We Were Brothers
by Derek Hurst
In the traditional sense, we were not kin. But I was never one for tradition.
The World Forest, as we called it, stretched on for as far as any of my kind had ever flown. We found no end to it. Perhaps it enveloped the world. We knew not. Men knew it not either, and if they did, they gave no indication. They did not cherish it like we did. Their wanton cutting of the trees was tragic, yet understandable in a way. Unlike us, they were confined to the dirt and mossy earth and the waters, never being able to climb higher than their ladders would allow. All creatures wish to soar higher. Humans were no exception.
They cut the woods and built dwellings and forts, yet ever the creeping moss laid all their great works low. Anger against the natural world grew within their hearts, and that anger soon turned to us. Our strength and wisdom was far superior, but our numbers were few. Perhaps they envied us, or were fearful. In the end, we chose the quiet path. War is ultimately self-defeating and futile. We do not fight. At last we departed in masse to a distant region of the World Forest, far from men.
For many long years, no Dragon flew within sight of their lands, yet the smoke could always be seen from afar, billowing black and reeking of destruction. It was forbidden, and incongruent with our ancient traditions to seek them out.
But I was never one tradition.
I will never forget the day I found him, swaddled and crying in by the river. Such a small thing he was, newly born I assume, for never before had I seen a human infant. Perhaps his parents could not care for him, perhaps the child was meant as a sacrifice to one of their many and varied deities. They have such strange notions of things. I cannot know for sure. Yet, when first I saw him, in that wicker basket by the water, I knew we were kin, long separated perhaps by the troughs of time and space and biology, but kin nonetheless.
I did not grant him at first. Among our kind names are not needed. But I soon realized the child must have one. His birthright demanded such things. Amir, I called him. I knew now why, the sounds came to me in a dream, but he smiled when I said it. I taught him the language of Dragons, though his mind was insufficient to fully understand the complexity of words. He did his best. As did I. Strangely, our learning flowed in both directions. The child had no knowledge of his people’s tongue, yet somehow the words streamed from him as light from the sun. I took those words in, and made them my own.
Before Amir I had never met one of their kind, you see. I did not understand that his wondrous abilities were not common among humans. Those abilities, though they took years to manifest, were precious. He was like a Dragon in that sense. As it is with us, he perceived light around living creatures, and could change the course of water and wind with his mind. Due to my patient instruction, his powers grew. I had realized his talents very soon after I took him in. I do not know the exact moment I knew he had the aptitude, but I remember sensing clearly a spark within Amir, a little flame that needed only a wisp of breath to turn into a fire. I tended to that spark and ensured it would grow and thrive. I simply never realized what that fire would lead him to do.
He left me to return to his people, as I knew he always would. Many times I had told him that, and many times he had denied he possessed that wish. But, it is the nature of things. I did not fight it. When he departed at last, he was a young man. Handsome and strong by the standards of men, he was sure to find a place among their tribe. Yet, even I could not imagine the heights to which he would rise, nor the degree of the pain which he carried in his heart. Had I only known, perhaps much could have been avoided. Perhaps, I would have taught him differently.
Soon after I too returned to my own kind and was brutally chastised for my actions. Though by Dragon reckoning I was very old and very wise indeed, I came to understand that I had erred in my friendship with Amir. The folly of my altruism soon became apparent.
Amir had returned quickly gained fame, in part due to the abilities which I had nourished. Though it is common knowledge now, his father had been a prince and his abandonment by the river had been the doing of a jealous uncle who wished to take power. In short order he came again to his fathers halls and declared himself, and freed his people from the awful yoke of his bitter, aging uncle. Amir became a King, and was called Engol by his people, meaning “begotten”.
He was just and kind, at least at the start. His court cultivated gentleness and wisdom above all else, and to the surprise of many, his policy was welcomed by his people. Slowly however, others with lesser quality and greater ambition infected his heart. Amir was gradually convinced by these selfish advisors that the Dragons held the magic that humans could use for their own benefit. The King himself was proof of that. He resisted at first I am sure, but soon he could no longer relent. Thus began a horrid campaign against us. And it had all been because I had shown kindness to a small child by the river, many years before.
I would do nothing differently if I could choose.
The smoke we had always seen rising from their lands was the herald of their industry, which quickly felled the woods. Even the creeping moss could not stand before them. Their power grew and grew, and their people thrived. Under the leadership of their new king, our majesty soon came under threat. Closer and closer they came to our lands, ravenously cutting the trees and killing our sentries. We could not understand their barbarism. How could any creature be so brutal to another? What could drive them to such anger? We could not understand. Dragons have no pride; we do not envy, nor succumb to jealousy. Even today, we cannot even perceive such destructive emotions. It was not so for men. They had identified a thing they wanted, a thing they lacked, and so they sought to take it from us by force.
Amir’s campaign raged for years against us, until finally we were forced to retreat into the deepest copses of our lands to escape their blades. Many were killed on both sides, though hundreds of dragons had died, and for a race as uncommon as ours, that was an unimaginable loss. There were simply too many of them for us to repel. As our tradition dictated, when the river moves so fiercely, we must cease the struggle and turn into the tide. The matriarch of our clan finally relented, and sent emissaries to the humans with terms of our surrender. Most thought it was the end.
But not I.
Their own emissaries marched into our woods some time later, spears glittering in the canopied sunlight. Alas, at their rear was their King, my friend, Amir. He presented himself far differently that I had known him before. His eyes were dark, his cheeks hollow, and as he walked it seemed even the flowers beneath his boots wilted. The Dragons crept backwards in fear ahead of the men’s vanguard, yet I alone stood my ground, and proceeded forward.
“The years have not been kind to you, little one,” said I to him. “Though still I love you as I did then, and despite everything I would embrace you again as my friend, and kin.” The withered King coughed and spat, and shivered with anger.
“You are no kin of mine, Dragon,” said he. “ Do not speak to me as if we are close. I know the truth of your ‘kindness’, the hidden goals festering in your heart.”
“I know not of what you speak, Amir.”
“Do not call me that!” The King rasped, coughing again into this sleeve. Fresh blood appeared after the fit had passed. “You thought I would never learn the truth? Or that I would simply return to my own folk holding the Dragonkin in such high regard that I would again elevate you to Gods, as my own ancestors did.”
“We never sought such worship.”
“And yet you never rejected it. We will not be brought to heel again—this time our hearts will prevail.”
At this point, his sword was drawn and pointed at me. “It is over. This forest will fall. The moss will erode. The Dragons have stood by for eons and watched my people suffer. You could have saved us. You wished to keep us meek and subservient. No more.”
“You alone cannot halt the creeping moss, Amir. We tried, long before your people existed. And we failed. Our best hope now is to live with it, to accept it as it is. This it the only way forward, for both Dragon and men alike. I taught you this, or have you forgotten?”
“You deigned to be my friend, and comrade. All the while holding back the one thing that had the power to stave off the moss. To put the woods back into check.”
“The blood of dragons is not meant for men, Amir,” said I, at last seeing the cause of his anger. “Harvesting it will bring you nothing. Surely you have seen that already.”
“My alchemists tell me otherwise.”
“Then only I will tell you the truth. Our blood will not halt the creeping moss. It cannot save your people.”
“It will save me!” He shouted at last. “You gave me these powers, and with them this insidious weakness that has been my companion thought this life. Enough rope with which to hang me. But I am not cruel; I am not asking for a massacre. I am a reasonable man. A single dragon life will suffice. Send out one of your prisoners, or deviants, or unwanted specimens. Perhaps a deserter? I know you keep them. You told me as much when I was with you, all those long years ago. Is that too much to ask? A single Dragon life against that of an entire tribe. With the help of my alchemists, we will be able to use the blood to imbue ourselves with the magic your kind have hoarded. I will be able to gift others the gifts which I have been given.”
“Do not take this path Amir, I beg you,” I pleaded. “You do not know what it is you ask. For you do not know yourself.”
“Then show me! How will I know I do not want a thing unless I first have it? You have my solemn assurance, and promise, that should you comply with our reasonable request, this war against your kind will immediately cease.”
“What assurance can you provide us? When you left you also made a promise, that you would always remember me and my kindness. A promise, it seems, you have broken.”
“I was not King when I spoke those words to you. A King’s oath is a covenant with the Gods. Should I or any of my line break it, our souls and land will be damned.”
“Do your men swear it also?” I asked. The King turned to his grim majordomo behind him, who nodded back.
“Very well, little one,” I said, slowly moving towards him, my claws digging into the soft moss below. “I will give you what you ask.”
“Halt!” Cried the men of the king who stood defending him as I advanced. They locked their spear points towards me. “Halt, Dragon!”
But I continued on, pressing forward, allowing the tips of their blades to break my scales. The first of the blades soon pierced my body. Soon, I was swarmed by a dozen other soldiers as the King collapsed backwards in horror and confusion.
“No…this is not what I meant!” Amir wailed. “Another, let it be another.”
“It cannot be so,” I said as firmly as I could. Two dozen spears now had now found their way into my flesh, and I had not resisted. I felt my heart impaled as I pressed forward.
“Your Majesty!” Came a sudden, panicked cry from behind. Through my body was wracked with pain, I craned my long neck around the shouting men before me to see red patches of blood welling on Amir’s regal robes. The King had collapsed it seemed, not from shock but from pain. He sat with shaking hands, blood dripping from his mouth as he coughed upon his shirt. “Stop!” The soldier cried, the truth finally dawning upon him. “Stop your attack on the Dragon this instant!”
But, it was too late. My massive body collapsed upon the ground with a heavy thud that caused the birds to flee and crushed several of the soldiers beneath my wide wings. The soldiers who remained retreated away from me as my long neck lost slithered down onto the green, mossy earth and finally came to a swift rest next to Amir’s head. I saw his frightened eyes meet mine as he turned to face me. He held his chest while his majordomo futilely attempted to stem the bleeding from the two-dozen wounds in his skin. It was no use.
“…How?” He coughed, sputtering blood upon my scaled cheek. “How could I not have seen this? I see now…”
“Do not blame yourself Amir,” I grunted, the flames of my body slowly dying as embers in the autumn rain. “It could not be any other way. Do not blame yourself. I love you, as I always have. Uncountable lives we have lived together, little one. Before either one of us took our first breaths we were Kin. Our fates were always linked.”
“…Forgive me…I did not know.”
“You knew, just as I did when first I saw you. My sight was simply clearer.” Amir held his bloody hand out and caressed my face as his men stood in silence. “Let us part now, for a while, not as Dragon and Man; nor Mentor and King.”
“...Yes," Amir said. "As brothers. As we always have been.”
“Yes, little one.” I answered with my final breath. “As brothers.”
About the Creator
“Not all who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. TOLKIEN
I am an explorer. I have lived in many places. I stand ready for what is to come.
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