Knight Protector of the Dragon’s Lair
John Dell looked out over the vast, fog-filled space before him and smiled. The view reminded him of something Sarah Bell once said when she described the snow covered mountains surrounding her home in Minnesota. She said that on the wettest days the fog was so thick you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.
“White out,” John whispered to himself.
He looked down and watched the fog pouring down between his feet and over the cliff’s edge in front of him. He laughed and looked up again. Wait for it, he thought excitedly. Anna said it would be something I’d never forget.
And then, quite suddenly, a warm breeze swept the fog aside and John’s jaw dropped in amazement. A deep chasm suddenly fell into full view and the unexpected expanse below took his breath away. The trees embedded in the black outcroppings seemed to explode with color, and between them dozens of copper backed dragons soared in the thermals. They glided up and down in the rising winds, turning and ascending without flapping, like birds of prey over a vast ocean. The late sun accentuated every edge and niche on the nesting shelves; an artist’s brush could not have imagined it, or even tried to copy its splendor.
With tears in his eyes, John watched the mothers in the nests tucking their babies beneath them and then turning to heave a breath of fire at the already scorched walls surrounding them. The rock glowed bright orange for a moment and then quickly cooled to black. He could see the heat radiating over the top of the nests in distorted waves through the air. The dragons were settling in for the night.
There was a rustle of movement to his left and then the distinct sound of barking from the locked crate sitting there. The crate shook and banged loudly as John Dell walked over and stooped to look in.
“Calm down, boy. Don’t worry… she’ll be here shortly.” There was another enthusiastic bark within the box again.
John braced his hands on his hips and then arched back until his spine clicked and popped. “Oh my goodness… carrying that bloody box all those miles through the forest was murder on my back.”
Suddenly, there was a loud crack, a distorted blur of purple light, and Anna Grayson appeared stooping on the edge of the cliff looking down.
She turned and smiled back. “It’s beautiful isn’t it?” she said, motioning over the cliffs.
John frowned as he came forward. “How did you do that?”
“How did you Apparate here? I didn’t think anybody could do that on the plateau – never mind through the dead zone surrounding the cliffs.”
Anna grinned coyly as she straightened to stand.
“Are you telling me you came all the way from California directly to these cliffs?”
Anna noticed the rattling box and smiled. She ran over to peer between the slats. “Hi, sweetie… how are you feeling? Better?” There was another loud bark of excitement and scratching as the box shook violently again.
Anna laughed and then stood again as she pointed her purple heart down at the box.
“Alohomora!” The large lock on the side instantly shot away and the door dropped open to the ground.
“I thought your wand was lost in the battle with You-Know-Who,” John asked her.
She looked back at him and grinned.
“So you were able to repair it.” He shook his head. “I honestly don’t know why you bother carrying it around. It’s not like you really need it.”
“It’s my mother’s wand. I’m trying to keep it safe for her.”
A pair of claws shot forward from out of the box and a small dragon dashed out. It slammed Anna on the side of her shoulder with one of his wings and as she fell to the ground the dragon immediately pounced on her. She was laughing as the dragon attacked her with his tongue.
“Taurus… stop!” She snorted, trying hard to push him off as the dragon continued looking for openings between her fingers.
“Ah come on, let me up!” Anna laughed. “Enough now… don’t make me curse you!” Taurus finally stopped and sat back on his haunches as Anna stood to brush herself off. The creature was wagging his tail madly and snorting smoke.
Anna looked up at John Dell and smiled. “Thanks for bring him out, John.”
The man rolled his eyes. “No little thing… the little beasty is getting heavy. If I had known you could just Apparate up here, I would have told you to bring him yourself!”
Anna smiled. “I’m not very good with peer Apparation yet. We might have arrived splinched.”
John looked down at her repaired wand and smirked. “I really doubt that.”
There was a very long howl in the distance and Anna turned, looking excited. “Oh excellent; the sun is starting to set.” She took John by the hand and led the both of them to the edge of the cliff. She looked out and then up at him admiringly. “I’m not really sure how this works or what exactly I should say.”
“I think I do.”
John reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of parchment and handed it to her.
“Over the last couple of nights I’ve had this reoccurring dream and little voices whispering in my head about this moment. They kept repeating the same words over and over again until I finally wrote them down.”
Anna opened the parchment and read the words aloud. “I… Anna Grayson, leader of the Guardians past and present, Sithmaith to magic’s cause and protection, hereby grant and assign the position of Protector to John Dell. He is a man of great wisdom and courage…” she frowned and then peered up at him.
“Okay… so I added that part myself,” he whispered.
Anna smiled and then closed her eyes. She suddenly knew the words she wanted to say. “He is a great and gentle man of immense wisdom and courage and worthy of his status. From this moment forward, and until magic commands him otherwise, he is made Knight Protector of the Shadowed Forest, the Cliffs of Knowtor,” she opened her eyes to smile up at him, “and… the Dragon’s Lair!”
A bright glow of white light began to shimmer around John Dell and then his robes were changed from a drab and tattered black to deep purple. A single thread of golden light rose from out of the abyss and into the air over their heads. It arched back down and shot forward to stab John in the left shoulder where it began weave itself into the cloth until it had fashioned an embroidery of gold on his robes depicting a dragon.
When it was done, Taurus hurried over to sniff at John Dell’s new robes. After his close inspection, he sat back to wag tail and then barked happily up at him. There came a howling screech from the sky above them and two enormous dragons suddenly landed on the edge of the cliff with a loud and bone-jarring thud. One heavy female and a full-size male looked down at the gathering with growling curiosity. The female leaned down nose to nose with John Dell and sniffed at him while the other twisted his neck around to inspect his back and then the embroidery upon his shoulder. The two dragons looked at each other and then rose up to howl loudly into the open sky, and in the chasm below, hundreds of dragons replied with screeching excitement.
John Dell looked down at Taurus still wagging his tail and smirked. “Well… I suppose that makes it official.”
“Not quite,” Anna replied, reaching out. “Give me your wand.”
John frowned and then reached into his pocket to retrieve his wand. Anna took it from him and then gripped it tight in her fist until it glowed with purple light. She closed her eyes and whispered something under her breath before handing it back to him.
“John Dell… you are now Knight Protector of the Lair. I ask that you to guard these cliffs and the magical creatures that live within the forest surrounding us from the chaos that is sure to come.”
The man could feel a swift surge of immense power in his wand and a bright flash of purple light suddenly engulfed his entire body. A twisting wind wailed upward from the stone under his feet to lift his hair on end, leaving the man heaving breathlessly and thinking of the day he had held his first wand. He smiled eagerly, raised his wand into the air, and said something that caused a jet of red light to ignite into the evening sky.
“The magic is working again!” he said, happily.
Anna slowly hovered into the air to kiss him on the cheek. “The dead zone is still present, John. The magic will only work for the cliff’s Knight Protector.”
He smiled back at her. “Well thank goodness. I was a little worried about having to hike out of this forest tonight.”
The two dragons turned and leapt off the edge of the cliff and the Guardians walked together to survey the beauty all around them.
“Well go on…” Anna said, looking down at Taurus. “You’d better find yourself a nest before all the good ones are taken.” Taurus rose up to lick her chin, tilted back, and sprang into the air. They could see the dragon was already becoming expert flyer as he turned, tuck his wings, and disappeared into the mist below them.
Anna and John looked out at the distant mountain wreathed in a circle of purple clouds and smiled at the last dragons soaring their way home.
“Remember what I said, Anna,” John said, still admiring the view. “I can’t stay here very long. When do you think she’ll be ready to take over for me?”
Anna looked up at him. “I really don’t know, John. I haven’t even spoken to her about it, and she’s only just finished her second year at Castlewood. She can’t be the protector here until after she finishes her studies. Do you think you’ll be able to stay that long?”
John Dell looked down at her. “From what I saw of Sarah Bell in battle,” he returned to watch the incoming dragons again, “she’ll be worth the wait. Who would have thought one so small could be so courageous.”
Anna smiled in agreement.
“In the meantime,” John continued, “the Shadowed Forest isn’t known to be the most hospitable place on the planet, and who really knows if the poachers have really given up trying to make a profit. I might need some backup every now and then.” He turned the jade ring around on his finger. “Are we agreed?”
Anna was amused. “You? Of all people… want me to be your backup?”
Another dragon suddenly landed on the ledge next to Anna with a crumbling thud. The large male spread his wings wide as it screeched loudly and then twisted its head upside down to sniff at her. He snorted his approval with a shot of flames from his nostrils and then stepped off the cliff again. Anna watched the beast gliding into the fog and John grunted.
“Yeah… I think you’d make for a pretty good backup.”
They turned together to watch the final hues of fading light begin to darken and Anna sat down on the cliff’s edge to take in the remaining beauty surrounding them. She closed her eyes as a shivering thought came into her mind. Voldemort was the most terrifying wizard the world had ever known, but Anna also thought the Dark Lord had made her mission for magic’s sake abundantly clear. She would do everything within her power to stop him from abusing and destroying these rare and wonderful places and the beasts and magical creatures living within them.
But he’s so powerful.
How could she and her fellow Guardians expect to keep him from dominating the entire world? How could they even hope to keep him away? Even more challenging was the other question she had asked herself the moment she heard the news that her father had become the Minister of Magic: how could she remain to the side in the battle to come when her own father was now a target of Voldemort’s madness? Her father, together with Dumbledore, Thordarson and the rest of the wizard world’s leaders were all at risk. How could she remain neutral when she was living under the same roof with one of the leaders of the wizarding world? How could her brother Eric stand to the side if their family was put in danger? It was impossible to think it likely … but she knew it would be necessary if they were to succeed, and it wouldn’t be long before the Guardians of Castlewood would be tested again. Anna opened her eyes and looked up at the first stars breaking through the twilight.
Dear Lord… I pray for the strength needed in the battles ahead. Protect my father, my mother and my family from the evil working against us and the wizarding world. Protect the Guardians as they seek to protect your most wondrous creations and the gifts that surround us everywhere and hold close those who have already passed in the hope of a better life.
The vision around her began to fade as Anna Grayson finished her prayer with a whispered, “Amen.”
When Anna opened her eyes again, she found herself sitting alone on an outcropping of rock overlooking the Cliffs of Knowtor thirty years later.
“Yes,” she whispered, “That was quite a year.” Anna breathed deep at the thermals racing up the cliff wall and smiled. She looked down and found herself turning the jade bracelet on her wrist and smiling lovingly. “There were so many good friends lost in the years that followed…” she looked up at the mountain in the distance and the dragons soaring in a circle around its summit, “so many battles fought and so much taken that was never recovered.” She heaved and then smiled as she stood again.
“This… is… such a beautiful place,” she whispered admiringly.
Her eyes dropped expectantly as her old battle-weathered friend rose up from out of the fog once more.
Taurus screeched loudly as his great wings flapped up and down and then shook his head to bark down at her once more.
Anna smiled and then turned to look back at the spot where Sarah Bell had disappeared just a few hours earlier.
“Well… I don’t know… I’m expected for dinner tonight,” she told the great bull.
The dragon barked beckoningly again, flapping backward over the abyss below.
Anna laughed. “Okay-Okay. I never could refuse you, you old bat!”
The dragon barked excitedly and twisted his head upside down at her.
“But if you make me late for dinner, you’ll have to answer to Sarah!”
Anna closed her eyes, set her chin, and all at once her entire body started to grow. Her image began to distort and blur from the magic billowing out of her body and her black robes stretched and lengthened to form leathery wings. Her neck elongated and became horned and her chest ballooned and was covered in copper-colored scales. Huge legs lifted her up and a tail extended from out of her back. The distortions in the air finally ended and Anna stood over the Cliffs of Knowtor, the largest dragon the Lair had ever seen. Her growls deepened as she looked out to see Taurus barking madly.
The bull looked down at the massive beast that had been both his mother and friend for so many years and frowned at the ugly wound carved into her belly. It was a scare in the shape of a bolt of lightning from some long forgotten battle so many years ago. The Vipertooth barked once more, folded his wings and suddenly dropped into the thick clouds below them.
Anna watched him go and then rose up to bellow loudly. Her giant head swayed side to side and her mouth opened to eject a stream of purple flames a hundred feet into the air. All of the dragons in the cliffs stood in their nests and roared back, and some leapt into the air to take flight.
Anna jumped into the air, tearing off chunks of rock under her clawed feet as she began to flap in place. Her scaled brow furrowed as she peered through the fog to watch Taurus fleeing between the gaps in the cliff. Her growls rumbled in a way that sounded strangely like laughter as she tilted over to dive down after him. Twenty seconds later she batted Taurus on top of the head with one of her wings as she passed over the top of him and then glided up to clear the cliffs once more. The two turned together and headed north, their copper backs gleaming in the setting sun.
Within the contented howls surrounding him, a baby dragon struggled to stand and peer out over the edge of its nest. His eyes widened at the sight of a huge dragon in the distance, heading toward a mountain wreathed in a crown of clouds and a dozen dragons following in close formation behind her.
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