Welcome to Dragon Country
When I first stepped foot into the uninhibited mountainous region—an attempt at a shortcut—I never imagined I’d find myself face to face with a dragon. I’d never seen one up close before, and if I made it out of this situation alive, I hoped to never see one again. The creature stretched its long neck towards me and huffed out a breath of noxious gas that caused my eyes to water and my stomach to turn. A swampish green colored drool dripped from its overflowing mouth. It licked its jaw with a serpentine tongue in anticipation. Barring its teeth, it struck, then struck again.
Luckily for me, even the king of all predators couldn’t overcome magic with brute force. The barrier I casted held strong. The dragon reared back and growled with frustration. I could see its mind working, trying to figure a way to get past the magical shield. My mind was also working, trying to find a way out of this situation and past the beast and then out of this forsaken land. My back was pressed almost painfully against the rough mountain face. The mountains I was used to were not like these. The ones I knew were covered in moss or vines—something green—and were soft to the touch. These mountains, though, were coarse and harsh. I should’ve taken that as a sign when I first wandered into these parts. Nothing could thrive alongside dragons, after all.
The dragon’s eyes widened, glowing a bright orange in the surrounding darkness. Its whiskers, long and wiry similar to that of a cat’s, vibrated widely while the rest of its body froze. It turned its head away from me and hissed. Deep, menacing growls answered it. Great. Just what I needed. More dragons. Two new dragons stepped out from the darkness. Their eyes shone green and their scales—black from the looks of it—blended in with the dark of night. If they hadn’t growled earlier I wouldn’t have ever noticed them. They stepped closer to me and my dragon—my dragon?—snarled. They ignored it, however, and sniffed the air, getting the taste of my scent.
My nails bit into my palms and I prayed to the old gods that my magic was strong enough to hold all three of them at bay. Maybe if I did they’d eventually grow bored and leave me be. Maybe. A few more growls were exchanged between them before they came to some sort of agreement. Seemed dragons knew how to play together nicely. Who knew? They came at me at once, using their brute strength to test the barrier. My magic rippled precariously, but still it held. My spirits raised—they’d give up soon for sure! The sun was just beginning to crest over the horizon when my dragon—the original dragon—stomped its feet and screeched loudly. It reminded me vaguely of a tantrum throwing child. The dragon breathed in deeply, holding the air inside its chest for only a slit second, before unleashing a stream of fire at me.
I screamed. My shield held—thankfully—but I could still feel the heat of the fire. The others screeched with what I could only assume to be triumph and added their own flames. I curled into a small ball, trying to escape the heat by pressing into the cool, jagged stone wall. I could get out of this, easily. I could return their fire with my magic. I could kill all three beasts with one snap of my fingers. But I didn’t. I wouldn’t. They were just animals, after all. They were just doing what came naturally to them. Were they supposed to deny themselves when a meal came into their midst so easily? I groaned, my chin digging into my chest, the heat was becoming unbearable. I tugged at the roots of my hair. Think, Merlin, think!
Just as I began to think it was hopeless, that I’d pass out from the heat, leaving myself completely vulnerable to the dragons, the fire stopped. I opened my eyes and looked out. The dragons were still there, staring me down, but there was now a figure standing behind them. A girl.
“No!” I yelled, frantic. The dragons hadn’t noticed her yet, but it was only a matter of time. “Run! Run!”
The girl didn’t run. She didn’t even blink. One dragon—a black scaled one—turned to look at her, but, miraculously, it didn’t attack. She stepped closer, not giving any heed to the vicious beats surrounding her. The other black scaled dragon growled and made to charge her, but she waved it off like a mother would a screaming child. Kneeling down in front of me, just outside my barrier, I could see her more clearly now. Her skin was dark, darker than I’d ever seen. Darker than even most the trees in the woods I grown up near. Thin, too, but in these recent times starvation and undernourishment were hardly uncommon. Only those who lived in castles ate well anymore. No, they were too busy battling others that also lived in castles to care much for the eating habits of their people. Her hair was dark as well—though not as dark as my own—and clumped together in the most unusual way. Her eyes, though, they were probably the strangest thing about her. I knew the second I looked into them that it’d be next to impossible to look away. They were yellow, but not. Gold, but not that, either. No, they looked like frozen tree sap. Some lords and ladies wore the sap as jewelry, and now I saw why. They were beautiful. She was beautiful.
She placed her hand lightly against the barrier and watched with large, wondrous eyes as the magic ripples stretched from where she had touched it out across the rest of the barrier. “Magic?” She asked softly.
I nodded dumbly. What more could I do? If I didn’t know any better, I’d say she had bewitched me. She stood again and looked over her shoulder towards the dragons. “Go home,” she told them. They snarled but she didn’t seem to care. “Go home,” she repeated. “You’ll find no meal for you here.”
She returned her focus to me. Curiosity sparkled behind her eyes. She titled her head contemplatively and then nodded, like she’d made a decision. Extending her hand towards me, this time not touching the barrier, she said, “You’re either the stupidest man I’ve ever met or the most powerful sorcerer to ever live seeing as how you walked straight into a dragon’s den. So, which is it?”
Dropping my barrier, I reached for her hand and pulled myself up. Letting out a breathy laugh, I answered, “Honestly? I’m not too sure at the moment.”
Her head tilted again and her eyes turned sharp with calculation. It reminded me terribly of my dragon, assessing my barrier. “Come, sorcerer,” she eventually said. Seemed she decided I wasn’t the biggest dunce after all. A wry smile formed on her lips and she waved for me to follow her down the mountain path. “Watch your step, sorcerer!” She called over her shoulder.
“I have a name you know!” I yelled back, hissing as I just barely caught myself from tripping. All these stones looked the same! It was impossible to tell which had to the potential to trip me. I glared at the girl’s back, envious at how easily she traversed the path. “It’s Merlin, I’ll have you know.”
“Funny!” She said, turning around to face me as she continued walking backwards. “I have one of those, too, Merlin.”
Taking a calm breath—did she have to look so smug as I tripped on yet another stone?—I asked, “Oh? And what would that be?”
“Rhonwen,” I repeated, testing out the name. “Well, Rhonwen, ahh—” I pasued. She tilted her head again. “Where are we, exactly?” It wasn’t my most pressing question. That would have been Why’d those dragons listen to you—and not attack you? Perhaps the second would have been Why’d you save me? Then I would have asked about our location. But I felt this question was the one that needed an immediate answer, and possibly the easiest for her to answer.
She stopped her backwards walking and stared at me like I might actually be the world’s biggest dunce. It was a bit concerning, to be perfectly honest. “You mean you don’t know where you are? You really don’t know?”
“Ahh—no, no I do not. There was a sign a while back, but it was dark, and, well, pretty decrepit, honestly. All I knew was that the path it pointed towards would get me to the town of Goodwick two days faster than the other.”
Rhonwen hummed thoughtfully, then nodded, “That would do it,” she sighed. “I really should replace that sign.” That last part was said so softly my ears had to strain to hear it.
“”Well then,” she smiled harshly, likening herself once again to a dragon—a grimacing one this time—and stretched her arms out wide, “Allow me to be the first to welcome you, then,” she gestured to the wide expanse of mountains, “to Dragon Country!”