THE DRAGONS KEEPER
FIRE AND LIGHT--THE ALTERNATE STORY
There weren’t always dragons in the Valley, that much was known. Of course, you wouldn’t have known that if you happened to venture over to the edge of the woods to look for yourself.
But that’s exactly what happened when Nesrah joined her sisters Iolanthe and Aislinne as they stood at the edge of the cliff overlooking the ravaged mountainside. No one knew what to expect, the fog slowly crept in from the rolling seas nearby, dusting the tops of dewy pine trees before settling into the branches to wait out the pending storm.
On a day like this, the calm should have been the first sign of what was brewing. The sun had yet to fully rise, peaking over the crests of mountains in the distance. In its absence the salted air chilled their bones.
Dozens of townsfolk crowded around to assess the damage, wondering what on Earth had happened. From where they stood it was difficult to see just how bad it was. Whole pieces of the mountainside now lay hundreds and thousands of feet beneath them, swallowed by the thick carpet of waterlogged brush, lost to the world below; hidden, as if nothing happened.
Claw marks the size of craters marked the dense stone. There was no life to be seen— no chirping birds nesting high above, no lizardous snakes sunbathing on misplaced rocks, nor were there squirrels darting about from tree to tree. It was absolutely quiet, eerily so. Almost as though they were the only ones left, and they very well might have been for what would happen next.
They were in the worst possible place to be all alone—the Island Castle.
True, the Island was a magical place, full of beauty and completely untouched by the city—it was the farthest place to be and even harder for danger to find—or so they thought.
Hours before all that would change—the quiet had been replaced by an unmistakable flurry of a rather large creature looming overhead, getting closer and louder with each pass before fading away; this went on all night with most of the city falling asleep to the wild, rhythmic gusts that whirled around aimlessly outside their windows.
Nesrah sat upright with her two sisters as they looked at each other nervously in their darkened room knowing full well what it was as the moon cut in and out with every swoop of the large creature.
Of course the girls had grown up on stories of faraway dangers—from sea monsters that could walk on land, slinking their way into unsuspecting homes before devouring everything in its wake— to small lantern shaped flies that preyed on young children, women and the elderly alike, waiting until their victims fell asleep before striking— killing them with one bite.
But Dragons? Dragon’s as it were, were almost unheard of— a childhood story meant to scare kids away from wandering too far into the woods before dark. How likely could it be that one had gotten loose?
Before she could dwell on this any further a horrendous wailing roar echoed from the valley. Nesrah jumped from her bed and ran to the window—“over there,” she whispered, panic filling her voice as she focused on an area towards the side of the mountain where trees swayed and swished violently as the large beast fell below the canopies. Iolanthe and Aislinne barely had time to keep up, their nightgowns trailing behind Nesrah as she made her way down the dark winding tower stairs towards a small seldom-used tunnel in the castle wall, hidden from sight.
Breathless, Nesrah stopped, checking to see if any lights had come on in the castle. As the girls peered up the still fortress wall the woods appeared far more uninviting with each snapping twig or rustling of leaves as the wind whipped around them—pulling them closer to the darkness.
The sisters had been using this moss covered passageway since they were young but now, a new kind of fear welled up inside them as they traversed the well-used cobblestones. “We shouldn’t be doing this,” Iolanthe whispered as she begged Nesrah to go back inside. She couldn’t stomach the idea of getting into more trouble, and besides, no one knew about the tunnel. No one knew they had even left the castle.
“I agree. Nessie…it isn’t too late, what if this thing kills us or worse, blows fire at us. It will surely burn the whole forest down before we can stop it,” Aislinne exclaimed, her emerald-green eyes glowing in the most persistent manner as if that was the only thing that could go wrong.
Seconds later, after the girls had hopped across the dry moat— jumping nimbly over rocks and softly grazing beds of moss—they had ascended the trail nearest the tree line—reaching the clearing where unkempt grass and thick prickly bushes awaited their arrival.
Traversing the uninhabited lands was no easy feat; flowering vines wrapped around trees and twisted overhead catching at their long night gowns as they passed. Nesrah, Iolanthe and Aislinne huddled closely together in a single file while thin scraggly branches pulled their hair and scratched their skin. The woods were silent. Such a strange place to be; no beastly noises filled the air. No chirping of bugs or snapping of twigs—just the beating of their hearts drumming their chests in fear. No one could have braced them for what would happen next.
Nesrah crouched down towards the charred and broken stump of a tree; obvious signs of trampling were present in the otherwise undisturbed Earth as the girls looked over each other’s shoulders curious of what they might find looking back at them. They neared where the majestic creature had fallen, only the loud grunts of heavily bated breath flared from the beast’s nostrils as hot air wet their skin with each exhale.
“It’s hurt,” Nesrah cried out as she ran towards the slumped beast. Its enormous yellow eyes were heavy with tears that welled up in the soft blue lids. Given its large size overall, the dragon was small, much smaller than Nesrah expected. They had been warned about this— it can be quite dangerous to see a baby dragon by itself and this was no exception. The girls wondered if it had been outcast, banished, or simply lost.
“This could be bad, real bad,” Iolanthe warned—the concern dripping heavily upon each word she uttered. Her fears weren’t unfounded by any means. Dragons were a funny business indeed, they could bring immense fortune or, in this case— as was more likely, they could bring even more problems with even bigger dragons, which is exactly how—as Iolanthe recalled—the stories went. “Dragons getting lost, injured, or worse, banished. Roaming for miles, finding a safe place to land until the other Dragons come for them,” she paused nervously before continuing—“that could be us too, don’t think they won’t kill us all for helping it,” Iolanthe whispered, still wringing her hands in her nightgown as she weighed their possibilities; they still had time to go and warn the king, to sound the alarm and prepare for what would happen next…besides, Dragons are like spiders, there isn’t going to be just one. There would be more.
Nesrah said nothing as she ran her fingers along the soft dotted skin that ridged to points where sharp bones had yet to form along the dragon’s bumpy spine—comforting the beast as best she could. “I think it’s a girl,” Aislinne declared, a tinge of excitement escaping her otherwise stoic lips as she pet the beautiful bright purple scales that glittered in the moonlight. They had come this far, there was nothing left to do but try and save the beautiful creature.
“We shall call her Alina,” Nesrah cooed, “for she is quite lovely.”
Iolanthe stomped around reluctantly, pouting. Eventually giving in as she slowly pet the top of the dragon’s slanted nose. “Alina, huh,” she whispered as she stared into the dragons face. “We are going to try and help you, but you have to help us too.”
The dragons pained eyes smiled as she lay on her side unable to move. Monstrous webbed wings bent just at the curve, one dangling precariously overhead—broken.
Overall Alina was quite plump for a dragon. Her claws had long silvery talon-like nails that coiled up into the soft padding of her paws and a row of bright teeth hedged through her stiff rounded cheeks with two small fangs jutting out from the sides of her mouth.
Alina seemed rather sweet, shy, timid even; nothing like the fire breathing stories that had been harped upon the sisters since birth—‘be weary of dragons swooping down and snatching you off to a nested lair high up in the highest mountain,”—it was always the same tales—painful fiery deaths or being ripped apart and eaten, sometimes both. Either way, this wasn’t what they saw when they looked at Alina.
It took a while but the three girls worked tirelessly to help Alina to her feet, ducking as they narrowly missed the sweeping grasp of her curled tail as she gained her balance. Nesrah jumped on Alina’s back, nudging herself between the curved ridges as she guided the injured dragon towards to the safety of the castle walls with Iolanthe and Aislinne taking the lead. She knew she could keep Alina safe from prying eyes but she wasn’t sure if she could keep Alina quiet. After all, she was just a baby.
As the hours progressed, half the castle and townsfolk were still preoccupied with the fear of dragons in the valley—though no dragons had actually been seen. The girls had successfully managed to sneak Alina right under their noses as they quickly led her to an abandoned church on the southernmost side of the castle property. It was a place no one ever ventured to for fear of what might lurk inside so it was only fitting they tuck their little friend inside until it was safe to release her.
“Her wing is definitely broken,” Aislinne whispered as she wrapped a bandage tightly around the frayed pieces, using spare sticks for splints. It was nearing dinnertime and the girls couldn’t be seen in the woods. They motioned for Alina to keep quiet, shushing her as they slowly backed out the large door, locking it behind them as they looked back blowing a kiss to their dragon as they left. Alina’s large face appeared in the cathedral windows, glowing brightly as she watched them saunter off into the woods, her grunts sending dust and dirt scattering into small poofs from under the door frames as she whined. It wouldn’t be easy to keep a dragon.
“That was close,” Nesrah said as the girls shut the door to their bedroom to change. The smell of roasting chicken wafted up through the floorboards as they readied themselves. “We have to make it quick; we need to find something to feed Alina. It will be dark soon and we don’t want her too hungry,” Iolanthe warned.
“I knew you would come around,” Nesrah smiled, “maybe pocket a few extra scraps on the way out, grab as much as we can carry,” she added as they headed out the door to join the rest of the town for dinner.
“That’s not what I meant…” Iolanthe began but her conversation fell on deaf ears, it was no use, Nesrah and Iolanthe had already started down the tower stairs and were deep in talks about ways to free the dragon unseen.
“We will have to do it at night, sneak her over to the farthest cliff but we can’t use any lights, no candles or torches,” Nesrah said, excitement in her voice as the girls continued in hushed whispers, not wanting to risk being overheard.
As they entered the courtyard the wind was still and the sky cloudless. Only a few stars blinked overhead and yet there was an unmistakable chill hanging in the air which seemed to grow colder by the minute. Naturally—the girls had dressed in far more clothes than was necessary.
“You don’t think we stand out too much,” Iolanthe whispered as she adjusted the third layer of her skirt and fastened her overcoat.
”Better more than less,” Aislinne hissed, smiling through gritted teeth as they passed a few nodding stragglers.
The great dining hall was humming with the roaring conversations of the latest, greatest events of the day—everything from dragon repellent to the best way to slay the horned and winged beasts. Hoping no one would notice them—they quickly huddled at a table by themselves, filling small sacks with remnants of what they could sneak away.
In the distance they could hear the low ambling roar of what sounded like their beloved Alina howling. Maybe it was paranoia but they couldn’t take any chances, before anyone else could investigate the three sisters dashed across the overlook towards the guard’s tower and made their way towards the woods.
With food in tow they shimmied along the outer walls just as the looming gates were pulled up; a short distance later they neared the abandoned church and found Alina curled up on the floor inside, quietly resting. There was a look of sadness in her eyes as she nudged Nesrah’s body with her face.
“I don’t get it, if it wasn’t her…” Aislinne whispered, daring to finish her sentence. Alina had just begun to feast on the pieces of chicken and braised carrots when another shrill cry was heard in the distance. It was enough to steal the air right from the sister’s lungs—they hadn’t imagined it. Something else was out there and it was close.
Alina tensed as she sniffed the air a few times, letting out an exasperated grunt as she picked at the food with her snout, the tendrils of her nose flaring as she did so.
Overhead the singing sound of fireballs whirled through the air as Nesrah, Iolanthe and Aislinne grew stiff with fear and Alina recoiled frightfully towards the back of the church where an oversized polished stone step lie, the remnants of a sacred altar.
Dust scattered around them as Alina tried with all her might to make herself small, circling in a frenzied panic as she crouched, knocking rows of melted candles over as she scuttled as close to the wall as she could without climbing it, her claws digging into the stone.
Clanking, clinking and loud crashes were heard as the ornate metal candelabras fell to the ground; it was apparent that the roaring balls of rogue fire had scared Alina.
“Shh….its okay,” Nesrah said in as comforting a voice as she could muster before gently cradling the baby dragon’s oversized head in her arms. The dragons head practically took up Nesrah’s whole body but she didn’t care. Hot tears rolled down the dragon’s scaly skin and dropped onto the floor in massive puddles as the girls did their best to keep quiet.
“If we light all the candles it should keep them away,” Iolanthe urged as she tried righting the candles before placing them nearest the windows—her hands shaky, overcome with fear.
“I thought it better if we keep it as dark as possible,” Aislinne insisted, running around after Iolanthe in a vain attempt to extinguish the flames. “We don’t want to draw too much attention to us in the woods.”
“I don’t think it matters, we have their dragon—they will surely find us and besides, we won’t make it back to the castle in time…” Iolanthe began before abruptly being cut off—it was too late.
More fireballs flew overhead—no doubt from the castle, but this time, they were met with the unmistakable flurry of wings, it was a louder noise than she had heard from Alina, earsplittingly so. This dragon would be much bigger.
The trees around them swayed, bending from side to side as they felt strong gusts of wind that seemed to shake the church from the ground up as they watched helplessly as another large creature hovered dangerously close to them above; each flap of its mighty wings sending waves of more dusty wind their direction, knocking them down as they each huddled behind Alina, holding onto her for dear life as they were practically pinned to the wall.
It was then a final wailing roar echoed around them— the force of which sent fragmented sections of church pews into the decrepit cathedral walls, embedding into the plastered boards like shrapnel. Nesrah was sure the noise would deafen the castle island for miles.
Alina tilted her large face curiously, her body still, eyes cocked. Something colossal was waiting for them just outside the church doors. Monstrous amber eyes filled the stained glass windows sending a ruby glow that cast itself onto the floor, blanketing them in a jeweled wash. Nesrah instinctively walked in front of Alina as she slowly opened the large wooden doors and stepped out into the darkened clearing unsure of what she would find.
Nesrah couldn’t believe her eyes; she was met with something unlike any creature she had ever imagined. This was no doubt the mother of Alina; they had the same plump features except this dragon had a long flowing body with billowy wings that webbed out in several directions from a set of large shoulders, atop her head were golden crystalized horns that formed a crown of sorts. She was magnificent, beastly, and otherworldly; there was definitely something different about her, she commanded attention and yet, she seemed resolutely peaceful.
The looming dragon bowed, resting her snake-like face on the Earth just as Alina crawled out of what was left of the abandoned church. Nesrah wasn’t sure what to do, the large dragon’s head lifted and hovered eye level with Nesrah before letting out another wailing roar that sent Nesrah flying into the steps of the church as more fire bellowed out, singeing the stones and sending shards of glass everywhere.
As Nesrah’s eyes adjusted through the smoke it soon became clear, the roaring wind wasn’t from the fireballs or Alina’s mom, it was from Dragons. As Alina and her mom ascended atop the trees, thousands upon thousands of dragons circled them—for as far as the eye could see, some swooping dangerously close to where Nesrah lie motionless, afraid to move.
Iolanthe and Aislinne crawled over to Nesrah as they scrambled to their feet, using what was left of the abandoned church to shelter until they could get back to the castle safely, but it was no use.
“Should we stick to the original plan and head towards the cliffs, or should we make a break and try to get into the castle?” Aislinne asked in a panic-filled whisper.
For once, Iolanthe didn’t have an answer, “I am not sure, but I know we won’t make it back to the castle safely,” she whispered, her voice resolute.
“We have to try something, we can’t stay here forever,” Nesrah begged, the ends of her hair still smoking. “We have to go, together. On the count of three: One. Two…”— before she could get to three she grabbed ahold of her sister’s hands and made a mad dash for the cliffs as remnants of the fireballs overhead fell to the ground around them like chunks of fiery hale, barely missing them as they escaped under the coverage of nearby trees.
They had to get as far away from the castle walls as possible, not wanting to wait around for something to swoop down and grab them.
Nearing the climbing cliffs it soon became clear they had made the wrong decision. Hordes of Dragons were waiting, grazing the sides of the mountains with their sharp claws—sending rocks splashing into the choppy water below.
The three sisters stood defiant as fire-breathing dragons neared—the smell of smoke-filled salty ocean air surrounded them. The girls huddled together, holding tightly as blasts of angry fire scorched the earth and trees. Yet for some reason they still stood, barely touched.
Nesrah opened her eyes unsure of what she would see, surprised that the dragons were still hovering in front of her, confused. She felt nothing; it was as though the fire had gone right through them, only charring the edges of their dresses.
She took a deep breath and smiled, feeling the heat of the smoldering woods burn behind her. It was then one of the beefier dragon’s thick scaly claws grabbed angrily at the edge of the cliff—crushing shards of rock and breaking the mountainside apart before throwing his large head back—a loud guttural scream emanating from his throat.
Echoes of the dragon’s screams could be heard for miles, she was sure they were sending up a battle cry as the dragons before them coiled up like the heads of snakes as streams of fire bore down on the patch of Earth the sisters stood on.
When Nesrah finally looked at her sisters, something was different. Aislinne’s emerald green eyes blazed with a reddened fury. They no longer feared the dragons; the furious beating of wings roared above them, trampling the trees as they headed back for the castle as flames devoured everything in sight.