There weren't always dragons in the valley. But there will be, when you are there.
The Keeper will be nowhere in sight, and there will not be a better opportunity.
You will steel your heart, your nerves.
This is a job. You will think, a job like no other you have taken on, but a job nonetheless.
“The Keeper is dangerous.” Adriel’s words will echo in your head. Of course, you know the legends of the Dragon Keeper, everyone does. A mighty warrior, sworn to protect the last of the dragons until death tears them apart and their descendants take over the sacred duty.
But the glittering of gold will be all you see, the brightness of the dragon's coats, gold and yellow and blue and green will blind you from the way fear will course through your veins.
It is a matter of time, you will remember, standing on that mountain top, watching the valley and the dragons that will roam it, before the Keeper returns. You will have to hurry.
The green one? You will think, or the yellow? Ice will chase the blue like a cold breeze would a ship.
No, you will take whichever one you are closest to. Whichever one will dare to stray from the group.
Sitting on your chair, days before, you don't know it yet, but it will be gold.
Glittering, sunlight that will never give up, never give in
Planning. Planning, planning, always planning. But it will not prepare you for the real thing. You will remember this as you stand on that mountain, remember the words spoken to you by your betters, by those who know what they are talking about. But you are stubborn, you are relentless. And you are greedy, Gods, are you greedy. You are motivated by the idea of drowning in gold, by the way it will fill your little cottage, by the way you could swim in it if you wanted to. You will prove them all wrong, that's part of it too, you want to see the looks on their faces when you fly back, a dragon in your clutches, the only thing left to do will be to claim your reward.
You look at the notes penned out in front of you. At the ideas, the plans. You can only hope that they will work.
Standing on that mountain top, you will scramble down, going in slow lines, back and forth, back and forth, until your feet touch the grassy meadow of the valley. The dragons won't look up, they will barely even notice you, well, that is the hope at least.
You will make your way closer to them, dragging your feet on the ground, so they don't sense your footsteps.
They can do that, you read.
It will be slow going, you think, sitting on your chair, scribbling notes on your parchment, thoughts and ideas running through your head.
How does one approach a dragon? You grab the books stolen from the bookshop right next to the city butcher. All about the dragons. Dragons, dragons dragons. You could get lost in this research, but you control yourself. What will you do next? What do you have to do next?
You regard the books, flipping through the pages, looking for answers. Taming dragons. That's what you need.
The Ancient Secrets of the Dragon. That seems like just the right book. You flip through the pages, old ink, deep and dark, detailing the history, how the ancients used to tame the dragons for their own amusement, for their own use. How the ancients were cruel and heartless, how the dragons were kept in cages, how they were killed off, one by one, until there were barely any left to kill.
You will remember this as you drag your feet through the grass. What right do you have to bring about this cruelty? You don't. That's the thought that will haunt you as you come closer and closer.
You flip through more pages, pages and pages on the ancients, on the ways of the dragon that you never knew before.
And there, finally, taming a dragon.
You will approach it slowly, walking normally now, to grab its attention. The gold dragon will look at you, eyes burning with intelligence, deep, incredible intelligence that no human could possess.
You will go slow, you will bow, bow with deepest respect, because that is what you must do, to earn its trust. The dragon will study you for a long time, so long you will fear the Keeper returning, that your plan will be ruined.
But, slowly, it will bow back at you, its massive head tilting in a show of silent respect.
You read on, the pages vanishing before you, until the ritual is stuck in your brain, engrained so deeply you couldn't forget it if you tried.
And you will not forget it. You will remember the details precisely, every step, every movement, every bow of your head. The dance will come out of you like you were meant to do it all your life. As you make the movements, as one bleeds into another in an elaborate dance you will have practiced to it's last step, the anxiety that will have clouded your thoughts will slowly melt away, the dragon will watch you, mimicking your steps in the way it must, in a way that you know means you will earn it's trust.
As the dance finishes, as the movements slow to stillness, the dragon will look at you, its eyes glittering with respect in a way you will not expect.
It will eat at you then, the guilt. You will get a foreboding feeling that you have just started something that will take all of your steel to end, something that will break you and tear your heart to pieces in a way you will never have experienced before.
What will you do then?
As you sit at your desk, do you expect the way guilt will riddle your thoughts? Do you expect the way it will eat at your mind and tear your soul to pieces?
Will your greed be stronger than your heart?
The gold of the dragon’s hide will glimmer in the sun, casting rays of light against your face, illuminating the trees of the White Woods, rising over the mountains and the valley, their silver needles glimmering in your dragon's light.
You will cringe, you mustn't call it your dragon, you don't know it yet, but that will make it hurt more than anything else.
The dragon will bow to you then, its eyes intelligent as ever, casting rays of brilliant yellow into the clearing of the meadow. Slowly, you will reach your hand toward it, you will let your finger run over the smooth reptilian scales, soft in their own way, mesmerizing in their color and texture. You will run your hands over its gentle face, relishing in the feel of it, and slowly, it will kneel to you, an invitation. Shaking, you will climb onto its back, gripping its long whiskers delicately with your hands. You will fit perfectly into the bend of its spine.
And that is when the Keeper will return. She won't see you at first, gracing her way through the dragons in her care, stroking them with deep affection. It will be obvious that she holds them deep in her heart.
And then she will see you. Her face will light up in panic, then turn to a deep rage that you will hope to never again be on the receiving end of.
A luminescent whip will appear in her hand, reflecting the colors of the world and tearing through the air toward you with little mercy.
You will have to focus to wipe the look of awe off your face before gently giving the dragon a stroke, asking it a silent question. It will understand you, of course, and its wings will beat next to you. The blowing force of the wind will send a thrill through you as it takes a running start, and dives into the sky. You won't see the gleam in its eyes, but you will feel it, you will feel the way it longs for the air under its wings, the way it will revel in the force of freedom blowing around it.
You will be surprised, because the Keeper won't be making chase behind you, there will be nobody but you and the dragon, eating up the skies like you have been doing it all your life.
You will fly high, soaring through the clouds, miles eating away below you. You will have never felt so free.
Sitting at your desk, this is the part of the plan that you never thought you'd get to. It is rough, in that way, in the way that you almost hoped it would never come to pass.
But it will almost not matter to you as you soar through the clouds, the world will seem very far away, almost like it never existed at all. You will wish in that moment that the world didn't exist, anything to quell the guilt that will be running through your head on an angry loop. Will you really go through with this? Will you really forfeit this? The unrelenting freedom of flying for a measly sum of money? Will your greed consume this too?
An alarming thought will occur to you then, something that will stir your stomach in its wickedness.
How much would someone pay to feel freedom like this?
Infinitely more than you are getting for it.
As you near your destination, you will grip tight to the dragon with your legs, you will hold its whiskers delicately, steering it in the direction of the docks, quiet in the midnight air.
You will come into the ground slowly, letting the dragon take over as it lands with a soft thud right in front of the docks.
The dragon will bow deeply, letting you slide off its back, and you will stick close to it in the dark; stroking its scales will bring you the slightest of comforts, and you will whisper to it softly as you make your way into the dock proper. You will have grown fond of it by this point, despite your efforts.
The night will be quiet in its emptiness, the darkness tangible. You will be surprised, the usual hustle and bustle of the docks will be left behind. Bought out by your client, you will think. Your suspicion will be confirmed at this, the amount of money it would take to buy out these docks is exorbitant, much more than what you will have agreed to for the dragon.
The shadows will darken as your client makes his way down the street leading to the docks. The world will take in a breath and hold it as he looks at you. He will take you in like he expected more. You have gotten that look before. But you have come all this way to prove him wrong, prove them all wrong.
You will steel yourself, bracing for the words you know will be coming.
“And so she did it.” He will say. “She tamed a dragon when nobody else could.”
You will straighten your spine, a twisted sort of pride will run through you.
He will look…Almost impressed. You will relish in that, relish in the way his voice almost falters as he takes in the beast standing behind you.
You will turn, then, to the dragon. Its fierce intelligence still shines in its eyes, but there will be something else entirely hiding behind those eyes, and that is what will make your stomach churn. There will be fear in the dragon's eyes.
You will want to run away right there, mercy getting in the way of your greed, but you will steel yourself again, nothing will get in the way of you and this haul.
He will reach toward you, hand outstretched to claim his prize.
But you will step between him and the dragon.
You will command into your voice, and drag the words out with more confidence than you feel.
“Not so fast,” You will say. You will not leave these docks without ten times the gold you are owed. The soft side of you will add a promise to the deal. The promise that the dragon will not be harmed in any way, a weakness you cannot help but give into.
He will sneer at you when you bring up the new terms. But you are untouchable with the dragon beside you, he will have no choice but to give in to your demands.
And give in he will.
He will toss you a sack of coins, a down payment, and you will hesitantly step away from the dragon. You will regret it immediately. From every side, chains will fly over the dragon, dampening its flight. It will cry out, a cry for help, and you will lunge at your client, fury will be written on your face, anger and panic and regret.
You will sneer at him. “We had a deal!” You will say, but he will only return your sneer.
“Promises have no place in business, girl. You ought to get out of here, ought to run, if you still want your payment, if you want to leave with your life.”
You will turn to the dragon then, you will watch the fear filling its face, and your heart will break, it will break into so many pieces you think you may never put it back together again.
But you will turn your back on it. You will stumble away, losing yourself in the city streets; the dragon's cries will ring out behind you, and you will know with unfounded certainty that those cries will haunt you until your dying days. And the guilt you will feel then, it is so intense, so powerful, you will almost turn around, almost run back and slaughter those men yourself.
But alone, you are not powerful, you are not strong, and there is nothing you can do by yourself that will make any difference.
But you know someone who can. You know the person others will run from, who will protect the dragons with their life.
You will seek out the Dragon Keeper.