Wilderness Pilgrims

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Β© Sue Vincent

There was a sense of finality as the gateway between Gerliliam’s forest and this vast frozen wasteland closed behind the five Davidson children. At first they had questioned the wisdom of changing into such heavy clothes and coats, the weather in the forest being mild this morning, but now they faced a long stretch of frozen marsh with jagged snow-capped peaks beyond.

They were standing by four big stones which marked the exact place they were supposed to wait. There was a small, muddy pond right in front of them, but beyond that was only the vast flatlands covered with ice and snow.

Although the clothing provided by Gerliliam’s friend, an unusually friendly troll, kept them warm, they were all trembling with fright. Thirteen-year-old Mandy had the keenest sense of loneliness and responsibility. She was the oldest and now that the ancient grey dragon and his friends had departed, all of the others were turning to her.

Mandy’s nine-year-old brother Taylor was the adventurer of the family, but ever since abruptly arriving in the dragon’s forest several days ago during a thunderstorm, even his brash courage had been tested. He still stood beside her as if ready to face any danger this barren land might have to offer, even though they were told to wait here for friends.

Taylor’s twin sister Paris was behind the two of them holding hands with seven-year-old Jake and five-year-old Zooey.

“I wish we could have brought Mr. Covingham along,” the kindergartener said to the rest. She had made friends with the very talkative garter snake when they first arrived at Gerliliam’s home nestled securely under the roots of a large oak.

“He said he didn’t like the cold, remember Zooey?” Paris looked down at her little sister. Zooey, whose real name was Danielle, seemed to make friends more with animals than with people and now that they had been mysteriously deposited in this strange land where the animals and even mythological creatures talked and played, she felt even closer to them, particularly the friendly snake.

“You can play with Onyx if you’d like, Zooey.” Taylor was teasing her. The black cat they had found in the forest on their way from Gerlilium’s to the portal was the only animal that Zooey didn’t like…ever. Taylor, who generally liked cats, was particularly if not peculiarly drawn to Onyx, which is what he named the feline. He, for Onyx was a male, was securely tucked inside of the boy’s overcoat and he’d periodically peek his head out to see what was going on. The cat added welcome heat inside the boy’s clothing, but as much as he liked to tease his baby sister, he would willingly have loaned Onyx to her so she wouldn’t have to shiver. He’d tried before but she just didn’t like his cat.

Paris held her two younger siblings close. Jake thought he must be feeling the most lost of them all. He knew they all really missed Mom and Dad and no one could remember where they were or what they’d been doing right before they ended up in the rain at night in the heavily wooded sanctuary Gerliliam claimed as his “retirement home.” He wished he was back home playing his video games or watching DanTDM YouTube videos. He missed his Grandpa who was the only other grown up who would play imaginary games with him. Now it was like he was living inside of one of his fantasy games. He used to think that would be awesome but this wasn’t awesome at all.

Taylor thought about making a fire. Gerliliam had made sure their packs were well equipped so he had what he needed to make one just like they had when they camped out on the trip here. But the dragon and his hawk friend Gavin said they shouldn’t have to wait long once in the wilderness, and only to build a fire when their friend Shay told them to.

Shay was supposed to meet them here, but where was she? Everyone could see a long way in the distance, just about all the way to the mountains, but no one was walking their way. In fact, there was no one out there at all as far as they could tell.

Paris felt the book Gerliliam gave her in the large pocket inside her coat. He said it was one of the few in his library she would be able to read, not because she couldn’t or didn’t like to read, but because most of the books he owned were written in the languages of dragons and other strange beings.

She couldn’t wait to be able to open it to the first page and read a story that no one had ever read before. Jake had his video games and Zooey had her animals and insects, but Paris had her books. Unlike her brothers and sisters, she knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up; an author. Paris wanted to write about far away places in stories that would make people happy. So far, she didn’t like the story the five of them had been written into, well not most of it.

“How long are we going to have to wait, Mandy?” Taylor was getting worried and even though he’d never admit it, he depended on his older sister just like the rest of them did, especially since Mom and Dad weren’t here.

“I don’t know. Just keep an eye out. Gerliliam said his friend Shay was already on her way here before we ended up in his forest. She was supposed to visit him, but now she’s going to help us get home.”

“Gerliliam didn’t say that exactly, Mandy. He said Shay might be able to help.”

“Either way, she’s the only hope we’ve got. We can’t get back to Mom and Dad from the forest. In fact only two other kids have ever fallen into Gerliliam’s forest and we don’t know what happened to them.”

“But he said there were plenty of other children and that Shay would take us to them. How did they get here?”

“We’ll just have to wait for her to tell us when she gets here.”

Mandy was trying to stay hopeful but she was worried and scared like the others. After the portal closed behind them, she looked back and there was nothing but empty wilderness in that direction, too. There’s no way back, and if Shay doesn’t come soon, there won’t be any way forward either.

“What’s that up there?”

Taylor pointed to something that had just flown out of the grey clouds ahead of them.

“Just a bird, Taylor.”

“A big one, Mandy. It’s coming this way.”

He was right. Whatever kind of bird it was, it must be huge, bigger than an eagle or even a condor.

“It’s wings don’t move like a bird’s, Mandy.” Zooey had stepped away from Paris so she could get a better look. “Mandy. I don’t think it’s a bird at all.”

Taylor felt frantic movement in his jacket as Onyx ducked his head back inside and curled up into a shivering, yowling ball of fur.

“Whatever it is, Onyx doesn’t like it.”

“Maybe we should run, Mandy.”

“Where to, Paris? There’s nowhere to hide. The trees are too far away and these rocks aren’t big enough.”

The shape got bigger. So far is was just a shadow in the mist but then it flew into a beam of sunlight and sparkled like gold. It got closer and it was bigger than any bird they’d ever heard of. It looked bigger than a school bus.

“It’s a dragon, a golden dragon, and its coming right toward us.” Mandy held hope in her heart that this was Gerliliam’s friend Shay. Who better to be a dragon’s friend than another dragon?

Jake huddled closer to Paris but Zooey was fascinated and walked up next to Mandy and Taylor.

“Wow. A golden dragon. She looks so pretty.”

“Just stay with us until we know what’s going on, Zooey.” Mandy put her hand on the child’s shoulder not to reassure her but to make sure she wouldn’t bolt ahead.

Taylor slowly reached out to hold Mandy’s hand while Paris and Jake pressed up behind their older sister.

As the dragon started its long descending glide toward them, Paris saw that it looked a lot like pictures of Chinese dragons she’d seen in books. All of the scales were a bright shining yellow with orange and crimson highlights. The dragon’s face had four long tendrils or whiskers coming out of its snout. The forearms looked shorter than the back legs, and seemed to have dragon-like hands rather than an animal’s claws. The dragon had large wings, which Chinese dragons typically lacked, and from the end of the tail there were horizontal and vertical planes which seemed to help her change direction.

But the thing no one had expected was someone riding on the dragon’s neck.

The pond and the rocks being right in front of them, the dragon landed about ten yards to their right. She alighted with a bump and seemed tired after what might have been a very long flight. The person riding her slid down the neck and then jumped off the right side, the dragon having lowered her body to make it as short a jump as possible.

The dragon rider walked to them and they saw the rider was armed with a long spear as well as a bow and arrows. The clothing was a set of warm-looking furs which included a hood. Then when the figure got within about ten feet away, it stopped and pulled back the hood.

“Hi. My name is Dani. My friend the dragon is Shay. Gerliliam said we were supposed to meet you here.”

It was a girl, a teenager not much older than Mandy. Mandy was about to introduce herself when Zooey ran right up to Dani and stuck out her hand to shake. “Hi, my name’s Zooey. Can I ride your dragon?”

Mandy rushed up to her sister, quickly leaned down and whispered, “We’ll talk about that later.”

Then she stood. “My name is Mandy Davidson. This is my little sister Zooey.” Then she pointed to each sibling in turn. That’s my brother Taylor, my sister Paris, and my other brother Jake.” Mandy suddenly realized something. “How did Gerliliam get a message to you?”

“Not to me, to Shay.” Dani nodded her head indicating the patiently waiting dragon behind her.

“Good morning, children. My name is Shay.”

golden dragon

Found at fr.ulule.com

Dragon’s don’t usually smile, but her voice was so lovely and friendly, like the voice of your favorite teacher or Auntie that it almost seemed she was smiling.

Gerliliam was a dragon too but not nearly so big. He wore silly, old-fashioned clothes and spectacles, drank tea, and ate biscuits with strawberry jam. He was like an old grandfather from some of the books Paris liked to read. Shay sounded soothing and kind, but she was huge, fearsome-looking, and when she exhaled, sometimes smoke and sparks came out of her mouth.

“Good morning, Shay.” Mandy had to overcome not only shyness but severe intimidation, but Zooey acted like she met forty-foot long dragons with ninety foot long wingspans every morning before breakfast.

“Hi, Shay. I’m Zooey. Can I ride you?”

For such a large and imposing creature, the dragon had an adorable giggle. “Perhaps in time, my dear. Not today, I’m afraid.”

“Aw.” Zooey was disappointed but a sharp look from Mandy reminded her of her manners. “Oh, okay. Thanks. I’m pleased to meet you anyway.” That didn’t come out right but it seemed the dragon knew what she meant.

“I know you are all cold and this isn’t what you expected but we have a long way to go.”

“Excuse me Shay, but Gerliliam said you might be able to help us get home. We don’t know what happened to our Mom and Dad and we don’t know how we got here.” Mandy knew they all needed some sort of reassurance that no matter what happened next, it would be the first step in getting back to where they belonged.

“If all works as planned dear Mandy, then it is our hope we can help you and some of the others, but it is very complicated. The first thing we must do is cross the wilderness and then the mountains beyond. Vovin is on the other side. That’s where you’ll find the other children.”

It’s okay, Mandy. The same thing happened to my brother and me.” Dani put her hand on Mandy’s shoulder for a moment. “We got lost in Gerliliam’s forest too, but that was a long time ago.”

“You didn’t get home?”

“Not yet. We have something to do first.”

“What’s that?”

“We have to help the dragons get their home back. When they do, then they can send us to where we belong.

“How do we do that, Dani?”

“We do it together, the children and the dragons.”

Shay spoke up again. “I must go ahead to clear the way. Dani will be your guide until I return.”

“Wait.” Mandy stepped forward a few steps toward the dragon. “You and Dani flew here but we have to walk back?” She wasn’t sure they would make it all the way to the mountains, especially the littlest ones.

“I promise the journey can be accomplished and it will not all be by walking, but walking is how you must begin.”

“I know the land, Mandy.” Dani smiled reassuringly. “We’ll be alright while Shay is gone.”

“Farewell for now, my lovely.” Shay stretched out her long neck and lowered her head toward her companion. Dani walked to her and hugged her snout.

“You be careful out there, Shay. I love you.”

“I shall dearest one, and I love you too.”

Dani let go and stood back. Shay spread her wings as wide as they would go. “I shall return, children. Have faith. We have obstacles to overcome but together we can accomplish anything.”

Everyone stepped back as the dragon’s wings beat faster and faster and then she shot up into the grey and silver sky. All of the children found themselves waving bye to the departing dragon as she receded into the distance.

Then Dani turned to the rest of them. “We have a long walk this morning so if you’re ready, follow me. I recommend Mandy and the two littlest ones come right behind me with Taylor bringing up the rear. You up for that, Taylor?”

Dani had perfectly sized up the boy seeing by his body language and expression which told her he wanted some “action.”

“You bet.” He was grinning, all of his doubts forgotten for now.

“Then let’s go.” She turned and used her spear as a walking stick. They moved around the unfriendly looking pond to the right and the Davidson’s lined up behind and followed her. It was going to be a long way to get to wherever they were going and Mandy hoped and prayed they’d find a way back to their parents at the other end. Mandy didn’t know if she were grown up enough for that but was thankful that Dani was older and so much more confident.

As Taylor took the last position in line, Onyx peeked out of his coat’s collar again focusing malevolent green eyes on the vanishing form of the golden dragon. It was dangerous for travelers on the marsh, particularly at this time of year. Many pilgrims far more hardy than these had disappeared without a trace. Six more would not be missed and the ebony feline planned for the dragon to never see these children again.

I wrote this for the Thursday photo prompt – Distant #writephoto challenge hosted at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. The idea is to use one of the photos Sue has posted as the inspiration for writing a poem, short story, or other creative work.

I’m actually trying to write a novel involving the adventures of the Davidson children, first with Gerliliam and then with Shay and Dani. I’ve posted bits as pieces of it, including “after tales” on this blog.

The story most related to this one is Mr. Covingham’s Secret, however you can find other “clues” to this universe in stories such as Where Did Our Home Go?, The Whisperer Expanded, and Adventure’s Bitter Memories. To find out about some of the other children mentioned in this story, read She Treats Us Like Her Children.

If you’re curious about Gerliliam, here’s a sketch I made of him some months ago.

Originally, I had intended the wilderness the Davidson’s had to transverse with Dani to be a high desert, but when I saw Sue’s photo, I decided to change that (assuming this story makes it into “canon” in some form). Let me know what you think.

For another sample of the Davidson children’s adventures, read The Momentary Sojourner.

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