Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Dragons of Spring

I needed a change of scenery, a respite from the endless winter. The office had grown gloomy— littered with empty coffee cups and donut sprinkles, but I was under a deadline. I packed up my laptop and headed to the library where I spread out under the towering window along Main Street. A few moments later, a tapping, like stick on stone, battered my nerves. I peeked over my screen, and there he was. “Oton, it’s the middle of the day. Are you crazy?” He tapped his toes, and his nails made the grating sound. “I told you before.” He stuck his tongue out at the young woman seated at the next table. “They don’t see what they don’t expect to find.” I rolled my eyes. “If only I were that lucky.” I had to convince him to leave and I knew he would not go without a debate so I raced up the stairs with the troll hot on my heels. At the back of the stacks, I said, “Oton, go home.” He shifted his weight. “But Stump sent me.” My reporter instincts flared. I had long wanted to speak to Stump, and with good reason. Elvsmyr’s resident dragon was a mystery. I rarely saw him, and when I did, he would turn away. “Is he ready to tell his story?” Oton nodded. “He says it’s time, but only if you share what you know like you did with Gaven’s story.” I could feel the adrenaline flooding my veins. “I’ll get my coat.”
Our Norse ancestors believed in dragons because they were an intricate part of the mythology. The Vikings knew dragons lived both underground and at the bottom of the sea where they stirred up storms and generated rogue waves to drown the seafaring people. Dragons were very real to our ancestors. Therefore, it is only natural that dragons play a major role in the Norse trilogy, Legends of the Aurora. What follows is an excerpt from the soon to be published—Cairn: a dragon memoir.

The madness was descending. Troika’s vision had narrowed and his ears felt muffled, but he could smell the hot breath of the crow sleeping in the tree above and the waterlogged feathers of the ducks along the far shore. This time, he would fight it. He was determined to consume only the vegetation, but he feared he would soon be little more than an empty larder with gnashing teeth to speed delivery. Troika inhaled deeply, struggling to quiet the madness before it overwhelmed him. Again, the scent of duck came. Eleven—no, thirteen slumbering waterfowl were very close. The five males and eight females would be lean after the long winter, but meat was meat. He must fight back. He focused on the cattail just beginning to break the water’s surface. He knew the heartbeat the first mouthful of food passed his gullet he would be lost to the madness, but if he could begin with cattail, the animals might have time to flee. Troika stood at the edge of the river that defined the western boundary of Elvsmyr, but he could not feel the mud between his toes. The madness had taken that sense as well. The full moon, reflected in the ripples at the base of the cattail, sent waves of light toward him. Hawksquat. He would have to swim if he wanted to eat cattail tonight.

It was a battle between his needs and his desires. He sensed food on this side of the river, food more appropriate for a dragon, but he had never shaken his passion for cattail. He tried to ignore the tantalizing aroma of carrion floating on the breeze, but his instincts were winning. Troika turned away and slipped in the mud. He toppled into the water with a splash. At least the ducks had taken flight. They would be safe, this time. Troika detested water. Even before his feathers had pushed their way through the crevices in his scaly skin, water had repelled him, but the Fates had chosen the river.

Troika pushed against the current. Still fed from the snow pack lingering in the deep shadows, the river was frigid, the flow, strong. He wasted no time devouring the cattail shoots, and only narrowly resisted the urge to yank their succulent roots from the mud. They would live to be eaten again. With the first intake of solid food in five moon cycles, his digestive system roared to life. Cramps twisted his body; the urge to eat was overwhelming. He barely noticed when his eyesight changed. Colors dissolved, well, most of them. Green jumped out from a gray world, but his instincts sought the motion of prey. The madness was deepening.

He made his way back across the river and stood on the bank, dripping. His partially feathered body, shivered in the wind. Without thinking, he spread his wings and shook them violently. Curtains of water flung from his flight feathers. A heartbeat later, his scaly flesh began to quiver, faster and faster, until it had expelled the water from both scale and feather, but he could still feel drips coming from his crest. Annoying, but he pushed it aside. Hunger propelled him forward. He stumbled on thick, muscular hind legs, his arms reaching out to shove anything edible into his mouth. He dived, face-first, into a bramble of vines. Tender shoots disappeared down his throat. His teeth, designed to rip meat from bone, sliced through the vegetation as if it were nothing. He pushed on, tearing everything green from the earth until the haze of hunger began to lift from his brain.
That was when he remembered the dream.

Hibernation was a necessity for dragons. The deep sleep had come for him as soon as the last tree had surrendered its leaves to the coming snows. Troika had returned to his cozy cave and settled on his nest, already groggy. He did not remember much after that—at least not until tonight. The frost coating his scales had just started to evaporate when it had come. He had dreamed of the nursery and his mother at his side. He remembered her warmth and he could still hear her heartbeat pounding in his ears, but then the voice had intruded.

“Your clan is in danger.” The voice was both heavy with emotion and light as fog.
Troika recalled shifting, dislodging a stone from his nest. “I never knew my clan. What is that to me?”
“And the Guardian is dying.”

Troika had limited awareness of the Guardians, but his scales knew their importance. It was like that so often. His scales were steeped in the knowledge of the dragons, but he had been denied the memories. It was not supposed to work that way, but he had been separated from his clan on the night of his hatching.
 “Yes, Troika you are truly special. Only the Promised One would understand without contact with the clans. You must come home, Troika. Your clan needs you.”

It had been many seasons since a voice had invaded his dreams and the demanding tone had flared his anger. “Who are you?”

The voice took on a melodic quality. “I am known to all, but seen by few.”

The cloaked conversation had grown tedious. “I was sent away, harnessed to a destiny far from my kind. I’ve done what was expected of me. I have nothing left to give.”

“Then all is lost. The world as we know it will be no more.”

His path had always revealed itself in dreams, and Troika knew this message was important, but he had already fulfilled his destiny, hadn’t he? He sighed, as the heavy mantle of duty settled on his shoulders. It seemed the hideous hags of Fate had dipped their bony fingers in the pool, and were stirring his soul from its comfortable existence.

The hags of Fate always won. He would be leaving soon. He had better learn to use his wings for more than warming his twisted tail, but first—the madness was again taking control.

Hideous hags of Fate.