by David McLeod
Encounter with a Dragon
The trade caravan with which Phillip and his companions traveled had encamped in a large meadow at a bend in the river. A company of Rom were already there, but welcomed the caravaneers. "They are the Dan of Willow," the Caravan Master told the boys. "We meet them often on this road. Fought beside them more than once, too. Still, don't flash wealth, and don't let them get you into a game of cards or dice."
"There is a story," the old woman said.
If it's like the others we've heard, there may be some basis in fact to it, Phillip thought.
"It's a story about a dragon," the woman continued.
I hope it's a new story. We've heard so many, but they all occurred "a thousand lifetimes" ago.
"I was born to the Dan of Clearsea," the woman began. "When I was a young girl, we traveled from Elvenholt to Myre to Londinium and back to Elvenholt. The journey took one year. We set our calendar by the moon, and always arrived at towns and villages in time for First Market and important festivals." She paused and lifted her teacup.
At last, Phillip thought. Elves with a sense of time. I wonder if she knows how many years ago. . . He turned his attention back to the woman, who had begun to speak, again.
"While we camped at the village of Myre, some of us would ride up to the fortress that guards the pass. One year, after I had become a woman, I was allowed to go. I was pretty, then, and the garrison was large enough to include men who would find me attractive."
Phillip blushed at the conclusion to which her words led him. I know courtesans are honored here, and some percentage of men are attracted to women. . . wouldn't be any children, otherwise. . . he thought before turning back to the woman's voice and her story.
"One of the soldiers—a decurion he was—spotted me the moment I stepped down from the wagon. I raised my skirt to keep it from the dirt, and let him see a bit of my ankle. But no more than that! My mother and her sisters had taught me well.
"The centurion offered me his arm, and. . . Well, you're not interested in that part of the story, are you?" she asked.
Phillip smiled. "Yes, please. . . ?"
"Oh posh and tosh," the woman said, but she returned Phillip's smile. "That night, my general took me for a walk. I didn't think there would be any place to walk, since we were on top of the mountain, but there was a path that wound easily through the rocks until we came to a place from which we could see down the side of the mountain, to Myre. The great moon was rising, and lit the land like I'd never seen before. I saw the fires of our encampment, just beside the village. I saw fog drifting slowly from the lake toward the village. I saw clouds catch and tatter on the peak of the mountains. And, against the moon, I saw the dragon."
She paused, and looked at Phillip before continuing. "I didn't realize I was holding the general's hand until I squeezed it. "Look!" I cried. The general had seen it, too.
"I had hoped he would be flying tonight, and that you might see him," the general said.
"Well, what the general said next was a great surprise to me. He told me that the dragon was not from these mountains, but had been blown from his home by a great storm. He stayed here, and lived in the mountains, for elsewhere he might be vulnerable to those who would kill him. Yet, the general said, the dragon pined for a female dragon. 'He and I are alike in that,' the general told me.
"Well, I didn't fall for that. I told you, my mother and her sisters taught me well!"
"I left the next day, with two silver coins for my dress. The general was not there the next year, and I never saw the dragon again."
When it became apparent that she had nothing more to say, Phillip thanked her for her story, and put a silver shilling in the bowl at her elbow. "Why are you so interested in dragons, boy?" the woman asked.
"I wish to see one, mistress," Phillip said. He felt he should say more, but the words wouldn't come.
"Don't fret, boy," the woman said, misinterpreting Phillip's hesitation. "If you are destined to find a dragon, you will; if not, not."
This was not what Phillip wanted to hear; nevertheless, he thanked her again, and followed his companions from her pavilion.
"What did you think of her story?" Maranon asked.
"Yeah," added Javari, "she said she had seen one with her own eyes." The boy was clearly excited. "Was she telling the truth?" he asked Argon.
"She thought she was," Argon said. "But she's told the story so many times she might believe it even if it weren't true."
"She said the dragon had been blown to Myre by a great storm," Phillip said. "Prevailing winds blow east to west; storm winds would blow west to east, right?" He looked at Argon.
"I guess," Argon said. "It's different on land than at sea, you know. But I think that's right."
Phillip had pulled his journal from his pack, and opened it to the page on which he'd sketched the map of Elvenholt. "He didn't come from the Gray Mountains, I don't think. They're too low. He may have come from somewhere in the border mountains, but we've heard no stories of dragons in those mountains. He might have come from the Arista Mountains."
"You want to find a dragon, don't you?" Argon said.
"Yes, I would like to find a dragon," Phillip said. "But first, we have to get you home. I promised that."
"Perhaps I am home," Argon said. Phillip raised his eyebrows. "I am with you and others I love. I feel in concordia, in harmony, with this place and time. As long as these things are true, I am home. Perhaps not the one we were seeking, but a true home. Find your dragon, Phillip. I will help you and I will go with you. That is our mission, now. That is what we need to do, now."
"No," Phillip said. "Our mission is to reach Rome and find out how to take you home. We must not forget—"
Argon's grip on Phillip's arm—strong, and almost painful—stopped whatever Phillip was about to say. "No," Argon said. "Our mission is to find your dragon."
Phillip saw tears welling in the boy's eyes. "Why do you cry?" he whispered.
"Because I love you and I don't want you not to find your dragon because of me," the boy said.
Maranon looked at Phillip. "He's right, Phillip, my amici. I feel your yearning; we all feel it. It burns in your mind when you see an eagle or a condor in the sky. We see your face light up, and then fall when you realize that what you've seen is only a bird."
Argon took Phillip's hand. "Maranon is right; this is right. Right for the first time since we. . . since the day after we first met. You promised to take me home. The Shaman and your people tried, and they helped us take the first step. But still, it wasn't right. Japura's people helped; and we took another step. But it wasn't right. Javari and Maranon, and then their people; Sandar and his father; the king. All these people helped us take more steps, but they were the wrong steps. This is the right step," he said. "This is the right step." Argon turned away so that Phillip could not see the tears in his eyes.
Phillip started after Argon, but Maranon and Javari stopped him, gently but firmly holding him in place. "It is his right and his decision," Maranon said. "Accept it with the same love with which it was made."
"Besides," Javari said. "Rome is in the mountains, and the mountains are where dragons live. Look. . . this map? See what it says?" Javari had been studying the written language of his people, and could read nearly as well as Phillip, now.
Phillip smiled when he saw the words he had written on the map: hic sunt draconis, "Here there be dragons."
A cold rain had fallen steadily for nearly a tenday. During the day, the rain penetrated even the heavy, hooded, oiled-wool cloaks they wore. At night, the only shelter was the cramped space under a wagon. Although they magicked water from their clothes and blankets, the boys were thoroughly miserable. Nor were they alone. The faces of the wagoners, muleteers, and guards reflected their discomfort and their fatigue. The rain, cold, and gloom sucked energy from everyone. The cook and his assistant managed a hot broth to accompany the flatbread and cheese that made up their supper, but the broth was thin and the amount, scant. After supper, Maranon—the smallest—crawled under the designated wagon. The others passed their bedrolls to him, and he spread them on the sodden ground. The oiled canvas that was the bottom layer would not completely keep out the water, but it would keep them dry until they could fall asleep. They'd wake to wetness, and the cycle would start over again.
Argon woke Phillip by frantically shaking his shoulder. "Phillip," the boy whispered. "Something's wrong!"
Phillip felt his blankets squish as he rolled toward Argon's voice. "What?" Phillip asked. "There's no alarm. . . "
"Not yet," Argon said. "But something approaches!"
"Wake the others," Phillip said. "But wait. . . here." He had slept fully clothed. He fumbled in the darkness and found his sword belt. If Kory and Blake hadn't shown us how to oil them, they'd probably have rusted in their scabbards. There's so much to learn. . . Phillip killed this extraneous thought and scooted from under the wagon. It's not raining, was his first thought. There's the watch fire. . . was his second. If there's something out there, I don't want it to see me, was his third. In the uncertain light of the watch fire, he slipped from wagon to wagon, keeping always in the shadow, and stepping carefully over the uneven ground until he was only a few yards from the fire.
There's no one here. . . Oh, there they are. Two sentries, hooded in dark cloaks, stood in shadows. A knot in a piece of pine had flared in the fire, illuminating their faces for an instant. "Kory!" Phillip hissed the name of the one he recognized. "It's Phillip. I'm by the wagon to your left."
One figure detached itself from the darkness and strode easily to where Phillip stood. Oh, how I envy their eyesight on a night like this! Phillip thought.
"Phillip! What?" Kory asked.
"Danger approaches," Phillip said. "Close, and soon."
Kory didn't hesitate. Centurion had warned them that they were entering dangerous territory, and this human boy and his companions. . . well, they had the confidence of the Mastercaravanmaster. "Blake!" Kory called to his companion. "Alert! I'll tell Centurion." He turned to Phillip. "Return to your wagon; wait. Do not join the fight unless it comes to you."
Aragon, Javari, and Maranon were awake, armed and standing by the wagon when Phillip returned. "Come on," Javari said, "we should join the soldiers."
"No," Phillip said. "Kory said we were to wait here, and to engage. . . whatever it is that threatens us. . . only when it came to us. We will obey."
"He's just a legionnaire," Javari said, referring to Kory.
"He was on duty," Phillip said. "He spoke with the authority of his centurion. We will obey. Come, stand by me." He held out his hand to Javari, knowing the boy would find it even in the darkness.
The boys stood by the wagon, nervous and unsure. "They come!" Argon whispered. "From before us and on both sides!"
"Quickly," Phillip said. "Under the wagon and out the other side, and then climb up upon it." The boys obeyed. Before they completed the maneuver, the attack began. It was heralded by the baying of dogs.
"Quickly, up on the wagon," Phillip urged. Only Javari and Maranon, with elven sight, saw the dire hounds boil from under the wagon and race through the encampment, depending on scent rather than sight to lead them to their targets. Only Javari and Maranon saw two of the hounds turn and leap toward the four boys clinging to the crates that made up the wagon's load.
They all saw Javari and Maranon's swords flash. Javari's cleaved the skull of a dog; Maranon's sword caught a shoulder of another. Both dogs fell. The encampment was now lit as the wagoneers, alerted by the baying of the dogs, opened the shutters of their dark lanterns. The boys watched the swords of legionnaires and the pikes of wagoneers and muleteers flash and slice or skewer the dogs. The encampment was silent for a moment, while they waited for the second wave of the attack: the brigands who would be behind the dogs. It did not come.
"They're leaving!" Argon breathed. His voice was tinged with relief. Maranon's hand found its way into Phillip's. The boy was trembling.
"Javari, take Maranon's sword," Phillip said, and then hugged the boy. "Are you? How do you feel?"
"My leg. . . " Maranon said, and collapsed in Phillip's arms. None of them had seen, but the dog Maranon killed had first bitten the boy's leg. The dog's teeth had penetrated the thin leather of the boot, and left four ragged holes in the boy's calf. When they pulled off the shredded boot, it was filled with blood.
Maranon was the only one injured in the attack. One of the wagoneers, of skill something less than a healer, but considerably greater than Phillip's first aid, had treated him. "Take him to a healer at the first town," she said. "Else the muscle will scar, and never be as strong."
"What about rabies," Phillip asked. The healer did not know what he meant, so he described hydrophobia.
"The herbs should prevent any sickness of the flesh," the woman said, "and I know of no such disease."
The Mastercaravanmaster gave Phillip a handful of gold coins. "This is too much," Phillip protested. He'd hoped to be reimbursed a part of the fee already paid, but. . .
"Your warning likely saved lives and goods," the man said. "It gives me pleasure to reimburse your entire fee. And besides, a kindness is always repaid." He said that as if it were some sort of religious thing, or, rather, some kind of natural law, like 'for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction', Phillip thought. He thanked the man, and closed his fist over the coins. Besides, we'll likely need these.
The caravan had left. Maranon was resting comfortably in a cell at the temple in the village of Avillar. Austin, a tween and acolyte, and the only healer at the temple, explained to the other boys. "I'm not good enough to heal him quickly. But I can heal him. It will require at least a tenday, and he should stay at the temple for that time.
"You are all welcome to stay, as well," he said, when he misinterpreted the look on Phillip's face.
"We're disappointed that it will take so long," Argon, who had understood Phillip's concern, explained. "But we understand. We have money, but our journey will cost a lot. May we work, help somehow, to earn our keep and the cost of Maranon's healing?"
An agreement was made. Phillip, Argon, and Javari would help Austin with his tasks, including a daily visit to the glebe, the temple's farm, just outside the village. In return, they and their horses would be boarded. "There's no cost for healing," Austin explained, "unless I have to use herbs or potions, of course, but I won't."
No cost, but a gift is customary, Phillip knew, and resolved to find something special with which to gift this tween who had been so kind to them. A kindness is always repaid, he thought. It really is.
The elves' general disinterest in the calendar extended to their marking of the solstices and equinoxes. While festivals to mark these events were common, they were likely to take place at the First Market that fell after the event. Phillip was surprised, therefore, when Maranon woke him with a kiss and a "Happy Summer Solstice."
"Happy solstice to you," Phillip responded. "How do you know?"
"Argon's been counting," Maranon replied. "It's in his ephemeris—" The boy pressed his lips onto Phillip's, effectively silencing himself.
When the kiss ended, Phillip whispered. "We'll wake Javari and Argon. . . "
"We're awake," Javari said. "You guys ready for breakfast. . . mumph!" Argon's kiss silenced what was probably a rhetorical question, anyway.
Six days had passed since the solstice. A new moon had appeared in the sky, and first market had begun. An elven boy laughed as Phillip tried to lead the boy's goat to Austin. During markets, Austin became the village's veterinarian. Phillip helped keep order among the people who had brought farm animals and pets to be treated, while Argon shoveled away the inevitable mess, and spread fresh straw in the courtyard. Javari had managed to become Austin's assistant, which usually meant that he held an animal's lead or leash while Austin examined it.
By sext, there were no more animals to be examined; all the people complaints and illnesses had been treated the day before. After cleaning the courtyard, Austin and the boys were free to explore the market. "After a bath," Argon insisted.
Austin agreed, but said that they must not delay too long, as the storyteller would be in the square at nones. "The storyteller is my brother," Austin said. "He's really very good, but he's young, and hasn't many stories—"
"Does he have any stories about dragons?" Maranon asked. Austin had agreed that he might sit with them and listen to stories, but must not walk without assistance, and only from his room to the square and back.
"I don't know," Austin said. "Let's ask him."
Dillon, Austin's brother, did, indeed know a story about dragons. Well, about a dragon. He told it to the children who sat in the square at his feet, and to Phillip and his companions who sat on the edge of a fountain, behind the children.
A thousand lifetimes ago, when magic was so strong that wishes sometimes came true, there lived a boy-child who wished he were a dragon. "How wonderful it would be," the child thought, to be able to fly! And how exciting it would be to be able to breathe fire."
The child's grandmother had told him that wishes could come true, so every night before he went to sleep, he wished he were a dragon. No matter how hard he wished, each morning when he woke up, he was still a child. He asked his grandmother why his wish didn't come true. "What is your wish?" she asked.
"I want to be a dragon!" he said.
"Oh, my," the grandmother said. "That is a very big wish for such a small child. Perhaps when you are bigger your wish will come true." In her wisdom, the grandmother believed that when the child became a boy, he would forget his childish wish. But that was not to be.
When the child became a boy, his cousin, a very level-headed tween, initiated him into the mysteries.
(Dillon looked around, and seeing that there were no girls in his audience, continued.)
When the boy felt his cousin's magic for the first time, he was sure his wish could come true. He kissed his cousin, and thanked him, and ran home to bed. Before he fell asleep, he wished as he did every night, that he would wake as a dragon. Once again, he was disappointed. He ran to find his cousin, and said, "Grandmother said that wishes can come true with magic, but even with your magic, my wish didn't come true."
"What was your wish?" the level-headed cousin asked. When the boy told him, the cousin said, "That is a very big wish for a boy. Perhaps when you are bigger your wish will come true." In his level-headedness, the cousin believed that when the boy became a tween, he would forget his foolish wish. But that was not to be.
The boy did not forget his wish. When it came time for him to be examined by the cleric who would declare him to be a tween, the cleric, wanting to know what guild the boy would enter, asked him, "What do you want to be?"
The boy answered, "I want to be a dragon."
Well, to say that the cleric was surprised would be to say that the sky is up or that the ground is down. Of course the cleric was surprised. In all his lifetimes never had he heard a tween say he wanted to be a dragon. Still, the cleric asked, "Why do you want to be a dragon?"
The boy opened his mouth to say that it would be wonderful to be able to fly, and exciting to be able to breathe fire, but his mouth snapped shut before he uttered a word. How foolish it would sound, he thought, coming from the lips of a boy who hoped to be declared a tween. "All my life I have wished to be a dragon, but why? Truly, I do not know," he said.
"Then," said the cleric, "perhaps you should ask a dragonrider."
Well, to say that the boy was surprised would be to say that the sky is up or that the ground is down. Of course the boy was surprised. Still, he asked the cleric, "How is this possible?"
"In the hills above this city lives a dragonrider and his dragon. They saw many horrors during the last war, when they defended Rome against Evil. Now, they live in seclusion." The cleric paused.
"The dragonrider is my brother; I visit each tenday to take him food. I will take you to see him. When he hears your wish, I believe he will talk to you."
True to his word, the cleric took the boy into the mountains. The boy struggled under the weight of a pack filled with food. The climb was arduous, and no one who did not know the path could have found it. The seclusion of the dragonrider and the dragon was well protected. It was nearly dark when they arrived, and the cleric called to his brother, telling him he had brought a friend.
The dragonrider welcomed them to his home, a cave in the mountain. He gestured for them to sit on the floor of the cave, and took his own seat, leaning against a huge boulder. The boy looked around, and was about to ask where was the dragon, when the boulder opened its eyes! The boy realized not only that the boulder was the head of the dragon, but also that the cave was much, much larger than it appeared, for most of it was filled with dragon!
The boy's pack held extra food, and he stayed a tenday with the dragonrider and the dragon, until the cleric came for him. No one knows what the dragonrider said to the boy, nor what the boy said to the dragonrider. No one knows what the dragon said to the boy, for dragons talk, you know, but only to certain people; no one knows what the boy said to the dragon. But everyone knows that a few years later, when the dragonrider died, the boy, now a tween, became this dragon's rider. Together they flew and breathed fire and had many, many adventures.
"Well, at least we know this story happened after the founding of Rome," Javari said when they were once again alone.
"But, when was that?" Phillip asked.
"A thousand lifetimes ago!" the others chorused. Phillip joined them in their laughter.
Phillip and Argon spoke with every traveler who visited the village of Avillar. They asked for news of caravans that might be traveling west, they asked for stories, which they shared with Dillon, and they asked especially for stories of dragons.
Austin put two more logs into the firebox and closed the door. "There." He brushed his hands together. "That will keep the water hot enough to soak the kinks out of our muscles!" Phillip and his companions, Austin and his brother Dillon, and four of their cousins had spent the past five days at the glebe, harvesting and threshing wheat. It was backbreaking work, but less so when Austin showed them how to apply boy magic to the task. Still, they'd been so tired at the end of each day that they scarcely felt the cold water of the stone-lined irrigation canal in which they bathed, nor the stone floor of the threshing floor on which they slept.
Austin's parents had ridden out each day, arriving near sext. They brought fresh bread and several children, and spent the afternoon weeding and harvesting the vegetables that were ripe. At the end of the fourth day, the threshing floor was covered with grain. They would have to return every day to turn the grain to ensure that it dried properly. Austin had tried to teach Phillip the spell he used to speed the drying and to protect the grain from fungus, but Phillip had not been able to do it. Phillip resolved, however, to learn the spell as soon as he wasn't so tired he couldn't lift his arms above his shoulders.
"That feels good," Phillip said. Austin sat behind him in the hot soak and massaged Phillip's shoulders.
"Me, next," Dillon demanded.
"You, my most talented brother, can massage yourself," Austin joked. He glanced into the water and added, "And it looks like you need to."
Javari looked where Austin had looked, and said, "He'd better not! He's promised, already."
Am I the only boy on World who blushes? Phillip thought. "Guys," he said. "We need to talk.
"We need to leave here. Soon, if we're going to get to Rome before winter makes travel difficult. We could wait here for a long time before another caravan passes," he added. "But we were warned in Londinium and Elvenholt that the roads were dangerous."
"You may stay as long as you want," Austin said. "Perhaps until spring. The Rom and the caravaneers travel more, then."
"You and your family have already done so much for us," Phillip said. "And I know your offer is sincere." Not only am I the only boy on world who blushes, I'm also the only one—save perhaps Argon—who has any sense of time! "No, the question I have is not whether we should stay, but how we should go. What about some of the tweens who seem to drift into town for a few days, and then leave. Perhaps we could form a party. . . "
"I wouldn't," Dillon said. "Tweens with the wanderlust? Half of them are thieves, and I don't mean honest ones. . . "
"Most of them don't have horses, anyway," Austin added. "And the ones that do—well, they're not nearly as fine as yours."
"Some of them are honest and Good," Benji, one of the cousins, said. "But your horses would tempt just about anyone." What he said next shocked Phillip. "You horses are the best I've ever seen, and I traveled with Father once to the Rom spring market. The best horses they had sold for 30 guineas, and they were not as good as yours."
The king was very generous, Phillip thought. No wonder Master Olmon insisted we travel with caravans! "Are we at an impasse, then?" he asked.
"Perhaps not," JJ, another of the cousins, said. "I have an idea. . . no, no! I'll tell you tomorrow!"
The next day, Phillip and Javari rode with Austin to the glebe. Austin drove the wagon, pulled by a team of horses. Three of the children rode with him. While the children gathered vegetables, the older boys tedded the grain.
JJ came late to the bath that afternoon, but it wasn't hard to convince the others to wait in the hot tub while he showered. "Well?" Austin asked when JJ slid into the tub.
"Well," JJ replied, somewhat indolently, "I have broken the impasse."
Phillip didn't want to hope too strongly, but was eager to hear what JJ had to say. "You all know my friend Artie. Well, you guys don't." He waved his hand at Phillip. "He is the adjutant of the town garrison."
"That's only because he's the only one who can read and write," Cee said. "And besides, I heard he was just the clerk!"
JJ splashed a little water on Cee's face. "Don't put too fine a point on it," he said. "His warrant reads 'adjutant,'—"
" 'Cause he wrote it," Cee protested. This time, JJ reached out and with little effort, ducked Cee under the water. Cee sputtered a little, but then sat quietly, pretending to glower, with his arms folded.
"Artie said an army detachment is due here in less than six days. They travel to Rome to reinforce the garrison there. There will be four score infantry—"
"Infantry marches," Cee began before Austin and Javari put their hands atop his head. The boy shut up.
"There will be six decurions and a centurion; they will be mounted. There will be auxiliaries with wagons," JJ continued. "They will stop here for supplies for at least two days. When they see your horses, they will know you're not ordinary tweens, and will be happy to have you with them."
That may not be as important as the letter the dauphin got his father to sign before we left Barbican, Phillip thought.
Traveling with the soldiers was a little different from traveling with a trade caravan. The soldiers were more disciplined, and therefore more efficient. They traveled until only a half-hour or so of nightfall, but before dark, they'd dug trench latrines, built watch fires and a cooking fire, prepared supper, eaten, and begun the watch rota. Phillip and his companions were not asked to stand watch. They slept under one of the supply wagons when weather was bad, and under the stars when the weather was good. For most of the journey, the weather was good.
After two tendays, the soldiers stopped at a village, somewhat smaller than Avillar. They were expected, and the commander of the local guard, a tween who was somewhat awed to be treated with courtesy by the centurion, had accumulated the supplies the soldiers would need for the next leg of their journey. As was their custom, the soldiers encamped just outside the village and rested themselves and the horses for two days. It was during the second of those days, that Phillip heard the story.
He and his companions had gone to the village inn and public house. A minstrel who had wandered into town that afternoon was playing. While the others listened to the minstrel, Phillip made notes of the journey in his journal. He was engrossed in the maps he had copied into the book, and did not hear the words of the minstrel's ballad until Argon jerked on Phillip's arm. "Listen. . . " he said.
The words of the minstrel's song weren't particularly brilliant, but his voice was a pure tenor. "Dragons fly. . . against the sky. . . over mountains very high. . . have you seen them?. . . Yes? So have I. . . "
Phillip looked at Argon, who grimaced and then grinned. "We'll talk to him after. . . " Phillip said. "Here, as soon as he finishes, put this penny in his cup, and ask if he will join us for supper."
The minstrel was happy to join them for supper, for he'd not earned enough to buy his own. Phillip and the others made small talk, asking the boy about his travels, and expressing interest in his lute. After the meal and a couple of mugs of ale, Phillip casually asked the real question. "The ballad. . . the one about the dragons. . . did you really see one?"
"Oh, yes," the boy said. "It was in the mountains north of this village. I'd gone there to learn stories, and found one of my own." The boy explained that he had traveled to small villages in the mountains to learn stories that he could turn into ballads, when he himself had seen a dragon.
"It was miles away, but I saw it clear," the minstrel said. Phillip nodded. He knew how good elven eyesight was. However, he glanced at Argon and raised an eyebrow. Argon's nod was the confirmation Phillip needed: the boy was telling the truth. "I could tell it was a dragon; its neck and tail marked it thus," the minstrel added. "It was flying corkscrews in the sky. It was probably hunting, but it looked like it was having a lot of fun, too."
Phillip was taken aback. He'd never thought of a dragon as a fun creature. "Do you really think so?" he asked.
"Oh, I really couldn't say," the minstrel said. "It just looked like he was flying just for the fun of it. I would, if I could!"
Reluctantly, eagerly, fearfully, Phillip bade goodbye to the Centurion and to the soldiers who had become their friends. Within minutes of the soldiers' departure—westward on the Royal Road—Phillip and his companions turned north on a path that lead ". . . straight into the sky!" Maranon said, breathlessly.
The higher into the mountains the boys traveled, the more the people remarked to see two human boys traveling with two elven ones. One day, after climbing switchbacks for most of the day, they reached a village. An elven Child, upon seeing Argon, blurted, "What happened to your ears? Did a troll bite them?"
A tween took the boy's hand. "Please forgive my little brother," he asked. "Few humans visit us, and he's never seen one."
"Oh, it's all right," Argon said. When I was his age, I'd never seen an elf, and I still remember how wonderful that first meeting was—and also how it was a little frightening."
"My mother's name for me is Gregory," the boy said. "My father is the miller." He gestured to the path that led north through the town. A large stone mill stood at the far edge of town. A stream falling from the hills turned its waterwheel. The outflow went into two channels. One flowed through a stone aqueduct to provide running water and sewerage for the village. The other flowed in a natural, rocky channel in the center of the main street of the village. At the downhill edge of the village, the stream fanned out to irrigate a large, community garden.
"My name is Argon," that boy added. He then glanced at Phillip who, with Javari and Maranon had been watching the interchange. Phillip nodded for Argon to continue.
"Is there an inn?" Argon asked. "We'd like to stay the night—and a bath!" he added enthusiastically.
"There is no inn," Gregory said. "However, there is a bath. Hmm. We see few visitors. Would you think it selfish of me to ask you to sojourn with my family? There's plenty of room, for you and for your horses. And Cody," he nodded toward his little brother, "would like to hear your stories."
Kokopelli, the Hopituh Shi-nu-mu trickster, trader, and fertility figure, made his way from deep in the southern half of the continent all the way to well north of Zion by telling stories, Phillip thought. At least, that's one version. Here, people assume that all travelers have stories to share. I'm glad we learned that long ago, and are prepared.
"We would be happy to share our stories with you and Cody, and any others who might wish to listen," Phillip said. "And we thank you for your invitation."
"Oh, no," Gregory said. "There's a surplus of both hay and straw, and what your horses eat will not be missed." Phillip had offered to pay for the horses' food, but Gregory had shrugged off both the need and the pennies Phillip had offered. "Besides, we wouldn't know what to do with coins."
The farther we go from the cities and the royal road, the more we encounter a barter economy, Phillip thought. It's almost a collective; everyone works the grain fields. It's partly entrepreneurial; everyone also has a private garden and many people have trades. The smith and the miller do not work the grain fields, but are paid in wheat for their services. I saw a herd of goats as we rode in. Collective? Or is there a goatherd and cheese maker?
By early evening, word had spread that visitors had come to the village, and the bath was a noisy place. Boys and tweens politely but eagerly presented themselves to be introduced. Gregory tried to maintain some semblance of order, but eventually gave up. He did manage to exchange scrubbings with Argon, but became separated from that boy in the hot soak. Phillip found himself the center of attention of two elven tweens, whose shockingly blue hair and eyes would have marked them as brothers even had not the duplication of their features marked them as twins. Phillip scanned the room to ensure that Javari and Maranon had not been left out. He saw that they were objects of attention by a pair of elven boys.
Gregory and Cody's father had opened the threshing floor for the storytelling. It was the largest enclosed space in the village. Phillip and his companions sat on benches where they could be seen, while most of the people sat or lay on the floor. A stone wall at Phillip's back served to amplify his voice—rather, to reflect it into the cavernous room. This was not the first time they'd been called upon to tell stories, and Phillip knew not to expect a formal introduction. He stood, and the susurrus of conversations ceased.
"A thousand lifetimes ago," Phillip began, "in a place so far away that if a child began walking there on the day he took his first step, and walked every day he lived, he would not reach it before the end of his life, there lived a human boy. . . "
Phillip told a redacted story of his life, of his meeting with Argon, of their falling in love, and of their travels. There was no mention of other worlds nor of the elves of Solimoes. However, Phillip did tell of his battle with Japura to prove himself a Tween, of the wreck of the swallow in the storm, of meeting Maranon and of gradually learning that they were amici. He told of the battle with pirates on the river en route to Elvenhold, and of other perils faced and overcome.
Argon spoke, next. He told the story of a boy who lived on an island in a great sea to the east of Elvenholt, and of that boy's adventures learning to be a sailor. He told of islands with exotic animals and plants, and of peoples who wore clothes made of grass.
Javari and Maranon partnered as they told a story of boys who sailed small boats, whose families were fishers. They wove into the story the myths of the sea elves, and of porpoises who talked and fish that flew.
Phillip told the last story. It combined his vision quest and spirit guide with the soldiers who grew from the dragon's teeth planted by Cadmus. He had modified the story to comport with the elven culture and their own myths.
The applause that greeted the end of the stories woke the few younger children who had fallen asleep. The people of the village filed out the door, leaving the companions alone with Gregory, Cody, and their parents. "Those were wonderful stories," the miller said. "I saw something of each of you in them. You are truly on a great adventure, and we are happy and honored that it has brought you to us. Come, Cody. You will see your new friends in the morning."
"The boys who bathed you have asked if they might share boy magic with you, tonight," Gregory then said. "I told them they might wait outside and ask you themselves."
"Gregory, if that was an asking," Argon said, "it's the most roundabout I've ever heard. So, I'll ask: will you share with me?"
The miller's wife called the boys—all nine of them—to breakfast the next morning. "Half of the village is still abed," she said. "We've not enjoyed stories so much in many years."
"Would you stay another night?" the miller added. "So that we might share our stories with you?"
Phillip was not entirely surprised by the request. They'd received similar offers in the past. This is why the elven culture is so static, he thought. Their stories are widely—if somewhat slowly—shared. It's like that common experience the Shaman spoke of. Only, it works better here than among my people. I wonder why?"Thank you," he said, "we'd like that very much."
The first story that night was one they'd heard before—of how mountains were formed when a mage turned evil trolls into stone. This occurred "a thousand lifetimes ago" and in a place "far, far across the mountains." After a brief pause, a Tween with fiery red hair stood up. Phillip remembered having seen him in the bath, and also remembered that he'd kept somewhat apart from the others. The beginning of his story was remarkable in that it did not begin with the traditional phrases.
"In the summer of the year the stream flooded and washed away Mistress Gerden's tomatoes, Willy and I were told to take the goats to summer pasture. We took the dogs and the goats, and walked the three days to pasture. The pasture is surrounded by hills so steep even the goats won't try to climb them. The only entrance easily can be blocked by a pile of brush. A stream fills a pond and there's water all summer.
"The first night we were there, I woke to a sudden whoosh. A breeze swept across my face. I heard one of the goats scream. The dogs began barking. Willy woke, but before he could turn over it was gone. I had seen against the stars the wings and body of a dragon. I think—I'm sure—she held a goat in her jaws."
The Tween sat down to light applause. It was apparent from the faces of many of the people that his story was one he had told before. It was also apparent that it wasn't believed.
This evening's gathering was a potlatch—families each had brought food to share, and the smith rolled a barrel of ale in the door. During the dinner break, Phillip sought out the redheaded tween. "I believe you," Phillip said.
The boy's face flashed surprise, and then fell.
"What?" Phillip said. "I do believe you."
"Thank you for that," the boy said. "But you will be gone and I'll still be the boy who cried wolf."
"My name is Phillip," that boy said. "And I would like to share magic with you."
The boy again registered surprise. "Thank you," he said. "My mother's name for me is Vance. I also would like that."
Phillip stood and the crowd grew quiet.
"Once upon a time," he said, deliberately using the story beginning from his own childhood traditions, "a pack of coyotes lived in the hills above a village. In fields and gardens close to the village, the people grew maize and squash, peppers and beans. In pastures, they kept goats for their milk and sheep for their wool. The weather was good, and the crops and herds prospered. In the hills, the coyotes prospered, too, for the game on which they fed was plentiful. Then, the weather changed.
"Crops failed or were paltry. The milk of the goats dried up; the wool of the sheep was short and coarse. The grass on which the deer and rabbits fed died, and so did the deer and rabbits. The people of the village were hungry, and so were the coyotes.
" 'We must take sheep from the village,' the coyotes said.
" 'We cannot,' one coyote replied. 'The men of the village are more than we, and they have bows and arrows, as well as spears and atlatls. It is too dangerous.'
" 'Perhaps there is a way,' the lead coyote said. 'You and you, come with me.'
The lead coyote led two of her companions to the edge of the meadow where the sheep grazed on what little grass was left. They were guarded only by a boy, but the boy had a large bell and a big stick with which to beat it should he see coyotes. Hearing the bell, the men from the village would come quickly.
" 'Do as I do,' the lead coyote said. She ran into the meadow, yelping. The sheep began to mill about. The boy saw the lead coyote and then the two others who ran into the clearing, yelping and frightening the sheep. The boy banged on the bell. As soon as he did so, the lead coyote ran off, followed by the other two coyotes.
"When the men arrived, the dogs had rounded up the sheep, and all was peaceful.
" 'But I saw a coyote,' the boy said. 'Three, actually.'
The men looked about. They counted the sheep and found none were missing. 'You fell asleep and were dreaming,' they said kindly before they returned to the village.
The next day, the lead coyote brought her two followers to the meadow, and the scene was repeated. This time the men were not as kindly. 'Do not fall asleep again,' one said. 'Your dreaming has interrupted important work.'
The third day, the lead coyote brought her two followers back to the meadow. 'We will take a sheep, today,' she said.
" 'But the men! Their weapons!' her followers protested.
" 'Do not think on them, but obey me,' she insisted.
Followed by the two others, the lead coyote ran into the flock and seized a sheep in her jaws. Within seconds, the boy was beating on the gong, and the three coyotes were dragging a sheep out of the meadow.
In the village, the men looked at the sun. 'He's fallen asleep again in the heat of the afternoon, and is dreaming.' One said. 'He'll realize it, soon enough.'
"The moral of the story," Phillip concluded, "is that sometimes a coyote can be smarter even than a man, and that a boy who cries 'coyote' may not simply have dreamed it."
Vance and Phillip lay quietly in the darkness. Their sharing had been—special? Phillip thought. Certainly he felt closer than most boys except for my three companions. No one, I think, can be as close as they.
"Thank you for telling that story," Vance began. "It is not one that we know, but it is like one. But, you knew that, didn't you?"
"Yes," Phillip whispered. "Both versions are told by my people. One came from across the sea to us, and the other—the one I told tonight—is an ancient story of my people."
"They will remember the story," Vance said. "They may even think about it. Why did you tell it? Was it just because you are good?"
Phillip thought for a moment. "No, Vance. I told it because I wanted you to be friendly to me, because I want you to tell my companions and me about the pasture where you saw the dragon. You see, I seek a dragon, and you are the closest I've come to someone who's seen one."
Now it was Vance's turn to think. Then, "the story about the dragon vision; that was your story, was it not?"
"It was," Phillip said. "It was my story. If you will keep it secret, I will tell you the rest of it."
The winter sky was dense with stars. They gave enough light that even without moon or the Bright Travelers, the boys could avoid the cobbles and gullies that paved the mountain valley. When it came, it was just as Vance had said: a shadow passing across the stars. The boys' eyes sent picture after picture to their brains until, one by one, they grasped at what they saw and gasped in—fear? Certainly there was some of that, but there was more wonder, even awe, than fear.
The creature was huge. The wind of its passage nearly swept Maranon off his feet. The wings spread at least forty feet from tip to tip. Forward of the wings, massive shoulders gave rise to a thin, sinuous neck surmounted by a surprisingly large head. Aft of the wings, a tail even more sinuous than the neck stretched more than twenty feet before terminating in a wicked, triangular barb.
That the creature had sensed them, there could be no doubt. It shot its wings straight out with a report that echoed from the surrounding hills. Argon and Maranon, who were the most sensitive of the boys, felt a tug of magic as the creature drew energy from the matrix. It's going to attack, Phillip thought. No! he commanded. No! he repeated.
Now it was the dragon's turn to be struck with—fear? No, there was none of that, but there was wonder, even awe. The dragon cupped its wings creating a thunderclap that nearly deafened the boys. This time, the wind did knock over Maranon as well as Argon. I have not heard a two leg's voice in this age—a voice of one that might be a dragonrider. The dragon's voice resonated in the boys' minds.
"Why do you think I might be a dragonrider?" Phillip asked. He spoke aloud for the benefit of the other boys, while projecting his thoughts—although he did not know how—to the dragon.
I hear your voice, came the reply.
"And that's enough?" Phillip asked.
Oh, no, the dragon replied. There's much, much more.
The sky overhead brightened long before the sun rose over the walls of the valley. The boys' eyes grew wide with wonder as the light slowly revealed the dragon. Iridescent green eyes and a forked red tongue that flickered occasionally as if tasting the air were the only color in a deep black body. The wings, too, now furled upon its back, were black. Rather, upon her back. Conversation had been slow, as if the dragon pondered each answer. Phillip had learned that the dragon was, indeed, female. When he asked her name, she thought for several minutes, and then said, I had a name. My last rider gave it me. He was a paladin who wore golden armor and carried a two-handed sword. His name was Adrian. I remember his name, but not the one he gave me.
"May I give you a name?" Phillip asked.
After a longer than usual pause, the dragon replied. I would like that.
"Belinda!" Javari said. "It's the name of the dragon in the story about—"
"Oh, no!" Maranon said. "That dragon was—well, not evil, but definitely not good."
While the boys discussed names, Phillip turned to the dragon. "I fear to ask you this, but I must. Are you good?"
The dragon raised her head and looked at Phillip. Do not ask me; ask yourself. I live, I eat, I breed. I protect my hunting grounds and I protect my young. Good and evil are people things. Do not ask me; ask yourself.
The boys agreed on a name after having napped in the valley cuddled within the coils of the dragon's tail. Or rather, after having tried to nap in the noise of the dragon's snores. "Zo-sa, zo-sa, zo-sa" Argon said. "That's what she sounded like." He giggled. The dragon, now Zosa, snorted.
Zosa, Phillip said to the dragon, you said that there was more to being a dragonrider than just hearing one another. I'm. . . I'm afraid to ask, but I must. What do I have to do? How can I become that which others have called me?
Do you trust me? The dragon's voice echoed in Phillip's mind. Do not answer too quickly, Zosa cautioned.
Phillip thought, hard. I trust the voice of the first person to call me dragonrider: a wise man of my people. I trust his wisdom. I. . . I must, therefore, trust you.
I hope, Phillip hastened to add, I hope this answer does not offend you. . .
Zosa took so long to reply, that Phillip became very concerned. When the dragon did reply, her answer surprised him. When I was young, I met a human who was not a dragonrider, but who could talk with my race. I was surprised; so were my companions. It was only our surprise that kept us from eating him. I'm rather glad we didn't eat him. He told us stories; he was not. . . sorry? Ashamed? He was not. . . sad that he was not a dragonrider. . . even though there were many of them in those days, and they were honored by their people. He was content to be a storyteller. He was a wise man, and he taught us many lessons. One of those was that pride leads to a bad ending. It would be pride that would lead me to feel offended by your answer. Therefore, I am not offended.
Phillip released the breath he had been holding.
There are those, he said, who believe that dragonkind are not thinking creatures; today, you have shown that you are far wiser than many who believe that.
Zosa snorted. Fools are born every day, she said. She unfurled her wings, and began waving them, slowly, back and forth. After several minutes, she said, Step onto the root of my wing, and climb onto my neck. Then, hold tightly.
With no little trepidation, Phillip did as he was instructed. Zosa lowered one wing, and Phillip put his foot onto the step that was created where the wing joined the dragon's body. That's right. Now hold fast, Zosa said. She lifted her wing, and Phillip found that he could reach her neck. Lie along my neck, and hold fast, the dragon said. She hopped once, flapped her wings, and was airborne.
The other boys stared as Zosa swept her wings through the air a few times and then leapt from the ground. The sun, which had not yet crested the hilltops, struck her when she was a hundred feet into the air. It was if she were wearing rainbows. The sun scintillated off her scales with every color imaginable and perhaps some that had never before been imagined.
Phillip clutched the dragon's scales, but there was no place where his hands could dig in; Zosa's scales were too tightly interwoven to provide handholds. He spread his hands and legs along the dragon's body, and held on. . . as best he was able.
Zosa flew straight and level for only a moment, before beginning a series of turns and dives. Centrifugal force kept Phillip plastered to her neck; still, he was not really enjoying the experience.
Do you trust me? Zosa asked.
Yes, Phillip answered, sure of his response.
Then let go, the dragon instructed.
Phillip relaxed his grip on the dragon. Zosa rolled onto her back; Phillip fell through the air.
Spread your arms and legs wide, Zosa's voice echoed in his mind.
Like skydivers, Phillip thought, as he followed the dragon's instructions, and found himself falling, face down, toward the earth so impossibly far below.
You know this? Zosa's voice came.
It is known on my world, Phillip said. Terminal velocity. . . still, I'll splatter. . . The rocky terrain below was so far away, that its approach seemed to be in slow motion. I'll splatter on the rocks.
Do you not trust me? came Zosa's voice.
Yes! Phillip cried in exaltation. Yes!
Zosa swooped down and caught Phillip. The contact was so well timed, it was soft, gentle. Phillip was once again riding on the dragon's neck. His hands no longer sought to dig into the scales, but caressed them.
Were you afraid? Zosa asked.
No! Yes! No! Phillip thought. Yes! And then, no!
A good answer, dragonrider, Zosa replied. She spread her wings, and slowly glided back to the place Phillip's companions waited.
Submitted to Castle Roland c. 10 October 2014.
The island on which Phillip and Argon wake is known as Sunset Isle by the inhabitants of the continent to the east, as Solimoes by its inhabitants, and as Troll Island by sailors.
The date of Phillip and Argon's arrival on Sunset Isle was perhaps 90,000 years before the coronation of Auric of Arcadia. We estimated this date from several vague references in the original text as well as information from other stories.
The names of the Elves are similar to words from this Earth-analogue's Portuguese language. Using that language as a guide, the following pronunciation is recommended: Japura (zha poor AH) Jurua (zhu rue AH)
The names of the two boys who pledged brotherhood in Chapter 10 are pronounced Macapa (mah koo PAH) and Marajo (mah rah ZHO).
In Chapter 11, "loured" from "to louer" is an old verb meaning to frown or scowl. It has been carelessly replaced with "lower" in modern American English.
The story, "Swallows and Amazons" is mentioned in at least one other story from The Book of Heroes. The magical picture accompanying the story shows a small boat sailing in placid seas before being driven toward a rocky shore by a storm. The picture loops at this point, and the fate of the boat is not shown. We have not yet found this individual story. Perhaps the story contained herein is that story. We do know that Javari and Maranon's boat is called a "swallow" (and that the boys are called "Swallows") from the swallowtail pennon at its mast. The Elves' names and the name of the island resemble strongly words from this Earth-analogue's Portuguese language and Amazonia, and were translated as those words. Pronunciations both here and in the glossary are also from the Portuguese. For further information, see the Glossary. Swallows and Amazons is also the name of one of a series of children's books published on this Earth-analogue.
Urucará is pronounced ouh rue kah RAH.
The "Gatsby" to whom Phillip refers in a journal entry may be the protagonist in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, although we cannot be sure.
The amaranth is known on this Earth-analogue. It is an ornamental annual plant, genus Amaranthus, with vivid and long-lasting red, purple, and green flowers. The seeds are used in pottage, ground for flour, and used to make beer. According to legend, the flower lasts forever. Poetically, the amaranth flower is a symbol of eternity, eternal love, and similar concepts.
Pending the publication of the Translators' Glossary, the following is offered:
cleric: n On World, clerics are people who study and practice magic for the express purpose of supporting the Light. While "the Light" isn't a religion and the people of World haven't invented gods, the customs and practices of World's clerics are similar to those of many religious people on the Earth. Therefore, familiar Earth terms associated with religion find their way into these translations. On World, clerics operate facilities to which people come for advice, healing (physical and mental), comfort, and charitable assistance. These facilities are not unlike churches, mosques, temples, or synagogues. Clerics may live in a relatively closed and self-supporting facility, dedicating their lives to study and service. These facilities are not unlike monasteries or nunneries. Clerics conduct public meetings at which news, moral advice, and communal encouragement and support are given. These meetings share some common features with worship services. Clerics operate schools at which reading, writing, arithmetic, and healing arts are taught; students are expected to pledge a commitment to the Light. These schools have many things in common with parochial schools on Earth.
Nones is both the canonical hour corresponding to midafternoon, and a meeting held at temples at that hour.
Sext is both the canonical hour that corresponds to noon, and a meeting held at temples at that hour.
The name of the elves and their island resemble the Portuguese language of this Earth-analogue. The recommended pronunciations are Javari (zha var EE); Maranon (mah rah NYON); Phillip's sparring partner, Jamari (zha-mar-EE); Phillip's cleric friend, Tucano (too-can-OH); the island, Solimoes (so-lee-MOINS). The island is also known as "Sunset Island" by the people who inhabited or who will inhabit the continent to the east, and as "Troll Island" by fanciful sailors of another era.
A "swallow" is the name given to the elven boys' sailboat because of the swallowtail pennon that flies from its mast. The name is also given to the boy sailors, themselves.
A "grad" is a measure of angle, similar to a degree. There are 100 grads in a right angle, and 400 in a circle. This convention is used throughout World, and in many parts of our Earth-analogue.
"Meeresstille und gluckliche Fahrt," the blessing Argon whispered when Xander set sail, is the popular name of an overture (or, perhaps more properly, a "tone poem") by Felix Mendelssohn (Opus 27), inspired by a poem by Goethe, on our Earth-analogue. Again, we wonder at the coincidences.
The "crow's nest" is a lookout point near the top of the mast of a ship. The word in the original manuscript was translated as "aerie." The translators opted to use a term more familiar in this Earth-analogue.
The "city of looms" is named for Kannapolis, North Carolina: once a city of looms.
A "closet" is a small private room or chamber.