A History... The beginning of Amanda's story.
The Hammer and the Anvil
Book One of Forging the Bond
The First Forging
Lifting a cup of hot chocolate to her lips, Amanda leaned against the heavy wooden railing surrounding the wide porch, looking out into the bright changing colors of the forest that surrounded her home. Her auburn hair was pulled up out of her face and into a messy bun, and her hazel eyes were locked on the trees around the house. She was feeling a bit over-warm in her purple pullover sweater. It made her look heavier than she was, though she didn't mind. Too many times people had told her she needed to gain more weight, though personally she thought she had just enough breast and hip to be called full-figured.
Looking out over the land surrounding her, Amanda could see the distant tops of mountains, the shifting colors of the trees, and the light fluffy clouds that meant there would be no rain but there was moisture on the air. She took in the beauty of her surroundings. It was never her intention to come to this place, but she was content. It was hard for her not to sigh, thinking about everything that had happened, and what had led her to be here, far away from all the family she had ever known.
So many strange things had transpired, many of them awful. In hindsight, she could see where things had gone wrong. So very, very wrong. She could see how life had thrown her a series of harrowing and rather queer curveballs, and she had taken those to create something entirely different. Of course, she hadn't been alone through all of that. She snorted as she watched the bright glitter of wings overhead. She was never alone.
That was the funny thing about life, to her own mind at least. You might think of possible outcomes when you make a decision. You might plot and plan and consider. But life wasn't always neat and pretty, and there were some things no one could possibly foresee. You could never think of all the possible outcomes, things you could never even imagine. Like dragons. Who could foresee a dragon?
Like everyone else around her a year before, Amanda had known they were nothing more than fantasy. As a child she had been cautioned to understand the difference between make-believe and reality, through years of school. Though she had long dreamed of those dragons, even after images of Santa Clause and other magic had disappeared. She had dreamed of a large purple dragon that hovered over her protectively, gouting flame as it tried to protect her from... an elusive something she had never seen.
With a sigh, she turned and settled into one of the Adirondack chairs. She pulled a throw over her lap, set her cup on the table beside her, and looked up into the deep blue of the sky. It was a lovely evening. The sun would set soon, and Amanda knew she wouldn't remain alone on the porch for long. Turning back to her thoughts of dragons, Amanda frowned.
As she sat there, a memory from her youth came back, unbidden. She had been in the classroom, a pad held under her arm as she backed away from her teacher. The woman was the serious sort, who probably shouldn't have been responsible for teaching second graders. When the woman had snatched the drawing pad away, Amanda had cried out. Then she'd opened it. Page after page had been covered in drawings of the dragons from her dreams.
The woman had let out a snort and told Amanda that dragons were only the foolish fancies of people in the middle ages who had mistaken dinosaur bones for something more grand. Then she'd tossed the drawing pad into the trash. As soon as her back was turned Amanda had snatched the book away, but the damage had been done. Though she still occasionally dreamed, her youthful belief in the fantastical began to disappear.
Amanda snorted, wondering what her teacher would think if she'd been the one thrown into the crazy, wild, unimaginable situation in which she had found herself. More than likely the woman would have gone to the nearest mental hospital and checked herself in. Shaking her head, she brought the now chilled cocoa to her lips and drank the rest.
Dragons were real.
Though to be fair, they weren't really like the ones written about in stories or seen in the movies. They didn't hold vast mountains of treasure, though they did tend to be a bit possessive of what they did have. They weren't paragons of good or evil, merely creatures ring to live the best lives they could in a world that didn't believe in their existence. They were rather ordinary. Like anyone else. And most people would never know them if they saw one on the street.
Amanda thought back to the trip that had changed her life. A series of completely unconnected circumstances that had brought true horror into her life had begun so simply that she'd had no idea everything was about to change. Looking out at the bold colors of the forest that surrounded her, it was more obvious than ever that there had been change, and a lot of it.
She never would have imagined leaving Portland, one of the few cities in Maine, for the woods and mountains. Never would have been caught dead in them, if she was honest. And being caught up with dragons? She could scarcely believe it, even though she had lived through it. Barely. She never would have survived if dragons didn't exist. Amanda snorted. A dragon had saved her life, and then dragged her into even worse danger. And it had all started with one conversation with her employer.
Looking down into the book she pulled onto her lap, Amanda sighed. She loved the story, even if it was sad. She had found it sitting on the mantle over the fireplace. The drama and history of the dragons inside was wonderful, and yet terrible. Shaking her head in shared sorrow, she turned the page and began to read, her voice breaking the peaceful tranquility of the early evening.
"Long ago, dragons roamed freely, along with many other creatures, long ascribed to myth and legend. There were many races of magical creatures, all living in harmony with each other. For millennia, they thrived in the world, caring for the planet, and each other.
During a time of growth among the humans of the planet, the dragons became hunted. So too, did many other magical creatures. The humans believed them to be a threat, or they wanted proof of their existence, or perhaps, they just wanted to show bravery. Instead, it was cowardice that roamed the land on horseback.
The people were just beginning to learn and grow. Though they had existed for some time among the other creatures of the world, they were still unsure of themselves, and their place in the world. As they learned of magic, systematically they began to destroy it.
While some were very good, and most were ordinary, some rose among the people who had great malice and cruelty towards any who did not look, or act like themselves.
The unicorns disappeared first, and though some believe they still exist, hidden, most are sure they have gone from this world forever. Many of the magical creatures had to discover how to blend in and hide from the humans. Fairies were hunted to extinction, their wings stripped from their bodies and used for knives among the rich and powerful. Unicorn horns were sold to those men who wanted to feel more potent. Dwarves were forced into slavery, in the mines, and were mostly wiped out within a few hundred years. Witches , as well as many innocents, were tried and drowned, burned, or pressed to death.
Then, the time came when dragons were first spotted. It was frightening perhaps for the little girl and her parents, when a large, golden dragon landed among the livestock. She wasn’t there to kill any, or to harm the humans, but to entreat them for help in stopping the useless slaughter of magical creatures.
At first, the people were simply afraid. But in time the wealthy began to send out knights and hunters. They created horror stories of dragons stealing young girls and taking them away forever. There were tales of dragon’s fire burning entire towns, and their voices being used to turn children to evil.
No longer believed to be a beneficent myth, dragons became the greatest challenge. Young dragons, still unable to fly, were captured when their parents were killed, and sold to the wealthy families of the world. It was through this that the greatest tragedy of all came to pass.
A young man, a sickly sort, who because of his wealth had many followers, was trying to impress a few of the ladies in the court. He took out a long sword, and skewered a baby female dragon, no older than a few moons. His hand was cut on one of the tough scales, and the man’s blood mixed with that of the dragon.
Within hours the man no longer appeared sickly. His wound healed quickly, and he appeared hale and healthy. His blood, weak from a disease carried by all in his family, was healed. The cure was heralded among the wealthy families of the court. Doctors appeared, looking over the young man. The infant dragon, weak from the attack, was brought out and the man’s two brothers sliced open their palms, and cut the baby again, soaking their wounds in its blood.
They too, were healed, and pronounced healthy. Thus, began the greatest dragon hunt of all time. Thirty men were sent out, looking for dragons. When several were found, hunting parties were sent to capture them. Many died in the attempt, but eventually three more dragons were brought to court. A full-grown female, a juvenile male, and a very young female.
A ritual began, with the court doctor slicing into each of the dragons, and those with ailments of the blood opening their own palms and letting the dragon blood meld with their own. Only the blood of the baby female dragon healed the blood. More hunts were arranged, and more dragons brought in. Male and female infants, only before their first flight, were able to heal the blood of the infirm.
Within several months the effects began to wane however, and those who had been born sick, were sick once more. Dragons were hunted, captured, even bred to produce young. So many infant dragons were slaughtered over the course of the next thirty years that the populations in Europe were nearly depleted.
One old female, who took the name Colleen, had lost her entire family to the hunters and poachers and knights on their quests. She was the only full-blood golden dragon still in existence. She was a huge dragon, twice the size of most cottages, and though she had borne more than thirty offspring, had no family left in the world because of the hunts that had crossed the land.
She raged her anger and sadness with bellows and thrashed the ground at her feet for many days and nights. Her tears formed diamonds at her feet, and the claws rent through rock and stone, leaving behind gold dust with each movement. She let loose flames in her anguish, and was seen by a helpful creature.
Blinking on and off, fireflies dotted the country-side. One approached the distraught dragon, and when she was close, changed her shape. It was a pixie! Close cousin to the fairies, they had disappeared around the same time. This one was named Bell, and she informed the ancient dragon that there was help for her and all her kind.
Colleen stopped to listen to the little creature hovering in front of her. Bell informed her that the pixies had gone to the witches, who had helped them learn to hide their form. It had taken a powerful spell, but once done, the humans had been unable to hunt the pixies anymore.
Colleen was happy to hear that at least one creature would be spared, but was unsure how the witches could help creatures as large and varied as the dragons. Most dragons in Europe were huge, with four arms, and two great wings, larger than a house when spread. Maybe they could help the dragons from Asia, who were smaller, and more serpent shaped, but she couldn’t imagine what creature the larger ones could turn into that would hide them.
Bell was insistent, and eventually the old dragon flew with her to a small island. There lived a coven of witches. They were kind and smart, and cared for the land that they were given, and for any creature who needed aid. Colleen saw creatures as small as rabbits, and as large as elephants. All shapes and sizes. And hidden under the cover of trees were three unicorns! Amazed at these witches, Colleen bugled for their attention.
Thirteen witches appeared from all over the island. Male and female, young and old. Some had light skin and fire colored hair, while others had skin the color of coal, and hair that was blue-black like the wings of a raven. Male and female, they all approached, telling Colleen of their sorrow for her loss, and all the losses magical creatures had endured.
Bell asked the witches about a spell. The coven pulled close to each other and sat. They talked for hours and hours. Colleen was patient. Age does that to a creature. She sat and listened to them discuss the possibilities, and the things that they would need. That they were willing to even consider the idea was more than a miracle to the ancient dragon.
Finally, the coven turned to Colleen and told her they would try. It was a beautiful morning, and Bell was hopping from flower to flower, listening carefully. There were several things they would need to perform the spell. And they only had one request of Colleen. They asked her for one scale from her back, the strongest set on a dragon. She promised them three, and with the help of the small pixie, she gave them their boon.
The leader of the coven, an elderly crone, walked to Colleen and issued a declaration. The witches and the dragons would always be friends. Always would they come to each other’s aid. She told Colleen to gather three things. The first was the hardest. She had to rescue a baby dragon, a male, that had been captured the week before. It was set to be used in a ritual at the next full moon, and the witches had been unable to find a way to rescue the poor creature. Both its parents had been murdered to gain access to the young in the nest.
Colleen and Bell took off together. They flew to the castle, and Colleen could smell the baby dragon, even from a distance. Its pen was in a barn to one side of the castle. The whole building was made of river stone, and she knew that if she tried to tear it apart the baby could be injured or even killed.
Bell flew inside the barn through the wide-open windows. She looked around for the guard and saw three men gambling over wooden dice on an upturned barrel. She changed into her pixie form to fly through the lock on the cage, hoping they were too involved in their game to notice. The poor dragon was in bad shape. There were cuts on his legs and belly, and he was not well cared for. She flew to the baby and whispered in his ear that he should be very quiet. Then she went back out for Colleen.
When she reached the elderly dragon, she discovered something that frightened her. Hovering at a small door, perched on a step, was a young girl with dirty hair, and a torn dress. She appeared to be about twelve. The frightening part was that she was staring up at Colleen. For a moment, Bell thought all hope was lost. Then slowly, the young girl moved forward, step by careful step.
She approached the dragon, and whispered, “Did you come to save the baby?”
Colleen turned, first frightened, and then very angry. She pulled in air, ready to flame the child, when Bell moved into the line of fire. “No, Colleen,” the pixie exclaimed. “This one is no threat, and she may be able to help.”
Colleen snorted sparks, unsure if she should trust a human, but was willing to do anything to save her kind, even work with one of the destroyers. At least it was a girl-child, and not a knight with a sword. She wasn’t sure if she could trust her, but the girl was an orphan, and a servant. The girl promised she would help, and only asked to be taken away as well. Colleen begrudgingly agreed.
It was Bell and the girl who worked out a plan. Bell could unlock the cage with a little magic, but could not carry the baby dragon, or distract the guards. The girl, Anna, suggested a small fire to make the men come running with buckets to another area of the castle. That job Colleen set off to do, while Bell and Anna snuck into the barn.
It was difficult for Anna to carry the young dragon. Even less than a year old, he weighed more than a large dog. He wrapped arms and wings around his savior and was happy to see a large dragon once they were outside. Colleen picked up the girl and the baby in her powerful arms. Bell landed on Anna’s shoulder, and hid in her hair.
The beat of her wings stirred up dust, and the small fire in the distance grew larger with the added wind. In three powerful strokes of her wings, and a jump for lift, Colleen and her three passengers set off into the night.
They arrived at the island very quickly, and after a short rest, Colleen and Bell set off on the next task. They needed the tears of a mother in labor. It didn’t have to be a human mother, just a mother who could cry. It wasn’t an easy task to find one such. They flew back and forth over the country for several days before they found what they were looking for.
In a meadow, sitting alone, in the moonlight, was a griffin. She was beautiful, with bronze colored feathers, and long, powerful forearms. She was obviously in pain, and Colleen could smell the mixture of blood and birthing fluid, meaning she was in labor. It was Bell who approached, for any threat to a female in labor, of any species, could be disastrous for both mother and child.
Griffins were rare in Europe at this time, and though they had many young at once, most did not survive long enough to have offspring of their own. This griffin looked to be about seven years, which meant this was not her first litter. She had probably had one or two in the years before. Bell approached cautiously, trying not to spook her.
She relayed their need, and told of the witches, who were helping many creatures hide themselves from the humans. The griffin agreed instantly, and let Bell take a vial of tears. They stayed and kept vigil with the griffin until all four young were born, and Colleen brought her some food to eat while she nursed them.
Finally, they flew back to the witches’ island, and gave over the tears. Bell and several other pixies, were sent out to round up dragons from all over the world. Some were very similar to Colleen in appearance and form, while others were very different. Some had longer bodies, some serpent-like figures. Others had no front arms, only hand-like appendages attached to their wings.
On the night of the new moon, the dragons spread out in a large circle, and inside their collective was another smaller circle. This was of thirteen witches. On an altar, in the center of their circle, were two infants. One was the little male dragon they had rescued. The other was a human female, whose mother had died in childbirth, and whose father had died of disease. The child had been starving to death, in need of milk which no one in her town was willing to spare.
The crone, eldest and wisest of the witches, had found the child only days before Colleen and Bell had first arrived seeking their help. She had not known, at the time, that the child would one day be changed, but had only seen a suffering child, who she could help. She thanked the goddess for sending her the child at the right time, then together the witches began their circle.
The dragons, surrounding the witches, protecting them from harm during their work, were unsure exactly what to expect. Many thought they would see fire in the sky or blinding lights. But the work was done in such a way that none on the mainland would have any idea a spell had been cast.
The crone started the spell, and in turn, each which spoke part. Their chants went on for many hours. Several items were added to a cauldron. Candles were marked carefully with runes and burned. Finally, the witch called Mother picked up the two children. No one could see her straining with the weight of the young dragon. A blanket was placed on the altar, and she laid both infants on it. Once they were safely placed within the blanket, it was wrapped around the both of them several times.
Colleen, watching from a distance, could see the Mother upending the tears she had collected onto the two children. More words were spoken, more prayers lifted up, and the coven began to circle the altar. Maiden, Mother, and Crone stepped forward, while the other witches continued circling. They each laid one hand on the children and said several words.
The moonlight seemed to gather around the blanket, making the creamy cloth look like a moon itself. And then, the blanket opened. Inside were two squalling infants. Both looked human. The dragons watching let out exclamations of shock and surprise, and one even let out a roar of anger. But it was done.
Once the final words were spoken and the circle was opened, Colleen stepped forward slowly. She took one step, and a second before she realized something had changed. She looked down at herself in the moonlight. She was human! She was dressed all in gold, and her hair looked like straw when she grabbed a handful and looked. She stepped forward, feeling called to the two children who would be in her care until they were grown.
It took many years for all the dragons to become adept at hiding themselves or revealing their true form at will. To the humans, it seemed perhaps the dragons had died out, though some who were trustworthy still knew of their existence. Several changes had occurred the night of the spell.
The first, and most important, was the ability to hide in plain sight. A dragon who knew how to control him or herself could walk alongside any human and no one would know the wiser. Fewer and fewer dragons were found each year, and so their numbers began to increase. They were careful never to reveal their secret to one who was not a friend.
The second change was love. Yes, every dragon parent loved their young, but during the spell, the two children had Forged a Bond. It had enveloped every dragon, everywhere. Now, instead of choosing several mates, each dragon was connected to one other for life. They had only to find their other half, and the Bond would be Forged.
Another change came when the dragons discovered that children did not make their first change until they had passed puberty. It was a measure of safety the witches had built into their spell to help the dragons hide. It made certain no child dragon would be seen flying the skies and be killed.
It had the unfortunate consequence of keeping dragon young vulnerable until they reached the age of pubescence. Most never had their first flight until they were fourteen or older. They had to be carefully shown how to make the change. It took mental preparation, and a good deal of understanding oneself. Meditation became an important part of their culture after the spell.
Over the centuries, dragons have never forgotten what the coven did for them. We have helped them too, hidden them within our families when they were hunted. Their gift has kept us alive for centuries. We will never be able to repay the debt.
And so, year by year, the dragons drifted into myth and legend, forgotten by most. There were exceptions of course. We, and other magical creatures, will always be hunted by the three families and their cronies. But that is another story."
Amanda sighed and closed the book, her hand resting on the cover, which seemed warm to her. Swiping a stray tear from her cheek, she again thought of what had brought her to this place. She had never been more thankful that something horrible had happened. A small smile crept over her face as she heard rustling behind her. A thick, gentle hand came to land on her shoulder and she peered upward, remembering the first time she had truly noticed the man standing at her back.