by Soleil Compeau
sweet blackberry wine
Merakhagon and Leilani ruled the skies together. They were among the First, six males and six females who hatched together and awoke the world. The First of many who flitted among the clouds and built lavish homes on the mountain tops. Their children had children, then the First gave birth to more babies who scattered their joy as well. And so the seed of the Dragon Mages spread far and wide and had dominion over the earth.
Many lesser creatures thrived under their benevolent rule. Beneath the towering rocky peaks lay lush valleys, sparkling lakes, clear rivers and streams. Tiny mice scampered and gigantic moose ran throughout the grassy meadows and verdant forests. All manner of animals in between thrived all over the green land.
There were plenty of sentient life forms as well. Little People thrived and played in the sunshine and burrowed in the hollows of old trees. Each species had very primitive beginnings, and over time they advanced and evolved. As they began to look up, they saw the dragons. Marveling at the brightness and beauty, they worshipped them as gods.
A dryad creeping curiously a bit further than usual from her tree heard a sudden rush of wind. Looking in the direction of the sound, she gasped to see an iridescent green dragon extending his clawed feet to the ground as he slowly lowered through the air to land a few feet in front of her. He leisurely folded his wings as she gasped with shock and dropped to the ground, quivering. How did he do that! The dryad wondered frantically. How did that being stay in the air like that? And put his feet on the ground only when he wanted to!
“Do not fear me, Little One,” his throaty voice rumbled. “I am only passing through.” His large, scaled paw gently touched her shoulder. The scales felt rough but did not harm her. His hot breath stirred her hair before he moved away through the trees, wings folded tightly to his back, that he might fit in the smaller spaces.
Birds of all shapes and size flew in the skies just below the dragons. Because they flew, like the sacred Mages, they were considered holy and blessed. Any bird found injured on the ground – no matter what size and type – was approached reverently and its wounds or sickness treated. No one even dreamed to think they might be for food. And since dragons had been seen swooping down to eat the birds at times, it only reinforced that these were meant for them.
In time the worship became more like reverence. Many legends were told of the dragons, often true tales whispered by the winged mages themselves. Sometimes one of the mighty ones would take the form of some particular race and tell their own stories of great deeds. Sometimes, friendships were forged between a dragon mage and some visionary leader from the lesser races. These friendships were lifelong bonds, for the mages were passionate and strong. They were known to be intensely loyal.
They were also known for the fiery romances among their own kind. One of the most spectacular of these love matches was Merakhagon and Leilani. He was like a bright red flame, and she was lovely and golden as the sun. He was handsome and virile, and Leilani was breathtakingly beautiful. Others who witnessed the relationship claimed the love and ecstasy was a visible cloud around them.
One particular daughter of one of the First, Ankheliga, tried often to seduce Merakhagon away from his wife. Her shimmering orange scales and limpid blue eyes had enraptured many other dragons, but she had feelings only for the one she could not have. Merakhagon would have naught to do with any but his golden lady. Thwarted again and again, Ankheliga swore revenge on the female who denied her her heart’s desire.
Eventually she disappeared from the happy couple’s life and they assumed it was over. Many centuries later, there began to be dissention among the dragons. Some said there was too much going about among the little people. Other claimed there should in fact be more involvement, that dragon mages should guide and teach the lesser races in order to advance them further. (Give more examples of why the war escalated. Reference below to Mer and Lei's “servants.” Some of the lifelong friends are were taken up on the mountain tops for this purpose. Some say it's reducing them to servidtue and that the dragons don't deserve to be worshipped when they are slavers. Other argue that they Folk WANT to be with them)
However, no matter which opinion any of them held, there was a new worry for all of them. A new race was emerging.
These strange new ones walked upright and were smooth-skinned, yet they seemed to have no interest in burrowing like the others. They were large, twice as high as the nymphs and fauns who were the tallest. They used tools and cast their curious eyes everywhere, even to the slopes of the sacred mountains. But what was most alarming was that they did not look up, did not seek the skies to revere the beautiful dragons that fluttered and danced above.
“I saw a group of them building something,” grumbled one dwarf to another as they worked a forge together. “Some large structure. Right at the edge of the forest, almost ON Mount Ele!”
“How dare they go so close! That’s where,” the second dwarfs eyes rounded with wonder, “Mer and Lei keep their Hall!”
“They had two little ones with them. I say little even though they were as tall as you or I! Though as slender as sylphs. Bold as you please, the pair of them climbing even higher to explore.”
In a valley strewn with fragrant flowers, a faun chased a nymph in celebration of life. Later, as they lay quietly together near a gurgling stream, they talked. “They are friendly though. My cousin hurt her leg near one of their camps. They took her in and certainly treated her well. Their food was strange and their talk even stranger. But she said they knew the properties of plants very well.”
The faun replied, “I know someone who knows someone who actually learned some of their words. They call themselves…Men.”
On the peak of Mount Ele, Merakhagon and Leilani happily tended their home undisturbed by these events. For them, the sun shone through intricately stained glass windows and aromatic gardens bloomed. For them, a sumptuous meal was laid out for them three times a day and their servants were happy friends. For them, a glorious sunrise and a glorious sunset bade them good morning and good night while they rested between silk sheets and never grew tired of rejoicing in each other’s love.
This morning, Mer strode quickly through the hallways of the mansion. He wore his mage form; tall, well muscled and dark-haired, with vivid sparkling blue eyes and a disarming smile. He did not smile just now. Today, he and his wife would fly…against dragons. That things had come to such a pass was appalling. Yet the disagreements over involvement with other races had inflamed tempers and put everyone in a vicious frame of mind.
Mer felt quite simply that absolute freedom should be allowed. The little people had not been harmed by the mages in any way! In fact, they had usually benefited from draconic influence. He and his wife had spent happy times in various different forms. His lips quirked, recalling his faunly appreciation for Lei’s nymphly form.
His wife at that moment stepped from her rooms to meet him, looking radiant as usual. Thick golden hair cascaded over her slender shoulders. Her skin glowed a creamy café au lait. A few copper freckles shone on her nose and cheekbones. Brilliant green eyes blinked coyly at him. Then she changed form. Merakhagon followed suit a moment later. Bones stretched, skin flowed and became scaly, features melted and then lengthened. Wings erupted from their backs and limbs transformed. The red and the gold burst forth into flight together.
Battle was glorious. At first, he was terribly bored by the speeches as each side tried one last time to come to an agreement. The insults that followed primed him nicely for battle. Then at last he was allowed to launch forth belching flame, raking with his claws, wheeling and diving upon his enemies. Few could match him in battle. Even the best warriors struggled to wound him before having their guts spilled by his terrible claws. Frequently he lost sight of Leilani altogether, but he was confident she too could hold her own. Then came a lull in the continuous onslaught of dragons facing him. Looking down and to his right, he understood why.
Five of the opposition surrounded his Leilani, shredding her paper-thin wings to ribbons. And five more were winging towards her, inhaling to blast her with flame. With a primal roar of rage, Mer raced through the air to save his wife. But the other dragons had nearly reached her, and as he watched helplessly they charred her out of the sky. She fell silently, gaze fixed to his. Her green eyes, deep wells of love lost, were the only things he saw.
Of course he slaughtered them all. But what good is it to vanquish an enemy when it cannot bring back the beloved dead? And of course they inflicted terrible damage to him before they died. But to one so berserk with loss, what mind does he pay to injuries? Afterwards, he flew away, and only a few ever saw him again.
The ground beneath was littered with dragon’s bodies. After they were cared for by those that survived, no race ever gathered there again. The valley became known as Alam al Afouwaadh, Pain of the Dragons, and nothing grew there.
There were other battles, but none like the first one. And as is common with wars, no side really won. The lesser races saw few of dragonkind anymore, and when they did they were often dying. The race of Man advanced, reproducing even more rapidly than the mages had and spreading all over the planet. The difference was, they did not rule benevolently.
One day, a group of them undertook to climb Mount Gosha. What their true intentions were was unknown. Whether to build on the slope, or carve a burrow into the bare rock, or even to simply explore; it did not matter. What witnesses to that particular event say is that a red streak came bursting from seemingly nowhere and burned the entire group of Men, all the way down to the last shred of tools and belongings they had brought. One or two of the older dwarves whispered in awe that it must be Merakhagon.
It was, of course it was. He had been living there for the last few decades like a pauper in a rude hut on the far slope of Mount Gosha. Surly and scarred, he intended to live out the rest of his days utterly alone. Realizing that ANY race was setting foot on the place of his chosen exile incensed him. Now, pacing angrily in his tiny home, he knew full well what would happen. Rumors of his appearance would run like wildfire among all the races. Pilgrimages would come to the foot of the mountain. Offerings would be left. Hungry, yearning eyes would beseech him to come forth again.
In his mage form, he ran his hands through his dark hair and sighed gustily. Looking down at his naked body, his eyes traced the scars and breaks of that long ago battle. They had never properly healed, for he’d had no partner to tend him. He himself had been too grief stricken to care at the time. No one would care to revere me or befriend me now, he thought darkly. Not when they see how tattered my carcass is. Changing back to dragon form, he rose into the sky on weary wings.
“Well hello, Mer darling!” Her mocking voice grated his ears.
“I knew you’d be mine someday!” She gloated, her eyes caressing his frame. She licked her lips. “Even scars add to your beauty, my sensuous beast.”
With a snarl of disgust, he lashed out at her with a forepaw. She grabbed his paw in her teeth and licked along his scales, insinuating herself closer. “Mmmm,” she purred. “Getting rough already? My, you must be impatient for me!”
She laughed at his obvious loathing of her; even his rejection was much more satisfying than the indifference she had always received in the past. Mockingly she kissed him, smiling cruelly as he spat the taste of her from his mouth. Her love for him had turned to hatred.
“Being with you would taint the very idea of coupling!” He raged. With this extreme insult, he flew at her face with teeth bared, and the fight was on.
Years ago, when both were much younger, all it would take for him to knock her out of the skies would be a slap like the one he’d given her earlier. She was much stronger now, and much more cunning. And he was still weak; the toll had been taken from his last, greatest and most terrible battle. They strove higher, great pinions straining, claws raking at each other’s bellies, teeth snapping at each other’s faces. Snaking her head sideways, she managed to bite a chunk from his tender throat. Mer bashed his skull down onto hers, striking her eyesocket with his massive jawbone.
She squealed in pain, jerked sideways until they were in a spin. He flapped his wings mightily but she clung like dead weight and they plummeted, twisting and turning. Bashing her in the skull repeatedly with his own head, at last he felt her go limp. Only then did he manage to tear free, but he sacrificed gobbets of flesh to do so.
Narrowly he escaped crashing into the very mountain. Ankheliga was not so lucky; she grazed the precipice and scraped her flank raw. For a moment she crouched on all fours, wings beating furiously to maintain her balance, eyes glaring wildly. Merakhagon hovered a few feet above her. Suddenly, and with speed that caught him unprepared, she rushed at him. Catching his face in her forepaws, she sank her claws into his cheeks and her teeth into his eye. He wrapped his own forearms around her, with his wings, beating her in the head and body to free himself. Pain exploded through him, and his roar now sounded more like a scream of agony.
At last he tore free, or maybe she released him. Merakhagon wobbled in the air. One eye was completely blind, gore coated his cheek, and the taste of blood pooled in the back of his throat. His entire body ached dully. He was so tired, all he wanted to do was lie down and rest.
Landing on the cliff’s edge, he turned his head to and fro searching for his adversary. Ankheliga crouched a few feet above him, looking down at him with a strange expression on her face. “It’s a pity Mer. We could have flown high together. I only wanted a taste of you, not to take you from her entirely. Now she’s gone, and shortly, so will I be. What have you gained?”
While she spoke Mer gathered the very last of his strength, inhaling deeply for what was meant to be his last fireball. It certainly was spectacular, and should have cindered Ankheliga. But a split second before he let his incandescence forth, her blue eyes shifted and widened in recognition of something beyond him. Up into the heavens she leapt, and it was only her feet that were singed in the blast. Charcoaled rather badly, and that was his only consolation as he lay in a heap, spent utterly.
“This way, men! It’s less than a hundred feet up now! We’ll find what made that fireball, sure enough. Whew! Most beautiful mountain in the world, and soon enough we’ll rule from the peak!” The exploring Men continued to toil up the side of the mountain.
My thanks and acknowledgment to Robert Marke, whose wonderful dragon characters I was graciously given permission to use.