by: Dennis R. Humphreys (the DreamWriter)
In the time between two hours, when every minute is forever, and every second, a lifetime, during the reign of Iton Christorf, ruler of the visible world, between the Gantian Plains and the bluffs of Dementia, rules were enacted to protect the Kingdom of Smar. Smar was an ancient kingdom whose beginnings were not even known. It perhaps had no beginning, as some suggested, and implied by the king. These rules included specific guidelines, established by his father and his father before him in a line of succession that seemed to become more paranoid as the generations passed. Iton Christorf enforced them more vigorously than those preceding him. Then he was a dictator, and a ruler of unprecedented cruelty. He was perhaps even a little mad, if one could be just slightly so. Limits were placed on the population, explained to assure adequate supplies and guaranteeing equal shares for all, in a world of limited resources. Its real purposen was to control the population, for if it grew too large and the citizen's displeasure grew to an unacceptable level for their king, a successful rebellion might ensue. Protecting the throne, above all costs from the population the leadership was meant to protect, was of utmost importance.
Limits on family size were enacted on the citizens, depending on their ability to pay taxes. Those with less ability to pay their tax were restrained on family size. Some were not allowed any children at all. Those exceeding their limits, were given choices... ultimatums. Either you abandoned your excess child in the forest as food for the creatures there, or the child could be sold as food to the city's population at market. If there was an adult in the family willing to die in place of that child, it could be arranged. As long as the numbers were justifiable to the king's dictates and the balance remained.
At times, a family was discovered harboring an excess child. When you were, the choice of options was summarily forced upon the parents. The king's soldiers discovered the family of Golian zar Lino had been hiding him for two years. The family was brought to the town square of Nockton, before a judicature of soldiers, and king's representatives, to a large area of intersecting cobblestone streets to a large circular fountain pool at the center. The buildings there consisted of businesses and homes, all with cobble stoned facades, while the remaining walls of each building were finished in beige colored stucco, very roughly troweled. Great wooden beams created patterns in the walls, their oxidation matching the color of the wooden shingles surfacing the steeply angled roofs. Mosses grew on the shingles from the abundant rainfall in the luxurious valley. The people there were gregarious but distrustful of their leader, and each other. Saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, at the wrong time, could bring harsh repercussions.
Someone, a neighbor, had turned in the zar Lino family for their indiscretion. They already reached their limit of one child four years previous to the birth of the boy, a girl. It was less a discovery by the soldiers of the wrongdoing as it was merely following up on rumor. There were monetary rewards offered for such patriotism and in a relatively poor society of haves and have nots, it was not unusual for someone to report a friend or neighbor. Even family members exposed family members. The king harbored ninety percent of the wealth. He literally owned everything throughout the land of Smar.
“What is your choice Isac and Lina zar Lino... to take your child to market or to the forest? If you sell him in market your indiscretion forfeits your proceeds, and the king will collect that money. You cannot leave this square without a decision,” the officer warned the parents, as the mother held tightly to her son, who was laughing and making faces at the soldiers, not understanding the process to which he was being subjected.
“We need more time,” Isac zar Lino pleaded.
“There are only two choices... you have no more time. Decide now or I will,” the man spoke seriously without emotion or care. He was preparing to flip a coin to make the decision, underscoring the importance of the ruling.
The parents looked at each other, then down at the son. The father squatted and spoke to Golian.
“You know Golian, your mother and I love you very much. This is not what we want to do but are being forced to do. Having to make a choice, we will leave you in the forest and hope for the best,” he told his son as he hugged him. His mother began a tortuous cry that others present understood. Many had gone through the same ordeal or knew of someone who had, at one time.
Isac zar Lino stood then and turned to face the officer, sitting at his large, hand hewn, wooden table, assembled in a bronze frame, attached by large, hand-cut, bronze nails.
“Our choice is the forest,” he announced despondently to the officer seated, and the eight others standing by him, looking bored with the proceedings.
“Very well then, you will take the child to the Onian Forest and release him there, well within its perimeters, to assure the child does not return. One of our officers will accompany you to guarantee this is carried out. Are there any questions?... no? Very well you will do this immediately. Officer Roto please go with them to make sure they do what they are supposed to,” he commanded. There were two other couples about to be charged next with the same crime. They would be making their choices later.
It was a several mile journey to where Isac zar Lino carried his son on his back. He often transported him this way in private, enjoying his small passenger and the laughs he omitted as Isac ran and dipped, pretending he was going to fall or loose the grip of his son in all his antics. Golian laughed and giggled the whole way, unaware of his plight at the end of this trip.
“This is far enough,” the escort told them. “Say your goodbyes.”
Isac bent down and put his son on the ground. He hugged him and so did his mother, unable to hold back the tears.
“Now son, we're going to play your favorite game. I want you to go hide and your mother and I will try and find you,” he told his son. Giggling, the boy ran off further into the woods and into the shadows where he was not visible.
When he had done so, Isac and Lina zar Lino quickly walked away with the soldier, away from the forest and down the hill into the valley where the town lay. It was already getting foggy, as it was prone to do, this time of day and into the night.
After some time, Golian emerged from his hiding place. Normally his father and mother yelled continuously as they looked for him, making him laugh, to disclose his whereabouts. This time, there was an awkward silence. Crows were the only things he heard, and the sound of early tree frogs as they came out for the night. It was still light, but in an hour, darkness would engulf the forest. It was already getting dark under the forest canopy.
Golian wandered to where he thought his parents had been, but there was confusion building on confusion. He didn't understand what had happened or what was happening. He began to cry because he was separated from the two people he loved and who took care of him. They were not seen, nor could he hear them.
Golian wandered deeper into the forest without a sense of direction. It was harder to see now, he was hungry, and he was getting tired. He knew he was abandoned; he just didn't know the word for it. He plopped on the cold ground, then moved after a short time for it was uncomfortable. He found a spot thick with moss where it was more to his liking and warmer to sit. He curled in a ball to try and stay warmer as the air chilled, up against a small hill where he felt some degree of protection. There he fell asleep, as one large eye opened to look down at him from just a few feet away. It stayed open for a time, blinking occasionally, but stared intensely at the small intruder, until it too closed for the night.
The young child awoke to a terrible snorting, one that was intended to interrupt his sleep. He was aware of other sounds as he slept, but his consciousness had no intention of wakening him to the sounds of birds singing at the beginning of a new day. Nor would they waken him to the sounds of squirrels, busy foraging for the food they were preparing to put away for the winter. There was something else beckoning him.
“You there boy... wake up. I need to move,” came a thunderous voice from just above him.
At first, he was confused and then startled but the resonant voice. It was even stronger than his father's and more penetrating. The boy sat up quickly and then scooted backwards, away from the sound, and the large creature that lay there, which he had inadvertently slept against the entire night.
He was too young to say much and had yet to really talk, so he could not express himself. All he could do was look and wonder.
“Who are you boy?” the creature asked but was given no response.
The boy, not knowing about dragons, or what they were, was looking at such a creature, unaware. It was large enough to cast fear in him. He didn't have to know what it was to feel that.
“What's the matter boy, can't you speak? Are you unable to? What's your name? Your name boy... what's your name?” but still the young boy did not answer. “My name is Ekar de Rif. I'm the biggest, baddest dragon this side of the Mangonian Fields, west of the Furgesin River. Then I'm the oldest too... two hundred thirty-nine or there about, years old. I was the youngest of three and I learned from the mistakes of my brother and sister... that's why I'm still around and they aren't,” he pontificated. “Aren't you ready to talk yet, boy? I'd like to know your name, but if I end up having to give you one to address you, you're going to have to live by it!”
The dragon got up to stretch, stiff from the long night of sleep on the damp ground. He moved over a bit to take advantage of some of the sun filtering though he forest, to warm him. By now, Golian was unafraid. He knew the beast wasn't going to devour him or by now he would have. He wouldn't have made much of as meal anyway, and the effort may have been more than it was worth.
Golian attempted to communicate with the creature by pointing at his mouth, indicating he was hungry.
“Something wrong, boy? What... are you hungry? Is that what you're trying to say?” the dragon asked. “I can't keep calling you boy even though you are a man-child...”
The dragon sat and wondered watching the boy. He thought and he wondered... he wondered, and he thought about a name, one reflective of the boy and perhaps his circumstances, though he had no idea of what they truly were. The dragon twiddled what might be called thumbs, to help him think of a name, and it finally came to him.
“I'll call you Forest... Forest Silence. It's perfect since you don't talk. At least I can teach you, since I know the language of men. For fifteen years I was paired with a human... a soldier, tied spiritually as we are, until he died. Then I almost passed because of it. I swore I would never do that again. Thank the heavens a witch saved me,” he spoke to the boy without response.
Yet Golian understood and heard the dragon talking in his head, he just couldn't respond well enough to let him know he understood. Just then a rabbit hopped into the clearing where he and Ekar sat. As he jumped, a great flame of fire flowed from the belly of the dragon and out his mouth. It cooked the rabbit instantly.
“There you go boy... breakfast. Just pull it apart and eat it. It has no more hair, and its skin is cooked crisp for you to enjoy,” Ekar pronounced, prodding the boy with his head to go eat.
Golian had never been dished food this way, but he was hungry, and under the circumstances, wasn't about to be critical. Instead, he approached the well-cooked hare and poked at it.
“Forest! Don't play with your food,” the dragon corrected him.
Now he sounded like one of his parents who were beginning already to fade in his memory.
When the boy ate his fill, the dragon told him to grab onto his tail and hold it tightly. He would take him to the river to drink. And so, he did. The boy giggled, enjoying the ride to the river where he disembarked and stooped to drink.
“Now Forest I have no good way to tell you other than to say, you stink. Take off those clothes and I'll wash them the best I can in the water, without soap. You on the other hand, need to wash, especially your butt to get it clean or all the animals in the forest will leave and what is a forest without forest animals?” the dragon pronounced.
He took the boy's clothes and cleaned them... fairly well, while the boy played in the cold water. The dragon then rung out the clothes and laid them on a nearby bush.
“Step closer boy but stay out from in front of my flame,” he commanded as he puffed fire near the boy's clothes to dry them. The heat from the flame also dried the child and kept him warm.
When the clothes were dried, Golian, now Forest, dressed in the clean clothes.
“Hmmm... you smell much more acceptable. At least you won't be exiling the animals around here. Come with me, we have plans to make, and I have an education to provide if I'm going to be saddled with you. I can't have a stupid man-child around me. There's enough of that running rampant among your kind. Both of our futures have changed from this day forward. I don't know what's to become of either of us now, but I suppose we'll find that out together.