The Winter Wyrm
Destiny uses the useless
“There weren’t always dragons in the valley. Not when the Tree of Fortunes was planted. Not during the reign of the Silvan King. Not even during the elder days when stars and men danced together in the cool of the day. But the Silvan King left these lands long ago, and he took the stars with him.”
Sterling Nunn loved the stars. Grandfather had taught him to read them when he was very young. Although he was just 8 winters old, he proved a quick study. Reading their dance, he could already see approaching storms when they were cloaked, the need to hurry the planting, or delay the harvest.
Grandfather also taught him of the ancient Silvan King. The King above the stars, and under the stars, who was, and is, and is to come.
“He will return,” Grandfather had told him.
“No one knows. He sends ambassadors from time to time; blind guides called Judges. They are the ones who prophesy on his behalf.”
“Why are they blind, Grandfather?”
“From gazing up at the glory of the Silvan Kingdom.” Grandfather laughed. That was ridiculous, so Sterling laughed too. It was hard not to. Grandfather’s laugh filled a room and begged you to join. Even stern Father couldn’t avoid a chuckle when Grandfather laughed.
Sterling found himself thinking of Grandfather more often now that he was gone to the King. That is what people called it when you passed out of this life; gone to the King. Sterling could not understand why the King would want to take a great man like Grandfather. It was selfish to take someone so precious.
“I understand. It is wrong of me to hold so tightly to Grandfather. It’s time to share his laugh with your house. It is a good laugh, and I hope that you enjoy it.”
As Sterling, lying on the grass and gazing into the heavens, spoke to no one, the moonlit air rippled a few feet from him on the grass. The stars twinkled, glowed, then fell. Not one, but three stars fell to the earth. He could not believe his fortune; the Silvan King had indeed smiled upon him. Three was the luckiest of numbers. It was the number of the Silvan King’s faces. It was the number of stones in His crown.
Sterling took this as a sign. A sign that the King above the stars was pleased because Sterling had finally released his grandfather to the halls of the King.
The bleating of the sheep pulled Sterling from his thoughts and he remembered that Father would be cross if he was late bringing the sheep in for the night. He stood, damp from the grass, when a low rumble caused a deep silence to fall on the valley.
He turned slowly and his heart sank into his small boots.
Crouched downwind, at the top of the hill, was the mogui. Its six clawed legs dug furrows into the hilltop. The wind shifted. The smell of death filled the air. The sheep bolted toward the house. Sterling was shocked that the mogui did not give chase, but the sheep were to be its dessert. Sterling was the main course. Its yellow eyes were unwavering. It growled again, this time giving way to a whining hiss that reminded Sterling of dragging something sharp across something rusty. It turned its head toward the stars.
The mogui were voracious hunters. They made dens in the clefts of the mountains, feeding on the rock sheep. Sterling could not guess what had caused this one to travel so far. Perhaps the drought. Grandfather had talked about a drought so severe that a mogui found its way into the village of Kalor. Full of strong men who harvested timber between wars, they fought the mogui, and they died bravely. Blood and a few small pieces were all that remained of the people of that village.
Until the following week.
Some shepherds in the hills found a trail of blood. Thinking they had lost a sheep, they followed the blood into the craggy outcroppings at the foot of Mount Arin.
“No fool,” Grandfather had said, “would venture up that mountain. Great darkness lives there, and darkness begets darkness,”
In the shadow of darkness, they found the mogui’s lair. Some of the men of Kalor were dead, in pieces, but many of them had survived. Torn across the middle, their insides revealed, crying for death to take them.
This is how the mogui feeds.
It tried to keep the strong men of Kalor alive, so they could… ripen.
Sterling was not a village full of men; he was only 8 winters old. Only just. He was one small boy with a few rocks in a sack.
But he had a gift. Grandfather had told him so on the day Sterling discovered that he could break eggs on fenceposts by throwing stones from 30 paces. His grandfather had told him again on the day that Sterling showed him how he could put out a candle without knocking it over.
“Any fool can throw a stone, but none can throw them like my Sterling,” Mother had quipped.
Sterling remembered the three stars, the Silvan King. Sterling remembered his gift. Sterling was not alone; the might of the Silvan King had been given to him.
A sudden calm gripped Sterling. He reached into the pouch that hung at his side, pulling out two smooth stones. He passed one into his right hand and prepared to throw the other.
The mogui’s six glittering eyes were fixed on Sterling. Viscous saliva dripped from the lips that were pulled back from its teeth. Sterling imagined the grass withering at its touch. The whole beast reeked of death and decay, but Sterling knew this animal. Grandfather had taught him. It feasted on fear, so Sterling would starve it.
The mogui seemed confused by Sterling’s courage. It tilted its head to the side, sniffed the air, opened its mouth, and screamed. The darkness shook, the heavens shook, the stars themselves shook, but Sterling did not. This was the moment that Sterling was waiting for. His left hand shot forward and released the rock.
It flew true. Sterling thought he saw the air shimmering around the stone as it shattered two of the beast’s teeth, passed into the mogui’s mouth, and lodged in its throat. It struggled for breath. None came. The mogui forgot Sterling. Clawing at its own throat, trying to free the stone, its claws dug deep furrows into its flesh. Blood poured and then spurted in great fountains from the wounds. The beast grew dizzy, confused, and at last collapsed into the grass and bloody mud.
This place had become sacred to Sterling. He survived. He prevailed. In a land of warriors, perhaps the shepherd boy could find a place. Anything can happen when the Silvan King touches earth through the hands of a child. He took his boots off and felt the cool grass between his toes.
Sterling looked down at his hands, then up at the place where the three stars fell.
“Thank you, my King.”
Tobias Nunn was a simple man who lived well enough off the land. He kept to himself and tried to raise his boys well. Tobias was the proud father of seven young men: Eliab, Horatio, Danvers, Julius, Aston, Peyton, and Alistair. The eighth, Sterling, was the product of an indiscretion. He tried to keep this knowledge from Sterling’s brothers, but love and gossip thrive in a small house.
Susanna, Tobias’s wife, loved Sterling with all her strength despite his being generally despised by his brothers. His brothers achieved glory, wealth, and station in Darius’ army, as Sterling was left to tend the sheep.
When his wife was found pregnant, and would not reveal the father, he could have put her away. The law said so. Tobias never did. Despite her indiscretion, despite the pain and betrayal, he still loved her and by default tried also to love Sterling.
Perhaps this more than any other reason is why, on that cool summer night when he heard the mogui scream, his first thought was of Sterling, alone under the stars, and not the sheep. He grabbed his pike from over the door as he raced out into the darkening night.
Tobias ran up the hill to the grazing meadows where he knew Sterling would be. He could hear the panicked sound of the mogui frantically tearing at the earth. In his mind Tobias saw the small boy, torn apart, hanging from the mogui’s jaws. He saw his wife’s anguish as they buried what was left of her son, and he ran harder. His lungs aflame with exertion, he cleared the last hill and stopped short. He could not understand what he was seeing.
Sterling standing barefoot.
The mogui a few paces in front of the boy, dead.
Sterling looked down at his hands then up to the sky. “Thank you, my King,” he whispered, and Tobias almost thought the stars glittered in reply.
Sterling turned. “Father! I killed a mogui,”
Tobias stared at the hulking lifeless shape.
“Father, did you hear me? The Silvan King gave me three stars and helped me to kill this beast. Together we have saved the sheep. Father?”
Tobias seemed jolted by the worry in Sterling’s voice.
“Are you okay?”
“The Silvan King helped.”
“I heard you boy. Are you all right?” Tobais stooped to the boy, grabbing both of his small arms in his massive hands. He turned the boy this way and that, but try as he might in the darkness, he could find no apparent wounds on the boy.
“Of course, father.”
“Of course, father?” Tobias parroted. “Boy, you never cease to amaze. You should have run home.”
“It wouldn’t have helped.” Sterling spoke with the voice of an expert; an 8-year-old expert. “There are a lot of hills between here and home. The mogui has six legs and enjoys chasing. I am a just a boy. I would have died.”
“So fighting was the solution?”
“There was no choice. Besides, I didn’t fight it father, I killed it. I killed it while it was trying to scare me. I could never win a fight with a mogui.” Sterling laughed to himself at the foolishness of the idea as he sat on the blood-soaked grass and began pulling his small boots back on. He picked up his shepherd’s stick and whistle, and blew three sharp trills to gather the sheep.
As the sheep began appearing from behind rocks and under bushes, Sterling walked over to the mogui.
“Father, do you have your knife?”
Tobias reached for the blade that was always on his right hip. His hand fell on air. He looked down. He wasn’t wearing his belt; he wasn’t even wearing his boots. In his haste he had forgotten everything, except what was necessary to save the boy. Tobias looked at Sterling’s round eyes glittering in the starlight.
He grows on you, Tobias thought. He had not realized how ruddy and handsome of a boy Sterling was. Tobias shuddered, cold from the damp grass and resurgent anger at his wife’s 8-year-old betrayal. He leaned on his pike, tired.
“No, I don’t.”
Sterling seemed crushed by this news.
“I wanted its teeth.”
“Come get them tomorrow when it’s light. Let’s get the sheep into the pen.”
They brought the sheep down the hill together.
Sterling crashed through the front door like a stormfront, leaving it open behind him. Tobias rolled his eyes to Susanna and patiently closed the door and shut out the cold of the night. There were three wooden bowls of stew steaming on the low table.
“Mother, I met the Silvan King tonight!”
“Sterling.” Mother’s voice was like the melodies of spring mixed with summer songbirds. Sterling loved his mother’s voice. Her voice calmed him when his brothers were being cruel and had him surrounded. When he wanted nothing more than to throw the rocks that were in his small pockets, Mother would gently say, “Sterling,” the way she was saying it now. With those two syllables she could make Sterling pause and reconsider every decision he had made up until that point. She had a mysterious power to make him stop, step back, and think about the consequences of his actions. Her voice was so soft, so loving, that if she said so, she could make him doubt his own birth. But not this time. Sterling knew in the marrow of his bones what had happened tonight and there was no dissuading him.
“I did mother. He smiled down from the stars and--”
Mother glanced at Father who had just closed the door and was replacing the pike. He hadn’t been listening to the beginning of this conversation, or he was lost on some distant battlefield. Father sometimes seemed leagues away even though he was sitting next to you. Then, suddenly, he would blink back tears, notice you, smile weakly and hug you close, but he would never speak about those places.
“--and after he smiled at me, he gave strength to my hands and helped me defeat my foe!” His voice cracked with excitement as he leapt onto the bench next to the table. Flexing his small muscles, he displayed both his victory and his lithe muscular arms.
“Sterling.” Father’s voice was sterner than Mother’s. Mother’s voice had said, “Stop telling stories.” While Father’s said, “Stop telling this story.” He grabbed Sterling gently under the arms and sat him on the bench he was standing on. Sterling bowed his head.
The conversation was over and supper began. Stew was eaten, served again, and eaten again in silence. Sterling was then sent to bed. He climbed the ladder into the small loft and for hours he lay with his eyes closed trying to sleep. But he was too excited and sleep fled from him.
In the light of a dying fire, Father and Mother were quietly making ready for bed.
“What happened out there tonight?” Mother was always interested in the daily business of her husband, but this was different. Sterling could hear the worry in her voice.
Father sat at the table. He could feel her staring at him from the bed.
“I’m not sure, but Sterling and the flock were attacked by a mogui.” Mother gasped as her hand shot to cover her mouth, half out of reflex and half out of concern she might wake the boy. Tears filled her eyes at the thoughts that were parading through her head.
“How many sheep did it take?”
“Thank the Silvan King that you were there to chase it away.”
“I didn’t chase it away.”
A fear and admiration filled Mother’s eyes. “You didn’t… Did you kill it?”
“With a stick?” He glanced at the pike hanging over the door. “No. It was dead when I got there.” Silence.
“Sterling killed it.” Silence. “He said the Silvan King helped him.”
Mother finally spoke. “Sterling?”
“He’s very lucky to be alive. I’m not sure what happened, but I will find out when the sun is up tomorrow.”
“Was it luck?” There was a weight to her question that Tobias understood. He looked into her eyes, saw that she also understood it. He sat in the darkness thinking, allowing the events of this evening to simmer. The weight of destiny was no light thing, to be touched and then placed back on a shelf like a child’s toy. Tobias sighed.
“I don’t know. But if it wasn’t luck,” he hesitated. “If it wasn’t luck, the marks will show soon.”
“What happens if…” Susanna Nunn had never felt terror like this. It sat in her heart as if it had taken residence and had no intention of ever leaving. Her voice came out in small gasps as she fought back the tears.
“If… it… isn’t… luck?”
Father slipped into the bed. Mother fell into his arms, quietly sobbing on his chest.
“I don’t know. Nothing like this has happened in a thousand years. I will find Elliot and ask him; He will know for sure.”
Sterling lay in the loft. He listened to the quiet of the night, not understanding that his mother had nothing and everything to worry about.
About the author
We digest truth a paragraph or pixel at a time. Fiction seasons truth to make it palatable, desirable, even addicting. We come back for more, partly because we see ourselves in every steamy bite and partly because when we don't, we long to.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
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The story invoked strong personal emotions
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Niche topic & fresh perspectives
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Writing reflected the title & theme