Created for The Dragon's Keep Sept Round. Dragon,12th annual celebration, teller of tales.
Scholars, scribes, wizards, monks, oracles…all have been consulted as to why the dragons have chosen this site as their yearly gathering grounds. Many theories abound, but almost everyone suspects that the real reason they have chosen the Wild Coast remains unknown. I, Odrac Yortallumson, the teller of this tale, and one who has spent years of his life in the pursuit dragon knowledge, am certainly perplexed as to why they are now gathering there. The ways of dragons are mysterious and mostly unfathomable to man.
Why they gather, that at least, is a little better known. Obviously, they meet for the purposes of mating. It is also believed that they gather to trade information, both arcane and mundane. It is thought that they may meet to engage each other in sport, games, and riddling. It is even surmised that they meet out of gregariousness, although this supposition definitely has experts who scoff at such a notion as camaraderie among dragons.
Dragons of all types meet there. Take for instance the Kreln. They are the largest, boldest and most uncivilized of the dragon kind. There is not one documented case of one ever speaking, and it is uncertain if they can speak at all. And they do not use magic. Likewise it is rumored that magic has little or no effect on them whatsoever.
The purple Sinissh, dragons of the tropics, come too. They are an insular group and almost never mate with any other dragon that is not of their ilk. It is this very inbreeding which is thought to be the reason why they cannot breathe fire. They are purveyors of information and lore, particularly arcane knowledge, and their spell casting ability is unmatched by man and dragon kind alike. They are decadent, greedy and amoral. Many have acquired a taste for human flesh, particularly that of female virgins.
Then there are…but I do ramble on so. I did not used to be this way. Twenty years ago I was found by the local townspeople, who brought me to the man who would become my master.
“We found him wandering around down by the falls, dressed in rags, filthy and starving. He will not answer of our questions. Some wanted to kill him, but Our Lordship said we should take him to you. He may be bewitched, diseased, or a spy,” said the chief townsman.
“That was the wise thing to do. Let me look at the lad.”
My master hobbled over to me. He skin was fair, his beard long and white, his eyes dark. “Can you speak, boy?” he asked gently. The words meant nothing to me, so I remained silent. He continued to examine me.
“He looks to be about nine, or so. Now, what’s this? What’s this?” he said. He peered into my eyes. I remembering looking into his eyes, his irises so dark they appeared extensions of his pupils. Again he asked me if I could talk, but this time is was with his eyes that he asked the question, not his mouth. I understood him, and I shook my head no. He asked me silently if I knew my name. Again, I shook my head.
“The boy is mute and has no memory of past,” said my master.
“He is bewitched then?” asked the chief townsman.
“The boy is not a danger to you. Return to your Lord and tell him I would like to keep the boy as my charge, with his permission.”
“I am sure you have his permission master mage, but I will ask him as you wish,” said the chief townsman as he and his men departed.
My master looked at me. There was gentleness is his eyes, fascination, and maybe just a touch of fear too. He placed his hand on his chest and said, “Yortallum. I’m Yortallum. Say it. Yortallum.”
I shook my head that I could not.
He thought. After a moment he said “Yort. Yort.”
“Yort,” I said slowly and painfully.
He smiled broadly. Little did I know at the time that I was the first person in more than one hundred and forty years to call my master by his childhood nick name. I would call him by that name as long as I knew him.
“Well, we must have a name for you too, right?” He took his hand and placed it on my chest and closed his eyes thinking. After a time he said, “Odrac, your name is Odrac. Odrac.”
“Odrac,” I said. And this time we both smiled.
Yort was a kind man and a patient teacher. He told me my past was gone. It was beyond even his vast power to recover it. It mattered little, I was a quick student. In no time he taught me how to speak Thallish, the language of the land. He taught me many things; history, alchemy, arethography, mathematics, different tongues and the names of plants and their uses.
I grew up very tall and strong. Against his better judgment, but in honor of my wishes, I was taught swordsmanship and archery. The master man-at-arms, who was hired to teach me these things, said he never saw my like with a sword before.
One thing Yort did not teach me was magic. Despite his abilities as a teacher, I could not harness the power of magic.
“It is not a gift you possess, Odrac.”
This revelation disappointed me, but not for long. Soon we both discovered my true gift. Dragon lore. My retention in the area was excellent. I learned their languages (what was known of them), their history, their biology, their cultures…All I had to was see the information once and I retained it.
One day I asked him, “Yort, have you ever seen a dragon.”
“Three times in my life I have seen a dragon.”
“Tell me about them!”
“When I was a young lad, tending to my father's sheep, a dragon swooped down and plucked out two of our ewes from the flock, just as easily a hawk would pluck mice from a field.”
This tale left me amazed. Not only because of the dragon, but because I never knew my master, the greatest mage in the land of Thale, had been a lowly shepherd’s son.
“The second time a saw a dragon was when I was in the apprenticeship of my master, Hodlen of Ronnick. From a distance I watched as he spoke with the ancient Zarristar.”
Again, I was amazed. His master had conversed with the legendary Zarristar, and lived to tell of it?
“What did he say to him, Yort?”
“My master was a sharer of knowledge, but on this occasion he would not reveal what they said.”
“And the third time?” I asked.
“The third time was when I myself had the honor of meeting and talking to a dragon.”
“Master, tell me! Who was the dragon, and what did you talk about?”
“Odrac, my boy, I’m sorry, but in this instance I must follow the lead of my own master. I cannot tell you his name, or what we spoke of. Not this day anyway. Another day, I promise.”
I knew better than to press him. He was a man of his word. I knew he would not say anymore of that this day, but I also knew, one day, he would make good on his promise.
Years went by. I grew to manhood. One day my master said, more to himself than to me, “Odrac my son, you have exhausted everything I know of dragons. You will have to travel elsewhere if you want to learn more.”
“Then that us what I shall do! May I begin tomorrow?”
His face grew alarmed, and then sadly resigned. “If that is your wish.”
The next day he saw me off. He girded a sword about my waist. “I spent some time last night enchanting this sword for you.”
I grew excited. “What magical powers does it have? Will it make me invulnerable to defeat?”
“No! Quite the contrary. I more concerned about the people you will be smiting, than I am for you. I have enchanted it so it will refuse to be drawn from its scabbard except for just causes, and for your own defense, of course. Then it will serve you well enough.”
We said our farewells and then I was off. I began my travels. By foot I have gone hundreds of miles. I have learned to ride on horseback, climb mountains, and sail too. I have been to the far reaches of Areth, to the northern, snowy peaks of the Jaggard Mountains, and to the hot Southlands of Snoosh. I traveled to the east to the Great Library of Xaracharn were I spent two years reading all that they had acquired on dragon lore. I sailed to the west too. I sailed so far that I reached the fabled red waters of the Sagash Sea, and would have gone farther if not my crew forced me to turn back.
I made my livelihood just about any way I could. I shoveled manure, labored in fields, and worked in the foulest kitchens. I begged for my food, and I sold my services as a hired sword, and in doing both learned (although I never met my match in combat) that I preferred begging to fighting. But mostly I told stories, stories of the lands I have seen and the people I have met. I told these tales to both kings and queens, and to lowly born alike. I told stories of dragons and found that almost everyone wanted to hear, and enjoyed, those most of all.
Always I would return to my master. I would share what I learned with him. I would rest, at the closest thing I had to a home, with the closest person I had to family. We would talk of my travels too.
“I see you still have your sword,” he said.
“Yes, my master, although I have tried my utmost not to use it.”
“But use it you have, eh?”
“Yes, master, I have used it. I have used it many times.”
I would not stay for too long. Soon, off I would go again, in search of dragon knowledge.
Yet here I am again, years later, returning home. I walk up the path to my master’s house. As if he knew I was coming I see him at the door. He looks old, and he leans heavily on his staff, but his eyes remain dark and sharp. We greet one another and embrace.
He has food ready and we begin to eat.
“Ordac, I’m afraid of what I’m sensing from you. You aren’t staying long this time are you?”
“No Yort, this time I am only staying the night, with your permission of course.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You could stay forever, if you wish. That would be my wish.”
We are silent for a time, as we eat. Then he asks, “It’s funny that you are coming by this time of year, and only staying for a night. What do you have in mind, my son?”
I laugh. Yort is so intuitive and wise. “Guess, my master. Astound me with your powers of precognition.”
“You are going to the Wild Coast, to see the Gathering of Dragons.”
“Did you divine that, or did you read my mind magically?”
“No, simple, ordinary deduction, my son. Nothing magical about that.”
“It is time. It is time for me to see some dragons. I have learned all that I can learn of them. I feel a calling. I don’t know why. I must go to the Wild Coast, even if it means the death of me. I’m leaving tomorrow.”
Yort looks concerned. “I will not try to deter you. I know such words are wasted on you, but I must tell you something before you go. Interacting with dragons is always dangerous, but for you it will be particularly dangerous.”
“Why, my master?”
“I am about to make good on my promise I made to you many years ago. Remember that day, long ago, when you asked me who the dragon I conversed with was?”
“Well, Odrac, I don’t quite know how to tell you this, so I’ll just come out and say it. You, my boy, you are that dragon.”
Morning comes. I wake early and prepare breakfast for us. Yort rises and we eat. I prepare to leave.
“Promise me that you will return and visit me again.”
“I want your oath on that Odrac. Upcoming events in your life may cause you to never want to return here again. I don’t think I could bear that. I want to see you once more, before I die. Swear, on your name, that you will return here once more.”
I laugh. “It is unlikely that I will live at all.”
“Take the oath.”
“I, Odrac Yortallumson, swear that I will return to see you once more, my master.”
“Thank you. Good travels to you, Odrac. Farewell.”
By horse, the Wild Coast is but three days travel from Yort’s house. I go into town and get a horse. I make my way east, toward the coast.
The first two days I travel without incident. The road is empty of travelers and highwaymen alike. No one travels this road during the time of the Gathering now.
At the end of the second day I let my horse go free. It will cost me a day, but then again a horse will just draw me more attention.
The third day I awaken and set out by foot. At midday I see a large contingent of vultures circling above what must be a carcass. There are dozens of them, maybe fifty. I wonder if a dragon has made a kill to draw such a large number of birds.
As I look closer I realize my error, and my heart leaps into my throat. The large creatures circling are not vultures at all, but dragons. I am still miles from the coast, but they are so massive, I can already easily make them out.
I leave the road and approach the coast through the woods. It will lengthen my journey, but it gives me a chance to approach unnoticed. I walk until dark, eat a cold meal and sleep without a fire. I am thankful it is summer.
I am up before dawn. I step out to the edge of the road, attempting to get a look at the sky to the east, wondering if I will see the flock of mighty dragons again. I don’t see that, but what I do see this morning. is even more sublime.
I see just two dragons. I am much closer to the coast now, so they are much larger. They are circling one another, each mighty flap of their wings brings them higher into the air. They climb higher and higher until suddenly they are illuminated; their red scales leap to life, gleaming and glistening by the light of the sun not yet risen to me. They close upon one another and pass each other dangerously close. Again they do this. They climb higher yet. They slow and approach each other. They met in mid-air and grab talons. They press against one another, wrap their wings around the other, and fall. Their roars are thunderous.
They drop rapidly and seem oblivious to the approaching sea below. They spew forth fire, leaving two perfectly straight, long contrails of smoke in the sky. I am afraid they will crash, but just as they close to the water, they release one another and spread their giant wings. Each skims across the top of the waves. They circle one another and start to climb into the sky again, just as the sun rises above the ocean’s rim.
I am tired of crawling along through the woods. I am tired of being afraid. I decide I will take the open road to the coast. I begin.
More and more dragons take to the sky. I am surprised they have not seen me yet. Then, finally, one breaks away from the group and approaches me. He is larger than most of his fellows. I stop in the road and wait. I wait, most likely, for death.
He approaches me, and as he slows to land the wind he creates knocks me off my feet. He lands heavily next of me, the ground quaking beneath him. As I lay there helpless and prone, looking up at him, I cannot help but laugh.
He looks at me. He comes closer, looking into my eyes. His eyes are yellow, his pupils slits. They look like cat’s eyes. Little wisps of smoke emit from his nostrils. His breath is stifling. He begins to smell me.
Without warning, he booms. It is deafening. It stuns me. He booms again, and I begin to realize he is not roaring, but talking.
Probably one no in this world is more versed in the languages of dragons than I am, yet I am at a loss. I try to gather my thoughts. I try to understand what he is saying.
Again he speaks, it is so deep and loud it’s hard to follow. I wonder which dialect of dragon he is speaking.
He pauses and speaks some more. Now, he speaks more quietly, and in a higher tone, and I realize he is speaking my language, the language of Thale.
“You have dragon’s blood. You are one of us.”
“Yes,” I say. He looks at me puzzled and I realize that I must be as hard to understand, as he is to me. I lower the intonation of my voice and try to yell as loudly as I can, “Yes.”
He nods, understanding. “I am Vassimaral.”
“I am Odrac Yortallumson,” I bellow.
“No, you are Brallahan. You are Kreln, yet I see you have found a voice.”
Brallahan. Brallahan. The name means nothing to me.
“You were young. You defied the law. Your punishment was to be banished, ostracized. The Council made you take the form of a human. To crawl along the ground on two legs. It took their combined mystical strength to overcome your magical resistance. They succeeded only because you were so young.”
“What was my crime?”
“Associating with humans. That is why you were cursed to become one. It has been long enough. I shall bring you before the Council and ask if they will rescind your sentence.”
Before I can reply he seizes me in a talon and takes off. Although he probably grasps me as gently as he can, his talon squeezes me so hard I fear I will pass out. He cracks some of my ribs.
And the wind. It cuts through my clothing, biting me to the bone. I look down and am so disoriented I cannot make out what I see. Then I begin to comprehend it all. I see a sea of green, that is the forest, and a sea of blue, that of course is the sea itself. I see a thin ribbon of tan that separates them, that’s the sandy beach. Eventually I can make out things like a thin winding line that cuts through the forest, that is the road I was traveling on. Despite the fact I am cold and my chest screams from pain, I am awed by the beauty of the land and the sea.
Vassimaral lands heavily upon the beach. He lets me go and I land unceremoniously on my side. I lay there dazed, and I do not move.
“Wait here,” he says. No problem I think.
He flies a short distance up the beach to where a half a dozen dragons are gathered. They chose a large, flat part of the beach to meet, yet they are so massive they still do not fit here. Two of the dragons lie mostly in the water. They are oblivious to the infamous, gigantic swells of the Wild Coast that crash harmlessly against their scaled sides. Vassimaral speaks to them for some time. Then he returns.
“They have agreed to change you back into your true from. I had to make a pact with them; pay them price for the commutation of your sentence. So you, in turn, will have to serve me, for a time.”
Before I can say anything he snatches me and brings me before the Council. They begin to sing; to weave their spell in unison. Nothing happens for a time; I am older and my resistance to their spell is more potent. Vassimaral adds his voice to the Council’s. Now, I can feel myself changing. My skin becomes scaly and large leathery wings sprout from my shoulders and grow. I grow, and grow, until I am the largest of them all.
And I remember. I remember my past. I remember my crime. I remember I am Brallahan.
But the change I feel the most is not the regaining of my memories, or of my form, but of…how can I put it. It is the wildness. The freedom. The joy of being Kreln. I realize that my desire to speak, to talk, is leaving me. I wonder if I will miss it, the talking. I wonder if I will miss telling tales.
In a moment I have my answer. No, I will not miss it at all.
I take to the sky. Kreln need to fly. A Kreln who cannot fly, for whatever reason, will die. I roar joyously, but I also feel fettered. I chafe under my obligations, yet I remember my master was kind to me, and this mollifies my anger. I wing off to see him. I will fulfill my promise to him, to see him once more.
And when that is done, I will serve out my term to Vassimaral. He will be a lenient master. He will not call upon me very often, and then only when there are matters of great import.
When that is done, I will be free.
And that is what we Kreln love the best of all.
Word Count 3751