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Noblesse Oblige

Long ago & far away

By CJ MillerPublished about a year ago Updated 3 months ago 11 min read
Runner-Up in Christopher Paolini's Fantasy Fiction Challenge

I sensed her before I saw her, a trace of flesh distinctive enough to rouse me from even regret's punishing slumber.

The confusion set in like weighted fog. None so delicate as a mortal can withstand this northernmost province; the reason I elected, long ago, to hide within its frost.

The child's skin—of this, I was certain before my ochre eyes were upon it—would be smooth, flushed, lactonic in scent and hue. Her breath, that of an innocent; sugared and cloying, its vessel no more aged than three trips around the daystar.

Having laboured alongside her people–having sent some to their ashen rest—I was more than acquainted with human curiosities. Yet, it must be told, all species share commonality.

From Man to Dragon to nuisance mouse, the young announce their vulnerability in a language universal, sonorous.

The predatory take notice.

I sensed, too, in pockets still possessed of empathy, that the child would be female, a burden to inherit from sea to frigid sea. Birthed in a more gracious era, she may have gone on to be a life-bearer; a towering oak of wisdom paired with summer's ebullient warmth.

Or, if she fancied, a traveler, roving the map in search of tale and custom.

In our time, she will be but a cursed thing, slated for anguish.

I lumbered forth from my dwelling, my gait mirroring that of a low-ranking creature. By this juncture, I was old and infirm, as much in spirit as in substance. Possibly more so.

Twilight had scattered its violet majesty atop the blanketing snow, an expanse so vast that orientation became arduous. Here the girl was lying flat, supine, her black hair splayed about like inverse rays.

In yesteryear, there were chapels with angels daubed across gilded ceilings, the countenance of each matching this bundle of joy. They have since been desecrated.

Flailing soles, both clad in booties of phthalo blue, welcomed me upon approach. I observed no footprints, no meandering trail apart from her own. How she came to be there is a mystery of endurance.

I felt, perchance, that redemption had sought me out with intent.


One predicts a child will wail in the shadow of beasts, but she simply looked at me, gregarious and unfamiliar with danger; with distinguishing hunter from hunted.

Snowflakes clung to her lashes, a sight so endearing that it had no equal—most assuredly not in my forest-turned-tundra.

Have you a name? I enquired via thought, not expecting much in way of reply. She was younger than my estimate, nary two years ensconced in this strife. I had never communicated with one so small.

A smile outfitted her cheeks just the same. She answered me aloud, employing the only term within her command.


Greetings, Katia, I responded, buoyed by her ability to perceive me. I am called Svarog.


After a pause, she tried again.


She laughed, revealing half-empty gums of pink.

Yes, I thought, drawing on the patience once required for my own wyrmling. Yes, that shall suffice.

"Katia," she repeated, proud, one gloved paw poking at her coat.

In practice, I wasn't called anything. Not as of late, and not for a significant stretch prior. One forfeits the need for address when sequestered, the caves my closest companions.

I am the last of my kind. Evil cannot weaponize what it fails to locate.


The rightful—and righteous— Queen, to whom I had been in faithful service, met her demise a generation ago, her bloodline quickly culled. The executioner, a charlatan of note, ascended the throne in her absence, his sons' spawn prepared to rule ever after.

As wheat became stalks of icicles, few remained under these frozen skies. The usurper starved and pillaged until the masses could no longer eke out means of modest survival.

The villagers who were left denounced their false King as a hysteric.

I knew otherwise.

Every edict, however savage, was as lucid as the bracing chill that surrounds us. These climes are fated, by decree of the Heavens, to reflect the ethos of those in power, rendering it impossible to feign ignorance of bad deed.

The gods be clever.

Had madness been afoot, we would've found ourselves swept away by cyclones or submerged in pitiless floods. Instead, all were abandoned to perish, slowly, a hallmark of the calculating. The cruel.

But then, war makes monsters of even decent folk.


Cloaked in brumal darkness, I pondered how best to proceed. Aside from a dank nest of twigs, I had little to offer my visitor.

The pitfalls of securing the kinless were not, it jarred me to recall, without precedent.

When the slayings were at their peak, a legion of orphans emerged at once, some scarcely out the womb. Human boys were taken to be reared as choiceless soldiers; my kind, betrayed by our own, fared far worse.

Human girls were used for purposes one dares not speak of, their suffering so ubiquitous that even moral souls, unable to provide refuge, felt forced to supply a merciful out.

This was achieved through swift, unseen blades whilst the fragile slept.

Such mercy, I feared, awaited Katia still, should I return her to a despairing populace.

I had other ideas.


I coiled my tail into a ring, the center making for a passable, if risky, seat.

By intuition or luck, Katia scampered aboard without instruction, her tiny frame requiring that I tighten up the dimensions of my serpentine carriage.

Hold close and don't let go, I imparted, ashamed to find myself ill at ease. I hadn't taken to the clouds in an age, and never with a squirming passenger.

When I felt her grasping at my rough-shingled form, her grip taut, I knew she'd understood. Directing mild heat through my snout, I used the sparks to illuminate our path. We were airborne then, gliding on winds of sapphire, these ancient wings more trustworthy than assumed.

Katia must've looked down at the receding world, for I heard her squeal with unfettered delight.

"Gogs! Ahhhh!"

My heart swelled with affection. Were dragons capable of chortling, I would've done so.

Drink it in, child. Such beauty is increasingly rare.

I had two destinations to see about, ideally before dawn. In reality, this would span several nights; just long enough to stir in me the singular love of a father.


"It is wonderful to see you again, Svarog."

Galina, royal mage emeritus and refugee current, stood before me, dignified as ever. "Even under trying circumstances."

You as well, gentlewoman.

Her long, argent hair still told of unicorns, silken and untethered; her garb equally free-flowing. In this familiar sight, I derived comfort.

Accessing Galina's mind, its lexicon rich and textured, came far more readily to me than conversing with Katia. We lingered outside her obscured cottage, the girl tucked safely indoors, her formerly protesting belly now full of stew.

"How might I assist you, dear Dragon? I owe a boundless debt."

You owe me nothing. I am here in pursuit of charity.

"Nonsense. Without your guardianship, my Mina would not have lived nearly as long, nor half as well. While hidden in the Keep, we were sustained by your bravery alone."

My heart ached anew at the reminder of her loss, having watched Dazhbog, my own offspring, wither and fall.

It was during this mournful arc that my compass went awry. Daily, I rue the charred who committed no wrongs. Man and Dragon were capable allies under the leadership of my Queen. It was only later, amid the chaos, that borders between enemy and united were blurred.

We let a moment lapse in honor of the ghosts, their futures squandered on battle.

The girl came to me unescorted. You know her destiny should I deliver her amongst your tribe.

"Aye," she replied, her solemn gaze directed earthward. "I would raise the precious myself, were my health robust. Babes require much work."

This, I can remedy. She may live with you yet, before—"

"Before?" she said, wary. "You consider such an arrangement prudent?"

Already, I was losing her.

You will abhor what must be done tonight, Galina, but I beg of you to embrace my vision. Your talents are paramount if we are to succeed.

"Kindly explain and I shall listen."

I... I think it more effective to show.

I released the prickly branch I'd been carrying—nay, concealing—at her sueded toes.

For a spell, we trod in the glassy pool of mutual mutism, her focus never leaving the ground. When at last she spoke, it was with the hush of one whose world has been set atilt by the unexpected.

"It cannot be. They burnt it down, sapling to sprawling willow. None left but a cemetery of stumps."

It being the lifeblood of our kingdom, required for any magick of consequence.

Yes, I conveyed, soft and light as gossamer. It does appear so from the walker's vantage. Lo, by the crow's perch, a smear of crimson held stalwart.

"After this much time, Svarog?"

She wept.

My friend. What is time to the eternal?


Galina laid the unconscious child on her back, a quilt covering her slight shape. With an exacting hand, she squirted the elixir down Katia's throat, bead by ruby bead, propping her up by the nape to ward off choking.

In what crept by like days but was surely mere minutes, she had consumed an ounce of the potent liquid: steeped berries from the sacred hawthorn, a vestige of the Nadiya'n Greatlands.

My missing talons, the toll for their theft.

Galina stepped back, her mouth a grim dash. "The initial hour is most precarious."

Indeed. Katia's legs quaked and seized, doubling in length before my bleary witness; her trunk soon followed. I took in the process from the threshold, nerves frayed past articulation.

Her face, formerly plump and undefined, shifted like a glacier into that of a maiden. Maybe sixteen, maybe eighteen.

And still she did not wake.

When the fits ceased, Galina, having imbibed of a different potion, pressed a thumb to Katia's brow, imparting the scope of her knowledge in a single gesture.

No, most children cannot survive here, naïveté exposing them as defenseless. The strong and the wily, though, may yet stand a chance.

One far mightier than nature intended, I surmised, could function as ambassador for the whole.

I sank back on my haunches, my vigor waning, as Galina, her palm carefully cupped, blew a fine powder into the tunnels around Katia's septum.

It sparkled like ground glowworms, chartreuse dust billowing in the lantern's beam.

After, in the manner of expectant parents, we waited.

When her eyes snapped open, at once pure and erudite, I yearned for the ability to weep like the unwinged.

When wisps of fire emanated from her features—first no more grand than a hearth's dwindling embers, then, progressively, proper tendrils of vermillion flame—I rejoiced, Galina my triumphant echo.

It worked!

Gods be praised, it worked.


"Svarog?" the girl croaked, her voice hoarse with fledgling effort. "Did you see? I brea—"

She stopped to study my wilting condition, my sinewy neck akimbo.

"Oh!" she cried, alarmed. "No! You mustn't... Please stay. I need you."

Her worries were well founded.

Having begun to drift from this realm, I struggled to respond. The wounded patch on my torso, from which Galina had cut loose my scales for pestling, was seeping, raw and poker-hot.

As I had requested of her.

A dragon cannot bequeath his flame without digging his own grave. An unbreakable law, handed down by Creation, meant to curtail the swapping of gifts.

I could think of no farewell so worthwhile.

Yes, I replied, perhaps only to myself, for I was racing through death's corridor with brilliant speed. I saw, child. The usurper's steel will puddle at your exhale, his shields molten souvenirs of defeat. But abide me this: never abuse your weapon as I have. There is power in choosing restraint over force. Reserve the latter for the betterment of the weak, the neglected.

The tortured.

By and by, you will bring about poppy reds and viridian greens, the luscious purples, ice melting and giving way to vernal treasures. And the people, your people, for you alone embody the Blaze of Freedom, will know safety.

Women will dance on cobblestone, festive skirts a-twirl, troubles abated. Men will brandish quills rather than swords, peace their governing purpose.

Grief leads many astray. Hope guides us home again. To this wretch, you were a cosy chamber in a resplendent palace, however fleeting.

Remember that when bleakness beckons.

Remember me when lonesome.


The girl ran to him, still wrapped in Galina's cozy knitting.

Their eyes met, hers watery, his bedimmed, as she whispered words of promise.

"I heard you, noble Gog. It shall be done as you have foretold. Do not fret."

Then, with difficulty, "I could never forget you. We are as one."

She was cradling his head as he slipped into the fabled Beyond. Svarog issued a final snort in gratitude of her affection. She kissed his twitching nostril, once an incinerating cannon, now just a nose growing cold.

In the end it was sorrow, not the lengthening of limbs, that marked her departure from infancy. Against motherly advice, she remained with him beneath the starry welkin, her own lids eventually closing in slumber.

Winter gnawed at her arms, presciently vengeful towards the warrior who would bring about its demise, but it could do her no harm.


About the Creator

CJ Miller

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  • Raymond G. Taylorabout a year ago

    Congrats on your win. Well done!

  • Allen Valeabout a year ago

    I felt like this was a series of poetic stanzas that linked the story together like woven threads! You write very elegantly! Thank you so much for this story!

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