They gathered in defiance and rage at the base of the mountain. The dragon, that evil serpent of old, had terrorized The People for the last time. The people in the surrounding towns and villages never understood how horrible the dragon’s persecution was. To them, the dragon was a protector, a savior, and ally. To The People, the only People who have ever suffered the wrath of the dragon, the beast was always an invincible foe, a terrible enemy.
Three days ago, all that had changed.
Shay the Dragon had existed as far back as living memory could recall. Her tales were chronicled in the Scrolls of the Diluvian Kings beginning more than a thousand years ago. Her scales were always a brilliant gold, her fangs ivory six-inches long, her wings spread nearly the width of the village of The People, and when she took flight, there was the sound of thunder.
Except to The People, her tales always were sagas of benevolence, of kindness, of protection from evil, of security. But The People were always told that Shay was the bringer of terror, persecution, and slavery. Should Shay be seen soaring above the village of The People, it always meant that someone would die. It always meant some of The People would be taken to be slaves in the mines of Shay, digging for precious metals and jewels until the work exhausted and finally killed them.
Why Shay treated The People and only The People with cruelty was unknown, but The People among all the people of the surrounding towns and villages, eventually were considered to be outcasts since they alone suffered under the dragon’s horrendous claws.
These were the tales of The People. This is what the minstrels of the High King always sang of when they visited the village of The People, which was increasingly frequent these days. Children had nightmares of Shay visiting them in the night, stealing them from the safety of their homes. The dreams were especially vivid after a visit from the High King’s minstrels.
No one in living memory could actually recall the last time Shay appeared in the village of The People. They were only reminded of such events by the minstrels of the High King when they visited from the Bright Kingdom many leagues away. The minstrels, in the name of protecting The People, stirred up their fear, stoked the flames of anger, inspired a collective feeling of victimization and injustice among them.
Only the High King and his minstrels understood The People, understood that the dragon was the enemy of The People, and only the High King protected and defended The People.
Three days ago, the soldiers of the High King were patrolling the wilderlands between the local villages. Shay the Destroyer was observed to be feeding on the wild elderberries in the mountain passes of Zin. They were able to take her unawares, a feat thought to be nigh on impossible.
The dragon was wounded most grievously but still managed to escape. The location of her lair was well-known but not even the most courageous among The People dared to approach it. Better to let the dragon sleep and pray to the gods and the High King that she not awaken and consider a visit to the village of The People.
The soldiers of the High King visited the village of The People, bringing them the good tidings and charging The People with a great task. The ancient dragon was wounded, perhaps mortally. The soldiers of the High King had injured the Destroyer. It was up to The People to breach her lair and finish her off.
By coincidence, the minstrels of the High King, their flutes and lyres forged by wizards and laced with arcane magic, were also in the village of The People that day. They sang the songs of persecution and oppression. They told the long ago tales of those who had been taken by the dragon, of Ben the Merchant, of Amy the Scribe, of all the others who had disappeared, been consumed, or suffered at the torturous claws of Shay the Dragon.
The People became enraged! They demanded blood! Their time had come. They could finally revenge themselves on their oppressor. The oppressed would become the predators. Their prey was the dragon.
Merissa, the Wise Woman of The People, their seer and prophet, the woman of visions, led the able-bodied men and women of The People out of the village and toward Shay’s mountain. They were given arms and supplies by the soldiers of the High King, who for some reason, chose to return to the Bright Kingdom rather than accompany The People. They told The People that as the oppressed, it was their duty and their right to dispatch Shay the Dragon. Letting the flames of anger replace their fear, they carried on, leaving the village to the musical accompaniment of the minstrels.
But even the minstrels only walked with The People to the crossroads before they went East toward the High Kingdom, and The People went West, West toward Shay’s Mountain.
Now The People were at the base of the mountain. Merissa, her white hair almost glowing in startling contrast to her bronze skin, at the head of the group. She lifted her walking stick and planted it before her, using it to steady her aged frame as she climbed up the first step on the path to the dragon’s lair.
Merissa was trembling, not out of fright, but due to some unknown anxiety, some hidden feeling that The People were making a mistake, a horrible one. The People behind her were furious, outraged, tremendously resentful of the dragon. They wanted her blood, they wanted to peel the golden scales off her flesh, they wanted to carry her bones back to the village in triumph. They wanted many things that Merissa, Wise Woman of The People, felt were evil.
But she led The People up, because it was so ordered by the soldiers of the High King, because it was sang about by the eldritch minstrels of the King, because of the long-told tales of the cruelty of Shay to The People, a cruelty even the aged Merissa, who had lived over ninety season cycles, could not recall.
Only the news from the Bright Kingdom and the ballads of the minstrels told of the horrors Shay had committed to The People.
The lair. The cave. The forbidding black entrance into the chambers of the dragon. It was said that any to entered would never be seen again. It was equally said that the dragon had a vast horde of gold, silver, and jewels that she made her bed. To kill the dragon, strip scales and flesh from her bones, and to steal her treasure, what an accomplishment for the oppressed, the victimized, the downtrodden, The People.
Torches and lanterns were ignited and Merissa reluctantly guided The People into the entrance of the cave.
They were surprised to find the cave well-illuminated. No human bones of Shay’s victims were in evidence. The pathway into the lair’s nether regions was well-marked and apparently recently cleaned. One room after another showed evidence of skilled decorating, a library, a sewing room, even a garden of moss and dewlittle flowers (but strangely, no treasure trove), all immaculately kept.
Immaculate except for the trail of blood they followed, an indication that the soldiers of the High King had truly wounded the ancient enemy. The People shouted, brandished their weapons, and swore vile and blasphemous oaths to utterly destroy the dragon by the most horrible means possible.
She lay not on gold or silver, but on a bed of goose down and satin. Her blood colored the white fabric crimson, the gaping wound in her belly was encrusted with oozing clots. She was breathing rapidly. Her eyes were closed.
The mob of The People rose up as one, roaring vengeance, they began to surge forward as appendages of a beast.
“Wait!” Merissa cried out to The People in as loud a voice as she could summon, holding up her walking stick in her right hand. “Wait, my People!”
Rage and a mob mentality are almost impossible to stop, but Merissa was the Wise Woman, the village elder of The People, and her words were always just and fair. No one dared to oppose a Wise Woman of The People. They came to an abrupt halt, but their emotions were barely restrained.
Merissa, Wise Woman of the People remembered. What she remembered was astonishing. She closed her eyes and summoned the vision. She shared the vision with The People, as befitting her hereditary role and power as seer of The People. The People, all of them, closed their eyes and Merissa’s vision was also that of The People, both those in the cave, and those in the village.
Merissa was five years old, her hair tight curls of ebony glistening in sunlight, her skin a deep mahogany as was the color for all The People. She and the other children of The People, were giggling and running toward the mountain passes of Zin not far from the Mountain of Shay. It was Shay they were running to meet.
The parents and elders of The People followed, but this was a special time for their children. Although Shay came often to bring gifts to The People, to share treats and tales with the young ones, and to protect the village of The People from intruders (as indeed she protected all the surrounding towns and villages), once a year, on Nestling Day, the children of The People ran to the mountain passes of Zin to visit Shay in the field of elderberries.
The children carried their baskets and buckets and gathered as many elderberries as they could hold (because it was well-known that the favorite food of the dragon was elderberries), and Shay allowed the children to feed her until her enormous frame could not hold even one more elderberry.
Then she presented the children with their Nestling Day’s gifts, a special day when the precious children were honored as the next generation of the wise and gifted People. She told them the tales of how they were the first people among those who lived in the region, and how Shay the Dragon helped build the first village of The People, helped settle The People in the region, protected them from marauding barbarians, and celebrated their prosperity.
“She raised us.” Merissa’s eyes were wet. Tears streamed down her wrinkled cheeks. “I remember nestling in the corner of one of her wings. I could feel the heat, hear the pulse of blood, rub the smoothness of the skin beneath my fingers.”
Carl the Grocer spoke next in the vision. “I remember. She especially loved the children.”
Doris the Seamstress said “She looked out for us. She protected us.”
“Then she went away,” uttered Mark the Beet Farmer.
“No!” Merissa lifted her staff and pounded it once against the cave floor. “No! She didn’t go away. She was driven away.”
“The High King took power and rechristened The Kingdom of the Just as the Bright Kingdom.” Amanda the Teacher of Language saw terrifying things. “The High King made an unholy pact with the Wizards of Shem. The minstrels of the King. It was they who worked the magic with their mystic flutes, weaving forbidden spells.”
“We were once like the people of the surrounding towns and villages of our region. We were once a people of the dragon, the first people of the dragon. She loved us, just as those other peoples were loved by her, and we, all of us, loved Shay.” Merissa shared the vision with The People. She looked at the dragon. Her eyes were now open. Shay shared Merissa’s vision too, or was it Shay’s vision rather than the old seer’s?
“The High King.” Merissa continued the tale. “Years ago, he was the Bandit Lord of the roaming Marauders. He came to loot the village of The People many times, and each time Shay fought his band and drove them off.”
“He wanted revenge,” said Doris.
“He murdered the old King and captured the Kingdom of the Just,” cried Mark.
“He sent the magic of the minstrels to tell us lies about our mother Shay.” Carl was crying.
“We were bewitched. We were the ones who drove Shay out of our village, we The People.” Merissa’s vision was now complete.
The People dropped their weapons, each one, ax and sword, thudding on the floor of Shay’s bedroom. Many among The People present cried and begged Shay’s forgiveness. Many in the village of The People also shed tears.
“Quickly!” Marissa commanded. “Bring the medicines, the healing balm.” Catherine the Healer ran forward, removed her backpack, and began attending to the dragon’s wound.
It was a difficult week for the dragon, but The People were kind to her, even as they all now remembered her kindness to them. Some of The People in the cave went back to the village to bring supplies, both for The People staying with Shay, and for the mother dragon herself.
Merissa dreamed dreams and had visions of Shay and The People, and the People shared the visions of Merissa.
Slowly, the dragon began to heal, her wound drained, her color began to come back to her scales, her voice, so gentle, became stronger.
“Oh, my children, my beautiful children,” Shay murmured to them. “I have so longed for you to return to me, to escape the spell of the High King. I am so pleased to be with you again.”
“You have saved The People so many times,” Merissa spoke as Wise Woman of The People. “It is our honor and duty to save you as well.” Merissa stood close to the dragon. She reached out with one hand and softly stroked the fabric of the corner of one wing. She could feel the smoothness and warmth, she could feel the flow of blood. She was five years old and nestled in the safety of the dragon’s wing once again. She was home.
When the minstrels of the High King once again visited the village of The People (to confirm the demise of the dragon at the hands of The People), many things were different. For one, their magic no longer affected The People, for once broken, such a spell cannot be reinvoked. For another, they were immediately imprisoned.
The People sent messages to the peoples in the surrounding towns and villages informing them that the enchantment of the High King upon them had been broken. Treaties and alliances were quickly formed as in days of old. The People and all the peoples were once again The People of the Mother Dragon, of Shay who had cared for them and who always cares for them.
It would not take long for the High King to notice how his minstrels had not returned. The People of the Dragon had to act quickly if their coup was to be successful.
Shay had never before gone to war. She was a protector, not an aggressor. But for the sake of The People of the Dragon, for the sake of her children, this had to change. It takes a great deal to make a dragon angry.
Unfortunately once you do, you are unlikely to survive the result.