A dragon flies into a town in a kingdom faraway, determined to punish humans for the loss of his kind. Are there any others out there, or is this the end of the magic line?
It was market day in the town of Strayford, when a dragon appeared in the skies. Mistral, the horse-master’s daughter, saw it first – a speck of shiny turquoise moving against the wind.
Xander was mid-way through his magic show in the square, about to pull a coin from the Innkeeper’s ear, when he saw the glittering monster descending.
“Dra-gon!” He grabbed his ‘wand’ and fled.
With a thump that rattled the buildings, the dragon set down, crushing market stalls and carts.
“Ah, humans,” he said. “Just dropped by to let you know, I like your town. I’ll be staying a while.”
Mistral and Xander exchanged worried looks.
The Dragon flashed a toothy grin. “Don’t worry, I won’t be here here. I’ll be up there. On Broken Tooth Mount.”
Silence and horror greeted his announcement.
“No warm applause? Nor happy smiles?” the dragon said. “Do I sense I’m not welcome? Or are you too stunned by my beauty to speak.”
For indeed, the creature was dazzling. Covered in turquoise scales that rippled as the sky changed, its eyelashes were tipped with silver. Its eyes were inky black, with silver pupils swirling mesmerically.
“I need company,” the Dragon said. ” I know you’ll do your best to amuse me. Everybody… dance!”
So the villagers began jigging about, because a dragon’s orders are irresistible to humans. The creature laughed to watch them, like corn kernels on hot stones. All except for one woman. Mistral. Young, with golden hair and pale eyes that seemed focused into the distance, she alone stood still. “You, girl! Dance for me.”
Mistral shook her head and walked away.
By now, a few dancers were tired and tearful. “Okay, stop your whining. You can rest.
“Right, I need something to decorate my cave,” said the dragon. “Go to your hovels and bring me your shiniest belongings.”
People scattered, long-faced, as they realised they’d be losing their most valued possessions.
“Haven’t you had enough amusement today, Dragon?” Mistral shouted. “Go away!”
He could burn her between heartbeats, but it amused him that there was one who thought she could resist.
“Let me say this to you now, girl,” he said. “It’s not an order, more a suggestion, really. Run!”
Mistral fled through the streets, as the dragon burnt a trail behind her. He laughed as if he’d never seen anything so funny in all his long life.
The clatter of goblets and tinkle of jewellery piled into a sack drew his attention once more. “Ah, decorations. Lovely!”
With a flick of his tail, he decimated the remaining carts and flew off to Broken Tooth mount with their worldly belongings.
Mistral’s friends, Xander and Persephone found her working in the stables.
“That damn dragon!” said Xander, a skinny teenager, with a streak of white in his jet black hair. “It ruined my magic equipment.”
“What a shame!” said Persephone, silver-haired with grey eyes. “How will we ever survive without the daily Xander-the -Magnificent show?”
“I’d got those tricks going really well. No-one could see how I was doing it!”
Mistral made a pot of herb tea to share with her friends.
“It was so strange,” said Xander. “When it gave its instructions…”
“He…when he gave his instructions,” Mistral corrected him.
“When he told us to dance, I wanted to resist, but my limbs acted independent of my wishes.”
“Mine too,” said Persephone, her eyes clouding. “I had no power over my own body. How did you resist him, Mistral?”
Mistral sipped slowly. “I really don’t know.”
The dragon settled into the cave on the mount. From the village, he looked like a blue jewel balanced atop the grey peak. But dragons have keen eyesight. From here, he saw the faces of the people, their eyes big with fear, their stick-like legs pumping to flee him, the deep lines of strain from the eat-work-sleep cycles that dominated their pointless lives.
The townsfolk named him Heartfrost – for seeing him brought a terrible chill upon their chests. For as long as he remembered, Heartfrost had been alone. He’d spent lifetimes searching for other dragons. In vain. As far as he knew, he was the last dragon on Earth.
He was lonely. And angry. And blamed humans for this loss. In the mist of the past, he recalled his mother, tethered by men who wished to use her power for their gain.
He amused himself by taunting the humans, to scratch an itch from the past. He didn’t even need to open his mouth to instruct them; just blasted thoughts to whoever he was targeting.
“Spit at each other,” Heartfrost ordered the town. They spat till they had no spittle left and their tongues stuck to their teeth.
“Fight!” They slugged till their faces were puffed and their fists raw. It pleased him to watch this. They were all his slaves. All but one.
“You are a dragon!” an angry cry drew his attention. He knew the speaker’s voice. Mistral. “This is beneath you.”
No human could scold him! Still, he didn’t like the way his scales turned pink at the edges. He decided he’d had enough of humans for the day, and flew away.
The townsfolk gathered at the Inn for an emergency meeting.
“We need to rid ourselves of this pest, once and for all,” said Bale, the Innkeeper, a bear of a man with a wine-barrel belly. “Any ideas how?”
“There is one woman in the town who is not in his thrall” said the baker’s wife. “Mistral the horse-master’s daughter.”
“A girl cannot vanquish a dragon,” said Bale. “Any other ideas?”
Mistral was delivering a foal when her friends rushed in to tell her the news – the town had voted to hire a Dragon Slayer.
After cleaning up, she and her friends shared bowls of her mother’s parsnip stew with oats and talked.
“A dragon slayer?” Mistral said. “I didn’t know there was such a thing?”
“If there is,” said Xander, “they must be ancient.”
“Your name came up,” said Persephone. “You’re the only one who can resist him.”
Mistral stared into her bowl. “I’ve been having dreams,” she said, “like I’m flying over a land looking down. Mountains of sand stretching as far the eye can see. Then I’m over a world of water. I see whole cities gleaming just below the surface. And the shadow I cast … is dragon-shaped.”
“I think I understand,” said Darya, Mistral’s mother, collecting the bowls. She explained that Mistral was descended from a line of Dragon Riders.
“No dragons were ever seen in my lifetime,” said Darya. “Nor my parents’. I thought those days gone.” She sighed. “It seems you, daughter, have the gift.”
A few weeks later, a great hulk of a man arrived in town. With a shock of red hair, one blind eye, and scars criss-crossing his face, he announced himself as Quillon, the Dragon Slayer.
“Have you slain many dragons?” Bale asked, hopefully.
“No. But my great grandfather was a slayer. It’s in my blood.”
“What about those scars?”
Quillon touch a livid red mark on his face. “You should see the other guy.” Guzzling down ale, he confessed the marks were from tavern brawls – the man was a heavy drinker and quick to anger. But all would be forgiven if one of the axes he carried would strike the dragon’s death blow and free the town.
“To Quillon,” said Bale, raising a toast. “He’s an ugly bastard, but brave as they come.” They discussed mounting the dragon’s head on the wall.
“Your celebrations are premature!” Heartfrost’s voice bellowed. “Come to me, Dragon Slayer!”
The whites of Quillon’s eyes bulged, like boiled chicken’s eggs. His hand shook so that his ale overlapped the mug.
“Come now! Or I’ll turn the town to ash!”
Quillon dropped to his knees at the dragon’s feet, begging for mercy.
“You would have my head upon your wall, human?” The dragon eyes swirled hypnotically as he drew in a breath.
“Don’t hurt him!” Mistral emerged from the Inn, locking eyes with the beast.
Heartfrost glared back, puffing blue smoke. One puff. Two. “He’s not worth my breath.” And flew off.
“Oh, useless slayer!” Bale kicked Quillon’s meaty thigh. “He owes me for a whole barrel of ale.” Then he turned to Mistral. “You’re our only hope now, girl.”
By mid-morning, Mistral’s neck was sore from head-shaking. “No, no. I can’t do it.”
“Yes, you can,” said Xander. “There’s not a beast alive you can’t make friends with.”
“Friends? With Heartfrost?” She shuddered.
“I have dreamt of this,” said Persephone.
“Mistral doesn’t want to talk about your dreams now, Persy,” said Xander.
“She should.” Persephone’s eyes were milky and glowing. “Dreaming runs in my family.”
Her great grandmother was an oracle, reading the future from dreams. But when her prophesy displeased her royal master, he ordered her execution.
“She didn’t see that one coming, then?” said Xander.
“Oh, but she did.” She fled before they arrested her, Persephone said. Since then, her family had forbidden all dream talk.
“But I cannot stay silent, ” she said. “I have foreseen a wall of flame that devours the world. And you, Mistral, walking into it.”
“So, I guess we’re going to the Dragon’s Lair?” said Xander.
“We?” Persephone frowned. “Do you think your magic tricks will help?”
“They can’t hurt.”
Climbing Broken Tooth mountain took most of the day. It was steep and damp, with ghostly winds swirling round the precipice. It was chilling to the flesh, but more so to the soul.
“I can’t do this.” Mistral tried to turn back.
“Yes, you can!” her friends urged.
“Come to me, humans!” The dragon’s voice summoned them. Her two friends now had no choice but to continue – the creature’s commands were imprinted upon them. Mistral had to follow.
Her nails ripped, her muscles ached. Just on sunset, her foot slipped and she fell. Closing her eyes, she expected to feel the wind rushing by, the pain of the impact. Instead, she floated.
“You’ve been eating too many of your mother’s teacakes,” Xander’s voice was strained. Mistral and Persephone turned back and saw their friend, arm outstretched, holding her up by some invisible force.
Up, up, he pushed, till she crested the lip of the dragon’s lair.
“So those magic tricks…?” Persephone said, “were real magic?”
As he hauled himself into the lair, Xander’s hair was completely white. “My great grandfather, Merlin, had some stories as well.”
The dragon stood to his full terrifying height. Xander and Persephone quivered before him, but Mistral was scowling and glancing about the cave – the stolen loot in one corner, chicken bones and dragon excrement everywhere.
“Clean this place up! It’s not fit for my visit.”
The dragon did not immediately reply. His liquid silver gaze locked with hers as they exchanged images of centuries of dragons and their riders.
“What’s going on?” Xander whispered.
Persephone shrugged. “Whatever it is, I don’t think it’s the end for Mistral, or the dragon line.”
“Greetings Oracle,” Heartfrost haled her.
“Don’t even think about hurting my friends,” said Xander. Lifting his arm, a vortex of dust and stones swirled around it.
“And wizard,” Heartfrost intoned.
Breaking their eye-lock, both Mistral and the dragon were panting, as if they’d run for hours. In their eyes was a new, if wary, respect for each other.
Without a word, the dragon knelt and Mistral climbed onto his back. In their joint mind-vision, she saw vast distances and colourful specks among the clouds.
“You’ve been bitter too long, dragon,” said Mistral, “believing you were the last of your kind. But others are out there. Together, we’ll find them.”
The old magic was not dead, only sleeping, awaiting a time when it was needed, and the right people to wield it.
As pestilence, fire and flood, stalk our world, we could all use a little magic.