instead. Evan's is better; it's ash.
When the family returned from their tasks in the fields, Landon was miles away. By nightfall, he was encamped in a copse. A rabbit he'd taken with one of the marbles was roasting on a spit. Landon's mind took him back to the previous day. He had listened to Paul and Larry's speeches and the offer to join the Dragon Corps as an auxiliary. Larry's promise to train boys with magical talent appealed to him. But he knew, No mage is going to be looked up to like a dragon rider. The only time I would ride would be on someone else's dragon. Auxiliary? They mean servants! No way! My magic started to reveal itself when I became a tween. I can already do some things with the Great Magic.
His thoughts flew further back in time, back to the day he and his father realized that Landon had a magical talent. His father had taken him to the Council and asked for training. The council had offered to send him to the monastery at the southern end of the valley, but he'd refused. Cold, hard-scrabble farming. When would I have time to learn anything? No, they're just looking for a strong back to do their work.
The smell of the roasted rabbit brought Landon back to the present. I'll teach myself, he thought. Then, he shouted, "I'll teach myself. I'll be no one's servant. I will be a dragon rider. I will be a mage. And then I'll show them!" The hills echoed, and the trees nodded in the wind as if confirming Landon's resolution.