The Sacred Lore of Tembleroo
Or never count your dragons before they spawn.
There weren’t always dragons in the Valley; there were behemoths, towering, broad-footed creatures, hairy from calf to trunk, with eyes like the black swirling pools of Megiddo and dispositions like the rocky cliffs of Tembleroo.
The males were especially nasty. When they sniffed a fertile female, they launched into swinging matches of mass distinction. I enjoyed their bravado and the deep timbre of their bellowing bellows as they circled each other. Every so often, they’d swing their hulking tusks, aiming for the underbelly of their foe as they expertly side-stepped the boulders and prickly vegetation of planet 192.
I kept a safe distance from the festivities. Not that it mattered, really; my kind couldn’t be hurt. Eternality was a blessing, of course, and so was the purpose of my existence—to serve the One.
“There you are!”
I swung around, and my foot went the other way on the slick, muddied ground, and had Agrenous not reached out and grabbed my arms, I’m sure I would have ended up on my backside. He yanked me out of the mud and righted me again on the grassy patch of green, but he didn’t let go. Instead, his mouth pinched, and his head moved to the beat of his disapproval.
I pulled my arms out of his hold and adjusted the mantle of ethereal white draped over my shoulder.
“I know what you’re going to say, but this….” I motioned with my hand to the festivities. “This is the mightiest battle I’ve ever seen. They’re finally deciding who’ll rule the herd.”
My platinum-haired brother levelled his eyes on me and I blinked up at him. What was his problem now?
“Don’t you want to see who wins?” I asked.
His frown deepened, and he crossed his arms over his chest as his eyes dropped to my feet. “You’re watching them while you stand in the mud? You’re a disgrace, Serene. Don’t expect the One to forgive you this time.”
That familiar reprimand made me bite the insides of my cheeks. I lifted my chin a little higher and fidgeted with the long platinum braid that hung like a thick rope over my shoulder.
“I like the feel of mud between my toes,” I said as I wiped my feet across the plush grass and cleaned off the remnants of my dirty indulgence. “The One made the mud, Agrenous. He doesn’t mind me enjoying His creation. You should know that.”
“And you should know Remmy died moments ago.”
My eyes flew to his, and an overwhelming tightness filled my chest. Remmy died? A behemoth bellowed a low, agonizing defeat.
“You’re wrong. Remmy’s here, Agrenous, and I….” My head swivelled as my eyes dashed over the lonely glade. Remmy was there resting—napping in the long grasses. I was watching him. He was happy. I just looked at the behemoths for a moment!
“He came in from the fields, and the demi-father beat him.”
“No, you’re wrong,” I whispered. The grass under my toes churned with my insides.
Agrenous scowled and grabbed my wrist. He yanked me to the top of the little hill that overlooked the glade, and grasping each of my shoulders, he positioned me so I could see past the trees in front of the forlorn little farmhouse.
The demi-father held a small, lifeless form in his arms as he walked across the field. He placed the child down on the gathered stones before wiping his hands on his soiled pant legs. And in a blink, I was there, standing in front of him. Tears pooled in my eyes as I clenched my hands at my sides.
The demi-father stared down at the child’s lifeless body draped over the stones and then did the unthinkable. He dropped to the ground and wailed with gut-wrenching sobs, tore his clothes, and scooped up handfuls of dirt, and dumped the mass on his head. He kept covering himself with dirt and sobbing until he was a pathetic, horrible mess.
And I wanted to grab him by the throat and strangle him. I shook with anger. No! It wasn’t fair. He killed Remmy, and it wasn’t fair!
I knew Agrenous was behind me and there was a catch in my throat as I asked, “He’s going to forgive him, isn’t he?”
“The demi-father asked for forgiveness, Serene. Only the One knows the demi’s heart.”
I vigorously shook my head, my mouth twisting with derision. “He doesn’t deserve it.”
“That’s not for you to say. The demi-child is already with the One.”
“But Remmy was my charge, Agrenous. I failed him.”
The demi-father gathered Remmy’s shell into his arms and sobbed into the little neck. I couldn’t watch anymore. I turned and started walking up the hill that led out of the glade.
My gown floated around my body, brushing my ankles as I went. And when the walk didn’t help, when it didn’t quell the sorrow drowning me, I set off running. I ran until I outpaced the docile wind; I ran until I glided over the ever-cresting waves of the sea of Langeree. I ran until my feet skimmed the sandy sand dunes of Methuselon, and when I reached the great vales of Thessalonika, I stopped. I dropped to my knees and stilled.
Remmy was dead. His soul was with the One, but soon his demi-father’s soul would be there, too. It wasn’t fair!
“You knew I would forgive him,” came the gentle whisper that lingered on the wind.
A warmth surrounded me. My eyes widened for a moment before my palms and forehead hit the ground. I nodded as I squelched my eyes shut. “Yes,” I managed.
I trembled as I obeyed, but I didn’t open my eyes nor lift my head. Instead, I balanced on toes that threatened to collapse under the weight of my shame. Merely being in the presence of the One’s goodness, His supremacy, made me feel the brunt of my failure, my inadequacy.
“You do not agree with my forgiveness?” He said.
“The demi killed his own child.” My eyes stayed welded shut. I didn’t have the courage to move.
“He regrets it.”
My lips thinned and no matter how hard I tried, I didn’t care if the demi-father regretted it. How could the One forgive such a terrible thing? But at that moment, standing there in the grassy vale, there was an even bigger question revolving in my mind.
“Will You forgive me, too?”
I waited. And waited. I cracked open an eyelid and then two. And what I saw made me shake wildly.
I was alone.
The wind blew, and drops of rain trickled down from angry billows of clouds above my head, and though I was eternal, a chill settled on my spirit. I stayed in that spot, not moving. I was cold, so very cold. And saturated by the rain that sensed my hopelessness.
Is this what it was like to be abandoned by the One?
A high-pitched screech made me whirl around, and not seeing anything, I hugged myself. What was that sound? I smiled nervously. Silly, I was being silly. Nothing could see me, and if it did, it couldn’t hurt me, anyway.
Another high-pitched sound, but now it was more desperate, more frenzied. It was coming from the forest that surrounded the vale. I swallowed and glanced up at the clouds. The sun was gone, and the light refused to break through the storm. I had never felt so cold.
More screeching, and I started off into the forest. The dense canopy of trees gave some protection from the onslaught of rain, but not much. Every so often, the branches opened up to allow the downpour. Still, I navigated around the openings, pushing away brush and carefully stepping over fallen logs and debris.
The sounds got louder as I got closer, and what was once a single screech became a cacophony of desperate cries. Then, finally, a flickering light beckoned me through the trees and with my head down, I stumbled over a stone and found myself face-down in the underbrush.
A cackle of laughter rose above the terror-filled sounds, and on my knees, I crawled to a spot where the firelight would not reach. I gasped as an old, grey-haired demi-female waved something over the flames. I crept closer, focusing on her hand. My eyes narrowed.
Her thin fingers clasped the wing of a tiny dragon. She dangled the wiggling, screaming creature over the heat and dropped it with another shout of laughter. There was a moment’s spit as the tiny body connected with the flame, and a sickening smell of dragon flesh propelled me to my feet.
The demi-female laughed again as she strolled to a nearby tree. A wooden cage of tiny dragons hung from one of its branches, and when she got closer, the creatures screamed and huddled together in the corner of their prison.
I had to act. I grabbed a thick stick from the forest floor and approached the demi-female. It was against the One’s law to interfere with His creation unless I had a direct order from Him. But these were dragons, after all. I was only going to scare the demi away.
As I got closer, I raised the stick over my head, and suddenly tiny heads from inside the cage stopped screeching and focused on me. I lowered the stick slightly. Could they see me?
The demi-female suddenly whirled around, and the black embers of her eyes seared into mine. I gasped, and before I could swing the stick, she grabbed the cage of dragons and threw it at me. I dropped the stick, stumbled with the heavy cage clasped to my chest, and fell backwards over a log. The demi-female grabbed my stick off the ground and plunged the end into the fire. Then, raising the flame in the air, she screamed a blood-curdling scream. I let go of the cage and rolled out of the way just before she smashed the fire down beside me. I gathered my senses and vaulted to my feet, my hands gripped at my sides as we stared at each other.
“How can you see me?” I yelled at her.
The demi-female paused as her forehead furrowed, but it was a short-lived reprieve. She screamed again, and fear streamed down my spine as I backed into a tree trunk. She slowly stalked towards me.
My eyes fell to another thick stick at my feet. The demi-female hurdled herself towards me as she waved the flame. I grabbed the stick just as she smashed her weapon against the tree behind me. I fell to the ground, and with all my strength, I jabbed the stick into the air.
Within seconds, a weight brought me to the ground. I shuddered as I pushed off the lifeless body of the demi-female. The stick still protruded from her throat as rivers of blood streamed over the trampled dirt.
I got to my feet and stumbled to a log before laying my head down on its rough bark. I needed to rest, just for a moment. My eyelids grew too heavy to keep open as an excited chorus of tiny dragons lifted in the air, and a hazy outline of leather-clad legs consumed my last tinge of awareness.
My eyes fluttered closed, and darkness engulfed me.
(hero image credit: The Sacred Lore of Tembleroo, image edited by the author, original by digitalstorm, Deposit Photos license)