He ran as fast as he could, weaving through the trees. It was a long run, but Taro knew his way through these woods better than he knew his own village. He slid his tall, thin frame through the dense spring over growth with ease, enjoying the sensation of the wind whipping across his face, blowing his bushy blonde hair everywhere. His heart beat wildly in his chest, not only from his swift pace but from the excitement that was building up inside of him. Today he turned 15. Today he became a man. The village would hold a ceremony that evening for his cross over into manhood and with the Choice in only a few weeks time it meant this year he was an applicant.
His footsteps thundered to a halt as he burst from the trees and into a clearing. Breathing deeply to try to recover from the run, Taro made his way to the pile of rocks in the center of the small, grass field and clambered up to his usual spot on top. When he’d taken his seat and his breathing had calmed enough that he could speak he cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled out to the forest.
“Spirit! Spirit are you there?” He waited in silence yet no answer came. “Spirit! Spir…”
“I am here! I am here!” boomed a loud voice from the trees, sending flocks of birds rising into the air. “Why must you come so early? There is yet dew on the leaves. I was sleeping.”
“I didn’t think Spirits slept.”
“Well this one does. What is it that has you calling at such an hour?”
Barely able to contain his excitement Taro stood up tall on the rocks and spoke loudly out to the trees, “I’m 15 today Spirit! I’m a man!”
A boisterous laughter erupted from the trees, sending the birds flying wildly once again and knocking Taro back down to a seated position on the rocks. Immediately his face fell and he crossed his arms and pouted.
The laughter stopped and the Spirit spoke again in a much softer voice, “My apologies boy. I meant no ill by my outburst. It’s just that I can’t even remember my fifteenth birthday. Come to think of it I’m not sure I even remember my true age.”
“You must be very old then.”
“Age is but a number boy. Being 15 does not make you a man anymore than being 70, or rather like 700 in my case, makes you old. Do you all of a sudden feel like a man? Are you suddenly different today from what you were yesterday?”
Taro thought about this. He looked down at himself, he looked no different. He thought about how he felt, truthfully he felt no different.
“I don’t know,” was all he could answer.
“Even after all these years I do not understand your human customs. I will tell you this boy, I have met many men of all ages that I would still call juvenile. It is up to you to be a man. All the birthdays in the world can not make you one.”
Taro sat silently on the rocks. He could hear the Spirit’s great breaths in the trees and knew he was watching, waiting for a response. The Spirit was his closest friend. He’d never lied to Taro before, even if like now the truth was not what Taro wanted to hear.
The Spirit’s words had stung, making Taro feel childish on the day he was supposed to become a man.
“I understand,” Taro said halfheartedly, not caring to look up into the trees.
“Buck up boy. If I am not mistaken there is still a celebration for you tonight with the entire village. My stomach has started rumbling just thinking of the feast you’ll have. And the Ale! What I wouldn’t give for a whole barrel to myself!”
Taro started to laugh despite himself, hearing the yearning in the Spirit’s Voice. “I’ll drink a full glass in your honour tonight.”
“That’s very nice of you but I must say I would much prefer that glass to be in my own stomach. Run along and join your friends. Today is your day no matter what I have said and you should enjoy it. Happy Birthday boy.”
Though the Spirit’s words still hung in the back of his mind Taro knew his best friend had meant no harm by them. He stood on the rocks called out his goodbyes to the trees and began the long run back through the forest to his village.
Before Taro even reached the front door of his house he could already smell the food cooking inside. Three pigs had been slaughtered for the feast and all the women of the village had joined together inside his home to help his mother with the preparations. The scents of baking bread, vegetables stews, and roasting meat wafted into his nostrils and filled his mouth with saliva. His stomach called out for him to sneak inside and steal just a bite of the food, but he pushed the urge away. If he was a man now he could no longer act like a child.
He turned away from his house and made his way across the village centre to the blacksmiths home. His closest friend in the village, Ian, was the son of the blacksmith and since his own turn into manhood, nearly a year earlier, had become an apprentice to his father and now spent almost every day huddled over the fire in the shop banging on molten pieces of metal.
Making sure Ian’s father wasn’t present, Taro crept into the shop and up to the sleeping figure of his friend, sprawled across a chair in the back. He was covered in soot from head to toe. Even his bright blonde hair had turned black.
Taro leaned in close to his friend’s ear and spoke loudly in a deep gruff voice, “Sleeping on the job ay? What has become of you?”
Ian leapt up into the air searching around panicked for his father. When he saw Taro he ran at him.
“I’ve been awake all night cleaning out that bloody oven and the moment I finally get some rest you have to come and spoil it!” Ian grabbed a poker from the fire and began to chase Taro around the shop.
“Stay away you great brute! Is this any way to treat a fellow man?!”
Ian stopped and dropped his poker, a large smile spreading across his face. Sensing the danger was over Taro stopped as well and puffed his chest up with pride. Before he could stop him, Ian had crossed over and taken Taro up in an alarmingly tight hug.
“Let go!” Taro gasped as his friend crushed the air from his lungs. Ian dropped Taro who fell backward onto the table struggling to regain his breath.
“I almost forgot! Today is your ceremony! Congratulations!”
“Now I have to clean myself all over again! Look at me! I look nearly as awful as you do!” Taro brushed off his front, causing a cloud of soot to erupt from his clothes.
“I guess we should both go and prepare ourselves before the ceremony. I’ll race you to the lake.”
Pushing off each other to try to get out of the shop first the two burst through the doors and raced to the lake at the far edge of the village. Shedding their clothes as they neared, they both leapt into the air and submerged themselves in the chill water with a great splash.
Taro surfaced first gasping for breath as the ice cold water gripped his chest. He tried to swim for shore but was pulled under as Ian grabbed hold of his foot.
“Come now Taro, were you never taught how to bath?” Ian chided as Taro surfaced again coughing out the water that had gone up his nose.
“Maybe not, but at least I was taught manners!”
The boys bathed themselves swimming in the cold water for as long as their bodies could take it and than rushed to shore, pulled their clothes on and lay in the sunshine to warm them selves.
After his blood had started pumping through his body again Taro broke the silence, “Ian, how did you know you were a man?”
“Well the little thing dangling between my legs was my first hint.”
“No, you know what I mean, on the day of your ceremony.”
“I don’t know… I guess I was told I was a man.”
“Did you feel like one?”
“Well ever since my ceremony I’ve been treated like one. Now I have to worry about getting a wife, making a living, having children, and the Choice. You know it’s my first year up for it as well. I missed it by a month last time.”
“I’ll be the youngest up for it this year, but I still want to be picked.”
“Better you than me,” Ian said as he sat up straight and started pulling grass from the ground around him.
“What do you mean?” Taro sat up as well, bewildered by his friend. “Everyone wants to get chosen, why wouldn’t you? It’s a great honour.”
“I know it’s an honour, but it also means certain death and I have so much I want to do with my life. I’m not willing to piss it all away just because the village says I have to.”
“It doesn’t mean death, you could kill the Dragon.”
“And be the first to do so in over a hundred years? Some of the greatest warriors of our village have been chosen and sent into those woods to slay that damn Dragon and have never returned. What makes you think that I or even you could do what they couldn’t?”
Each year the gods chose one man from the village to enter the forest and attempt to kill the Dragon that murdered their livestock and burnt their crops. To be chosen was the greatest honour one could receive. Since he could remember Taro had dreamed of being chosen to face the beast, every boy in the village grew up with the hope that they would be deemed worthy enough by the gods. Now Taro didn’t know how to answer his friend. He’d never heard anyone speak ill of the Choice before.
“You could ask the gods not to be chosen… Than I have one less person to compete with,” Taro said jokingly trying to lighten the mood.
Ian nodded and slowly smiled, “I’ve been asking them that all year, let’s just hope they listened.”
Suddenly a loud horn sounded in the distance. It was the village leader calling everyone in for the beginning of the feast.
"Well my fellow man,” Ian taunted as he stood, “Let us join the village and celebrate. Eat until we’re sick and drink until we’re numb.”
Forgetting their tense conversation the two made their way back to the village bragging to each other of how much they each were going to eat and drink that night.
The celebration started in the mid-afternoon and carried on late into the night. When the sun set, bonfires were lit and dancing began to loud jovial music. The musicians sang songs of manhood and the perks and perils that come along with it.
As it was his celebration Taro had to spend the first part of the party accepting gifts and talking with village elders. When this had finished he’d almost thought himself free to join his friends in the fun but his father grabbed onto him and led him around to every family to meet their available daughters. He felt awkward and frightened and hated his father for making him do this. More than once his voice cracked as he said hello. He knew most of the girls, for he’d grown up with them, but he’d never thought of them as anything more than friends before. Now his father talked to their families about marriage and children and Taro found himself turning bright red from embarrassment.
When this was finally over Taro made a run for it over to his friends before anyone else could latch onto him and make him do something else awful.
Ian began laughing immediately as he saw his friend approach.
“Ah your father made you meet all the available women has he? I can tell by how red your ears still are!”
“I can’t believe he made me do that! And the way the girls giggled and smiled I’ll never be able to talk to any of them ever again!”
“Oh yes you will,” Ian teased. “One of those girls is going to be your wife. Welcome to manhood!”
“If this is how it’ll always be, I don’t think I like it.” Taro said as he took a seat next to his friend and downed an entire glass of ale.
Gregory walked up to the pair and joined them on the bench. Though he was a few years older than Ian he was quite a bit shorter than both of the other boys, yet what he lacked in height he more than made up for in mass. His work as a farmer had built his body solid with muscle so much so that his arms weren’t quite able to fall down straight at his sides giving him an even larger appearance.
“Who better to talk to than a man who himself will soon be wedded,” Ian laughed. “I was just informing our new member to the league of men about his duty to be a husband.”
Gregory smiled at Taro and tipped his glass back and than opened his mouth to comment, but Taro cut him off before he could speak. He’d had about enough of this conversation and with the earlier embarrassment still burning his cheeks he quickly changed the subject.
“The Choice will be in two weeks. I’m ready for it to be my turn.”
“You’re too young. This will not be your year.” Gregory shook his head, “I’ve been up for the Choice four times already and have never been chosen, and this year is my last chance before I’m married. It should go to someone who’s had to wait longer.”
Taro clenched his fists tight, “The gods are going to choose who ever is best, whether that’s an older man or myself.”
“Still, I think the gods will favour the older, if they truly want the Dragon killed.”
“You don’t think I could slay the Dragon?” Taro could feel his cheeks start to burn, no longer from embarrassment but with anger. “Maybe you haven’t been chosen yet because the gods know you don’t have what it takes to slay the Dragon. Maybe it’s a good thing you’re getting married and can’t be chosen!”
Gregory snorted into his cup, his wide face creasing together with rage, and was about to respond when he was cut off again, this time by a very anxious looking Ian.
“What do you say we join the dances? Come on Taro let’s find me a wife to dance with.” Pulling Taro away as fast as he could, Ian ran into the dancing crowd and immediately they were swept away by the mass of people.
In the days that followed his celebration Taro began to notice the privileges that came along with being a man. True he’d felt no different on the day of his celebration, but he was quickly coming to notice that, whether he felt one or not, he enjoyed being considered a man. He was now included in the important conversation with his father about money, land, and their livestock and on some occasions even asked his opinion. He was greeted in the village by all the elders, many of whom he didn’t even know their names. And best of all he noticed the younger boys looking up to him; following him around, and asking him what it was like to be a real man.
There was however one rather large downfall to becoming a man, one he’d known was coming but had never given any thought to.
His father was the village tanner and the quality of his father’s skins where renowned as some of the best in the land. Merchants and craftsmen came from far away to purchase his work and though it was a smelly, awful job Taro respected his father and the great business he’d built. As his eldest son, Taro would inherit his father’s Tannery and while he had no liking for tanning himself, Taro began as his father’s apprentice the day after he became a man.
The days were long and the oils they used for the skins made Taro permanently stink. He was used to his father smelling this way but it was a completely different thing to have the stench stuck on one’s own body. His arms ached as if he’d never be able to use them again and the stench of the workshop began to burn his throat and nose. By the end of the first week he began to loath everything that had to do with tanning.
“Don’t worry lad. Before you know it the smell will burn its way through your nostrils and you won’t even notice it anymore,” his father laughed as he rubbed away at his pelt.
Taro grimaced but said nothing. He kept his thoughts and his prayers focused on the Choice. He knew if he was chosen and could slay the Dragon he would never have to tan again. This thought was the only thing that kept him from running out of his father’s workshop and never returning.
Taro, who had recently suffered from a severe coughing attack, was sent away by his father to get some fresh air and was now moping along as he walked to the village well. His throat felt completely torn apart and every muscle in his upper body screamed with pain from over use. He was so tired he didn’t even bother to see who had called out to him.
“Taro! I’ve been calling…” Ian ran up behind Taro and stopped immediately crinkling up his nose. “You smell awful!”
Ian plugged his nose and began walking next to his friend. “Dot taking to your dew job are you?”
When they’d reached the well Taro dropped the bucket down and began to pull it up, his mouth crying out for water. When he’d pulled it up and quenched his thirst he sat down on the ledge of the well and hung his head.
“It’s awful Ian, just awful. My arms feel like they’re going to fall off, my throat feels like sand paper, and like you said I smell so badly no one will ever talk to me again!”
“Look on the bright side, you wod’t have to worry about barriage. Do womad is going to barry you if you sbell like that.” Ian chuckled until he noticed his friends head hang even lower. Dropping his hand from his nose Ian tried to ignore the stench as he gripped onto his friend’s shoulder. “The choice is in five days. That has to make you happy.”
Taro raised his head a little and smiled at his friend. “I’ll be happy if I get chosen.”
“As will I,” Ian laughed, but Taro could hear the seriousness behind his friend’s words.
“Was there something you needed to tell me?” Taro tried to change the subject.
“Oh yes actually there was. My sister told me last night that Meghan told her she quite fancies you.” Ian smiled triumphantly as Taro began to blush. “She’s cute isn’t she?”
Taro couldn’t answer. Meghan was more than cute, she was beautiful and Taro would have been crazy not to have noticed. He could feel his cheeks flushing and the smile edging onto his face.
“Too bad I’ll have to tell my sister that you smell so badly Meghan will probably have to either chop off her nose or look for someone else.”
Taro lunged forward to grab his friend but Ian was quicker. He leapt up and, laughing, ran away. Taro sat for another second before he stood and slowly began his way back to the workshop. He suddenly hated his new job more than he’d ever hated it before.
few days later, at the end of another long day of tanning, Taro was making his
way back to his house when a strange sound made him stop. The strange noise had
come from behind him and he started to panic, thinking some one was following
He heard the noise again, a sort of high pitched note, and turned around slowly not sure what kind of man or beast would make such a noise.
He stopped dumbfounded as soon as his eyes landed on what, or more so who stood behind him. He lost the ability to speak and instead stared forward like a lost child into the deep blue glinting eyes of Meghan.
She was smiling, making her rosy red cheeks ball up on the sides of her face revealing her perfectly white teeth. Her long red hair hung in curls down the sides of her face and cascaded down her back. She was tall for most women her age but she still stood a fair bit shorter than Taro and looked up at him blinking her long lashed eyes.
As the silence stretched she began to giggle and lifted a hand up to cover her mouth.
“Can I help you?” Taro asked, finally regaining a part of his brain. It had come out far more abrupt and rude than he’d meant it and it caused Meghan to stop laughing immediately. He wanted to apologize but no longer trusted himself to speak.
“Well I just wanted to talk to you I guess…” She looked bashful and suddenly uncomfortable.
“Talk to me? Why would you want to talk to me?”
The wide smile immediately returned to her face and she looked again right at him, causing him to almost choke on his own tongue.
“I just wanted to let you know that I don’t mind if you smell…”
Taro blushed and couldn’t stop the huge smile before it’d spread across his face. “Thanks…” He said dumbly.
She lifted her hand and placed it on Taro’s arm making him feel slightly weak in the knees.
“I’ll still like you no matter how you smell.” And with that she turned and walked away, looking back once at him, her face still lit up with a large smile.
Taro stood still for a long time unable to quite comprehend what had just happened. He could feel the idiotic smile still plastered on his face and no matter what he did he couldn’t get rid of it. His arm felt slightly numb where she’d touched it and his stomach seemed to be doing back flips.
Finally he turned and began walking back towards his house. The pain in his muscles and body, and even his awful smell had been forgotten. All he could think about was Meghan and her large, glinting blue eyes.
day before the Choice dawned and Taro lay awake in his bed as he’d been all
night. The Choice had consumed his thoughts but not in the way he’d thought it
would. He found himself questioning not only the Choice but, it seemed, all
he’d dreamed of for himself his whole life.
Suddenly he leapt from his bed, knowing there was only one he could talk to about this. He sped from his house, out of the slowly waking village, and into the thick forest.
He was already shouting for the spirit before he’d even reached the clearing in the wood and as he made his way to the top of the rocks he heard a loud rumbling groan emitted from the trees.
“Do you know no other time to call on me? Can you not allow an old spirit to sleep?” The loud voice went silent and Taro heard great inhalations of breath and right away knew what the spirit was about to say. “My goodness boy! Is that awful stench you? How could you bring such a foulness to my wood?”
Taro smiled. Even though his friend was complaining he could hear the loving tone in his voice.
“I’m sorry spirit but I knew no one else to go to. I need you.”
“Well when you put it that way I guess I have to listen don’t I? What has you so unhappy? Shouldn’t you be rejoicing in your new life as a man?”
Taro hung his head, “It’s not how I thought it would be… I have become an apprentice to my father in his tanning business. I hate the job yet I have no say, it’s what I have to do! This just isn’t how I saw my life! I’d always thought I’d be something great. I’d be chosen by the gods, slay the Dragon, and become a hero, possibly even travel to far off lands and become a knight. Now I smell, and all I have to look forward to is smelling for the rest of my life…”
Taro sat silent his thoughts consuming him.
“If I’m not mistaken it seems there is more to be said…” The spirit spoke quietly breaking Taro’s train of thought and bringing him back to the present.
“Yeah, Meghan… I had everything figured out until she came along.”
The trees around Taro began to shake as the spirit’s rumbling laugh thundered over them.
“I should have known it would be a woman!”
“This isn’t funny spirit! All of a sudden I find myself thinking tanning wouldn’t be that bad, that I could possibly be like everyone else just to be with her. Besides… she told me she likes me no matter how I smell.” Taro’s face broke out into a smile before he could stop it though it was quickly wiped away as the spirits laugh boomed out again.
“She’s either lying or she’s more love sick than you seem to be!”
Taro blushed and hung his head to hide his red face. When he spoke his voice was quiet and his words slow, “I like her… a lot… but I just don’t think I can give up my dreams. I still want to be chosen, I’ve wanted it all my life… but now I want her as well. What should I do?”
The spirit inhaled slowly before answering the boy, “I’m sorry to say but this choice is no one’s but your own. Only you know what your heart truly desires. Have you ever thought you might never be chosen by the gods? Would you still dream of leaving your town? If it is adventure you crave, why not find it on your own?”
“It doesn’t happen like that. I can’t just leave, no one leaves, not unless they must.”
“And must you do what everyone else does? You’ve never struck me as a blind follower.”
Taro didn’t respond. He’d always thought the only way out of his town was to slay the Dragon and be a hero. Than he would have the blessings of the gods and
everyone would want him to become a knight. He’d never thought of just leaving. Even now the thought of simply abandoning his family, his father, his friends… Meghan, crushed him.
“I believe this may be your first lesson in being a man. Your life is your own and no one else’s, do what you desire or you will never be happy. You should never hurt the people you love, but if they truly love you they will stand behind you whatever you choose to do.”
They fell silent again as Taro’s thoughts reeled around in his head. He was feeling even more confused than when their conversation had started and all he wanted to do was turn his brain off.
“Now boy I have listened, I have done what I can to help you and now I must return to sleep for it calls to me louder than an angry wife. If I leave you to your thoughts will you be able to manage?”
Taro chuckled as he stood up on the rocks, “Truthfully, I’m not sure, but I will try.”
“Better to try and fail than never to try at all. Now I must sleep.”
Taro began to climb down from the rocks when a thought ran through his already completely full head, “The Choice Spirit! It’s tomorrow!”
“Tomorrow?” The spirit’s voice was low and almost hesitant, “May the gods choose wisely and may who ever be chosen be ready for what lies ahead.” And with that the spirit was gone.
Taro finished climbing down the stones, crossed the clearing, and headed into the woods. He didn’t know why but something in the spirits voice had made him incredibly uneasy.
The village lay still. Even the animals had fallen silent as if they knew as well the importance of this day. Every member of the village had congregated on the edge of town, spreading along the crest of the field that separated the village from the forest. In the centre of the field a large pile of wood had been set afire and standing in a long line before its blaze, facing the forest, were the men eligible for the Choice. They stood straight faced and silent and watched the sun set slowly behind the trees, knowing as soon as it had fallen the ceremony would begin.
Taro, as the youngest applicant, stood at the far end of the line. He could feel his hands sweating, hear his heart thumping wildly in his chest, and feel his legs shake beneath him so violently it took all his strength to keep them still. So many times he’d watched the ceremony from afar, along with the other villagers, watched the fire set, the men line up and wait patiently. From such a distance as where the villagers stood it is impossible to make out the men’s faces but Taro had always imagined them as brave and still. Now that he stood in the line he couldn’t help feeling the fear from every man intermixed with his own. Suddenly the Choice was no longer a boy’s fantasy but a reality and one that he didn’t feel prepared for in the slightest.
As the last rays of the sun glittered off the top leaves of the forest a figure broke through the edge of the trees and trudged towards the men. Taro had never been able to
see this man up close before and as he made his way across the field toward the line of men Taro felt his jaw drop at the sight of the man’s appearance.
His long red hair was greasy and matted and seemed to fly wildly around his head. Even from a distance it was impossible not to hear the clatter he made as he walked for tied throughout his wild hair were strange ornaments of all shapes and sizes, some as large as a man’s fist. He wore layer upon layer of all types of animals skins, a few of the pelts Taro had never seen on any living creature. Around his waist tied over the layers of skins was a braided leather belt weighted down by an immense amount of leather sacks which Taro knew to hold the man’s many different potions and herbs he used for his magic.
As the man came closer his face was illuminated by the large fire and Taro couldn’t help gasping. His skin was covered in dirt and paint so heavily it was impossible to know his true skin colour. The flames danced in his bright blue eyes that stood out immensely in contrast to his dark painted skin and his gaping mouth was devoid of a single tooth. But it was what hung from his neck that captured every man’s stare in the line. Hanging from a plain rope string was a long, curved, deadly sharp, black claw, so large it covered half his chest. It looked as if it weighed a ton and it thumped loudly off his rib cage with every step he took. Stories had been spread throughout the village for years as to where the claw had come from. Some said he’d found it somewhere within the woods or stolen it from another wizard, others that the man had himself once killed a mighty Dragon but where ever it’d come from there was no mistaking what the claw had once belonged to.
He stopped in front of the line of men and stood silent for a moment scanning up and down the line. His eyes paused momentarily upon Taro and Taro puffed up his chest trying to make himself seem somehow larger and older.
When the man spoke his voice was deep and loud and it reverberated in the silence. “Toso mani noluta la Dragone cora…”
He spoke in the forgotten language of their ancestors known only now by wizards and Dragons. Though they could not understand him the men in line moved immediately to their places for the ritual of the Choice was always the same. From their line, the men broke apart and created a large circle around the fire standing more than an arm’s length apart from the next man.
When the final man fell into place the wizard crossed into the circle and approached the flames. His walk was slow but deliberate and he kept his eyes concentrated solely upon the flames. When he’d reached the very edge of the fire he reached down and opened two leather pouches on his belt. He began to chant in low guttural noises and threw a handful of something within the fire. Immediately the flames changed to a vibrant blue, than green and finally white burning larger and brighter than before. He started pacing around the fire, continuing to chant, and sprinkle the flames with the first sack’s ingredients. As his pace quickened around the fire so did his chant and the size of the fire until its flames began to burn Taro’s eyes forcing them to water, still he refused to look away captivated by what he was seeing.
The man came to a halt next to the fire almost out of Taro’s view and he was forced to crane his neck slightly to catch what the wizard was doing. The man had fallen
as silent as he was still, staring directly into the intense white flames that shot up high in front of him. He reached his hand into the second pouch and pulled up a fist full of what ever lay inside. He held his fist high in the air and yelled as loud as his deep voice would allow him, “Toso mani noluta la Dragone cora!” And he threw his hand forward emptying its contents into the fire.
The reaction was immediate. The flames turned black and began to emit an immense amount of billowing smoke that filled the air above them, blacking out the stars. It hung in the air, growing larger and larger with every second.
Taro knew the moment of the choice was almost upon him but somehow he felt incredibly calm. He watched the old man, who had begun circling the flames again chanting his strange chant, and forgot all about everything else around him. He knew within the next few seconds the black smoke would enshroud one of the men in the circle marking him as the gods chosen one, yet he seemed to have lost all ability to worry, to care, to think, completely entranced by the wizard and the flame.
Suddenly his world went dark. His eyes stung and his lungs filled with thick smoke forcing him to cough and wake up from the trance. Clasping his hand around his mouth he ran forward to try to escape the billowing smoke and ran smack into the wizard, slicing his wrist open on the claw hanging around the man’s neck. Taro tumbled backward and fell to the ground holding his wrist as it bled freely.
The wizard stepped forward and stood over the small boy, the two figures still enshrouded in the smoke. His deep voice came out as a soft whisper so quiet that Taro could barely hear him speak, “Sotua la dragone.”
As fast as it had appeared the smoke and the flames were gone, the fire burned down to only embers. It took awhile for Taro’s eyes to adjust to the new darkness, the only light now coming from the full moon. When his eye sight returned he found every man staring down at him and the wizard gone.
He struggled up to his feet, still grabbing onto his freely bleeding wrist trying to staunch the blood. Along with his eye sight his fear and panic had returned worst than ever. How could he be chosen? Gregory was right, he was too young. He didn’t know what he was doing. He’d never be able to kill a dragon.
His head started to spin and he felt suddenly incredibly nauseous. The blood spilling from his wrist now coated his arm and half his chest. His knees grew weak beneath him and before he could stop his body he felt himself pitch forward, his world going black before he hit the ground.
It was the pain in Taro’s wrist that brought him back to consciousness. It felt as though the cut had been set on fire and searing shots of pain coursed up his arm. He sat bolt upright and cried out grasping onto his arm only to find it bandaged tightly. He looked around confused to find himself in his own house, lying in his own bed. He had no memory of how he’d gotten there. The last thing he could remember clearly was the wizard standing over him saying something and than disappearing.
The house lay silent and still, as it was only made up of one large room it was easy for Taro to discern that he was alone. He had no idea what time it was, or what day it was for that matter. Through the only window on the far side of the house he could see the sun nearing its peak in the sky and figured he’d slept throughout the night.
Taro moved swiftly to get out of bed but the moment he stood his light headedness returned and he fell back down to a seated position gripping his head to try to still his spinning vision.
“You’re awake!” The shout came from the doorway and even though Taro still could not see straight he recognized the voice as Ian’s. “Your family’s been meeting with the elders all morning so I’ve been popping in when ever I can to check on ya.” Ian crossed the room and sat down next to Taro.
“My arm feels like it’s been dipped in your blacksmith stove.” Taro attempted to flex his fingers but that only caused the sharp pains to worsen.
“Nasty cut you got. Took a long time for them to stop the bleeding… We thought we might loose you for a bit…”
“From a small cut on the arm ?! How awful would that have been!” Taro laughed but Ian didn’t join him, his face was suddenly looking completely somber, if not worried. Taro’s face fell, “What wrong with you?”
“Everyone’s been talking about your cut…” Ian looked incredibly uneasy.
“And what have they been saying?” Taro couldn’t stop the anger from ebbing into his voice.
“Well everyone agrees it’s a bad sign. They say it means the Dragon has already marked you, that it’s a sign he’ll kill you for sure. And with you so young and all… they’re saying…”
“Saying what?” Taro’s voice had gone completely cold.
“Well, that… that there’s no point in sending you… since they already know you’ll fail.”
Taro could no longer quell his rage and he launched himself up from the bed and was about to scream when his world started spinning violently and grasping onto his head he was forced to sit back down. Ian offered a hand for help but Taro hit it away.
By the time his world had slowed Taro had been able to swallow a bit of his rage and when he spoke it was in a slow steady voice, laced with anger that threatened to take over again at any moment, “And do you agree with them?”
Ian was silent for a moment before answering, “I don’t know Taro. No one has ever reacted as you did at the choice… you ran from the smoke.” Taro went to talk as if to defend himself but Ian cut him off, “Listen Taro you are my closest friend and I will stand behind you no matter what you choose to do, but the whole village agrees that that cut means something, and not something good.”
Taro felt the anger boil up in him again as he answered, “It doesn’t matter what they say, it doesn’t matter my age, or this damn cut, the gods chose me and I know they did so for a reason! This cut means nothing. It was a freak accident and as soon as I’m better I will go into the woods and I will slay the Dragon.”
Taro stood slowly, fighting the spinning that threatened to take over him again, and faced his friend. He saw no mockery in Ian’s face, no hint of jealousy or anger, it was a face of true worry and concern and it calmed some of Taro’s fury. He knew his friend meant no wrong by his words and he was suddenly grateful to have him there.
“I am worried about the whole thing, of course I am. I’d have to be a loon not to be, but I also know I’m meant to do this. I’ve always known I was meant to do this and you more than anyone should know that about me.”
Ian nodded, even if it was somewhat reluctantly. “I’m scared for you, just as you won’t lie I won’t… but as I said I will stand beside you what ever you choose to do.”
Taro smiled down at his friend and than something Ian had said earlier struck him, “Did you say my family was meeting with the elders?”
“Your parents are, your brothers and sisters are at your Aunt Harriet’s house. They brought the council together to decide your fate.”
“And what makes them feel they can decide my fate? Was my fate not already decided by the gods last night?” Taro’s anger flared again. Elders or not, how could they dare to go against the gods?
Before he knew what he was doing Taro had spun around and started walking towards the door. His steps were clumsy and he could feel himself tiring quickly, he obviously had not recovered yet from his loss of blood.
All of sudden Ian stood at his side, “I meant what I said, I will stand beside you no matter what you choose to do and if that means you have to lean on me than so be it.” Taro couldn’t help smiling as he watched Ian’s cheeky grin return to his face. “And don’t worry I won’t tell anyone, wouldn’t want the Dragon slayer to look weak.”
It was impossible to ignore the stares Taro attracted from every person they passed as they made their way to the elders meeting house in the centre of town. Every face seemed to mirror the next, all stuck in a look of worry, pity, and even a little fear.
Keeping his eyes straight forward, Taro did his best to look unfazed, feeling incredibly grateful to have Ian beside him.
When they reached the front door he could hear the echoing voices fighting in the large room. Swallowing his fear and masking his face with determination Taro opened the door and barged in.
The room fell instantly silent and Taro felt his nerves threaten to get the best of him. Not only were you not allowed in this house unless specifically invited, but barging in uninvited on a meeting already in progress was completely out of the question, even if that meeting was about you.
The lay out of the room only caused Taro to feel more uneasy. The elders sat on ornate leather chairs on a high platform on the far end of the room, flanked on each side by two heavily muscled guards. Other than the elder’s platform, the room, though enormously large, was completely bare so that your eyes went straight to them.
His father stood a few paces back from the elder’s platform and his mother a few paces back from him. Both had swung around as soon as Taro had entered and stood staring, surprised at their son’s audacity. The guards had started immediately toward Taro but with one quick hand movement from the centre elder they’d stopped.
Slowly Taro made his way forward leaving Ian at the door, and stood next to his father. “As this meeting is about my self and my future I feel I should be present and have a say in anything decided.” His father’s jaw, if possible, fell even further as he continued to stare at his son.
Taro had spoken boldly, too boldly he worried, but when the centre elder silently inclined his head Taro felt himself begin to relax and his courage return.
“I know what has been said about my cut, that it marks my death. I do not agree. It’s true no one has ever had this happen before, but is it not also true that no one has been able to slay the Dragon before? What if this is a sign, a good sign? What if it marks me as destined to kill the Dragon?”
The elders sat silent for a while staring down at Taro, making him feel about three inches tall. His father had been able to right his features by this time and now had his eyes pinned to the floor in fear for his son. What Taro was doing was unheard of and the elders had every right to punish him and harshly for it.
The centre elder held Taro pinned, staring, it felt like, right into his soul. Taro had no idea the true age of this man but it was obvious that he was the most senior of all the elders. Taro met his gaze and held it, forcing himself not to blink. He knew that he had to impress upon this man above all the others that he was capable of what he was asking of them.
“You are either very brave or very stupid for coming here young man.” The senior elder placed his hands on his knees and sat up straight in his chair. “You should know that what you have done here today is unacceptable and can not go without punishment.”
Taro’s father flinched beside him and lowered his head even further.
“That being said I see no fear in your eyes. You truly believe you can defeat the Dragon?”
Taro nodded once and continued to meet the man’s gaze.
“Your cut has marked you and it most certainly means something, though what, I admit, we have no idea.” The elder fell silent again, a silence that stretched for what felt like years for Taro. “Very well, we will allow you to go after the Dragon, even though I feel you would have gone after him no matter what we had said.” Taro blushed and couldn’t stop the smile spreading across his face.
His father’s head shot up and he once again stared open mouthed at his son.
“I will tell you one more thing before you leave here today. You face a monster worse than any you can imagine. Dragon’s are not only far larger and stronger than you but far craftier and smarter as well. You face an impossible task, do not take it lightly.”
Taro inclined his head in thanks and left while he could still control himself. The last words from the elder had fallen on deaf ears. All Taro had heard was that he had the blessing of the elders and he could now go out into the woods and face his destiny.
He met a shocked looking Ian at the door and together, joined by his father and mother they made their way back to his house.
The next week for Taro was chaotic to say the least. Word of what had transpired in the elder’s house quickly spread throughout the town and while many still believed the cut a bad omen every family came forward with their support.
Taro spent the first couple days in his bed regaining his strength though he had little time to rest for there was a constant flow of people from the town bringing gifts for him and wishing him luck. At first Taro was bothered by the evident fear on every face
that came in, but he soon learned to ignore it and he accepted their gifts graciously. By the end of the first day he had more than enough provisions and tools for his trip and as the gifts continued to poor in he began to look through them, setting only the best aside for his pack and giving everything else to his parents.
Ian’s father, Ferris, brought him what was by far the best gift he had ever received. It was a newly forged sword, longer than Taro’s arm and shinier than any object he’d ever seen. It edges were so sharp even the slightest touch would draw blood and it was balanced so perfect that as Taro swung it around it felt like no more than an extension of his own arm. But it was the ornate design of the handle that made the blade so incredible. Of all his skills with metal Ian’s father was mostly renowned for his intricate carvings and designs done with all types of metal and Taro was sure he’d used all of his skill in making this blade’s handle. The grip was carved into the large body of a Dragon with its long tail curling up and around to make the pommel. The Dragon’s enormous wings spanned out straight creating the cross section of the blade and its head, its mouth wide open, held the beginning of the blade between its jaws.
Taro sat for a long time admiring the blade, unable to even find words for his gratitude.
“I started this blade many years ago feeling I would know when the right person would show up to receive it. I can think of no one more perfect than you.”
Taro looked up at Ferris astonished at his words. When he finally found his voice he stood and bowed low before speaking, “I have never been so blessed in my life, not only by your gift but by your words.”
Ferris grabbed the young man’s shoulders and pulled him up from his bow laughing, “Don’t bow to me! You’re going give me a big head!” He had the same cheeky grin as his son. “Now as soon as you have the strength I suggest you start practicing with the sword. I don’t want such a magnificent blade wasted.”
Practice he did. After three days bed rest his mother allowed him out of the house and Taro went straight to the edge of the forest and trained from sunrise to sunset everyday, hacking away at the trees and working on his movements with the sword. He was joined at different times by all the warriors of the village who each taught him their own favorite moves and imparted on him any wisdom they had. He soaked it up like a sponge and worked his hardest to learn everything he possibly could.
On the fourth day, late in the afternoon, Taro was alone at the edge of the wood finishing up his exercises when he thought he heard a strange noise from the forest and saw a movement somewhere within it. He stopped immediately and stood still, staring into the trees. The silence stretched on, the only noise coming from the breeze rustling the leaves, and though he saw nothing Taro felt sure some one or something was in there watching him. He raised his sword slowly and began walking backwards away from the wood, deciding he’d had enough training for the day. When he was far enough away he spun around and ran back to his house, unable to shake his eerie feeling.
Taro stood at the edge of his village looking across the field toward the forest. His back was weighed down with a large pack full of his supplies and slung around his hip in a brand new leather scabbard fashioned by his father was his beautiful Dragon sword.
All the feelings of fear and doubt that had haunted him throughout the night before had vanished, replaced now by courage, fueled by the deafeningly loud cheering of the villagers behind him. It felt as though he’d been waiting all his life for this moment and now that it’d finally arrived he was ready.
Slowly Taro turned and said his goodbyes to his family, hugging each one in turn. His mother gripped him extra tight, nearly suffocating him, and it was only when Taro told her he loved her and promised he’d be fine that he was finally able to pry himself free.
Ian stepped forward from the crowd and thumped his friend on the shoulder, “When you get back with all the glory and fame and what not, don’t forget about me, alright?”
“No promises mate,” Taro winked and grasped his friends arm. “Thank you for everything.”
Ian attempted his usual cheeky grin though it was impossible to miss the fear behind it, “Good luck… and be safe.”
Taro was about to answer his friend when he became distracted. Appearing from the mass of villagers, Meghan made her way forward and towards Taro. Her face was lit up in a bright smile causing her blue eyes to twinkle and her round cheeks to flush red. Taro suddenly felt his knees start to grow a little weak.
“I wanted to wish you luck before you left,” she stopped in front of him and brought her hands out from behind her back, “and give you this.”
She held in her hands a white handkerchief and stitched in the corner were her initials. She blushed slightly as she handed it to him. “It’s a token, like in the stories. The fair maiden always gives one to her knight.”
A smile crept slowly across Taro’s face. She’d called him a knight. He puffed his chest up with pride though he was quickly deflated when he heard a loud snort. Taro looked over to see Ian struggling to control himself. He shot Ian a quick glare and than looked back over at Meghan.
“Thank you, I will wear it at all times.”
Meghan’s smile widened even larger and she leapt forward hugged him and than quickly turned and ran back into the crowd.
Taro stood stunned for a few seconds not quite sure what had just happened.
Ian hit him hard on the shoulder again, bringing him back to reality, “Come on lover boy are you going to leave today or what.”
Taro righted his features, pushed the handkerchief into his scabbard and stood tall. With a final wave to his family and than to the village he spun around and walked across the field and into the forest.
As soon as Taro crossed into the trees the cheering of the crowd disappeared and was replaced by an eerie silence that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He’d spent more time in this forest than anyone he knew, but faced with the task ahead this place now took on a whole new meaning to him. He had no time to enjoy the sights, the smells, or the usually comforting sounds of this place he loved so much. He was here to find and slay the Dragon. So with a deep breath he moved forward, setting all his senses toward locating any hint of the beast’s presence.
As the day passed by and he started to walk deeper into the forest than he’d ever been before he began to realize that in the time he’d spent within these trees he’d never once seen nor heard the Dragon. What if he wandered the forest until his supplies completely ran out and never even caught a glimpse of the Beast? Would he have to return to his village with his tail between his legs admitting he’d failed? No one had ever returned before.
Taro pushed these thoughts from his mind. He’d been within the forest for less than a day he couldn’t afford to be thinking negative already.
Taro searched through the wood until almost all the light had faded away. He finally stopped underneath a tree that’s base was completely covered in moss, figuring this would be the softest bed he’d be able to find within the forest. He unloaded his pack and rubbed his shoulders, feeling the deep dents the straps had left in his muscles. He ate the first food he found in his pack and drank as much as he needed from a nearby stream.
With his stomach full it became hard for Taro to ward off sleep. He removed his sword and placed it next to him in the moss where it could be easily grabbed if needed. Than using a moss covered root as a pillow, he curled up in a ball and within minutes was deep asleep.
With a jolt Taro was awake, sword in hand. His breathing was hard and every hair on his body stood on end. He spun around searching the woods for any movement. He couldn’t explain it, but he was sure he’d felt something watching him.
After a few minutes of fruitless searching Taro accepted that nothing was there. He wanted to tell himself it had been only a dream yet something had felt all too real. It was almost as if whatever had been watching him had been so close he’d felt its hot breath.
Shaking off the shiver that ran down his spin Taro stood slowly and stretched. The sun was rising and the light was returning to the wood. Knowing he wouldn’t be able to sleep anymore, Taro ate a quick breakfast, donned his pack and scabbard, and began another long day of searching the wood.
The next five days continued much the same. All day long Taro searched the woods, finding not even a hint of the Dragon. And every morning near dawn he would awake with a start, sure that he’d felt something watching him.
As Taro’s pack of supplies grew smaller and smaller his anxiety grew greater and greater. He couldn’t go back to the village empty handed, yet if he ran out of supplies he would surely starve to death if he stayed in the forest. He contemplated returning to the village for supplies but knew that wasn’t an option. No one had ever returned before and they’d barely let him leave the first time, they’d never let him go out a second. Of all the times he’d imagined himself finding and slaying the Dragon he’d never dreamed it would turn out like this.
Finally, on his seventh day of searching the forest Taro had barely one meal left in his pack and he knew he’d soon have to admit defeat. Feeling over whelmed with anger and fear for what he should do, Taro started running. He didn’t know why he was running, or where he was going, all he knew was it helped his pain.
Taro ran faster than he’d ever run before, listening to his thundering footfalls and feeling the cold wind rush across his face causing his eyes to water. He wound through the trees, leaping over the dead ones, quickening his pace until all his muscles cried out in pain.
Suddenly Taro burst through a line of trees and found himself in an all too familiar clearing. Taro came to an abrupt halt and for the first time in days felt a small relief creep over him. Why hadn’t he thought of this before?
Slowly Taro removed his pack and made his way to the center of the clearing. He climbed the rocks and waited for his breathing to return to normal, still winded from his mad run.
“Spirit?” He called out to the woods. “Spirit, are you there?”
“You’ve been wandering my woods a long time, I was beginning to wonder if you’d ever come to visit me.”
Taro couldn’t help smiling at hearing the voice of his close friend. It felt like ages since he’d heard any voice other than his own.
“How did you know I was here?”
“You’re in my forest!” the Spirit laughed, “I know everything that goes on within these trees.”
Taro sat up straight, “Has it been you than that’s been watching me?”
“I have been watching over you. A lot of dangers lie in this wood, more than you humans realize I think, though from the look of your arm you’ve been able to find a few dangers of your own. From whom did you receive such a nasty cut?”
Taro blushed, “More like from what… Actually that’s part of the reason I came to speak with you today.” He paused for a moment unsure of how to continue. “Spirit, I have been chosen.”
“Hm, well I’d guessed as much. It’s not often some one sleeps over night by choice in this forest.”
“It was awful Spirit! When the smoke surrounded me I panicked and tried to escape it. I ran right into the wizard and sliced my hand open on his Dragon claw necklace. Than worst of all I passed out from lack of blood and now the whole village believes I’ve been marked for death. They weren’t even going to allow me to try to search for the Dragon. Now I’ve wandered the forest for days and found nothing… Oh Spirit I feel like a fool!” Taro pounded his fists into the rock, his anger quickly returning.
The silence between the two of them stretched on. Taro slowed his breathing and allowed his rage to cool. He knew it was helping nothing.
Finally the Spirit broke the silence, “A cut from a Dragon’s claw is not something to take lightly boy.” Taro felt his heart sink. “Did this wizard say anything to you by chance, something only to you?”
Taro thought back. Everything from that night had become such a blur. He remembered lying on the ground and looking up at the wizard. The man had said something though Taro wasn’t sure if he could remember what it’d been.
“I remember the wizard standing over me while the smoke still surrounded us. He said something… some word that started with an S and than la Dragone… but I can’t remember the word.”
“Sotua la Dragone.” It hadn’t been a question, something within the Spirit’s voice had sounded very final. Taro didn’t respond. He remembered the words now that he heard them and though he had no idea of their meaning something made him believe the Spirit did.
Taro heard the crunch of a branch breaking to his right and spun around to face the sound. He found himself suddenly paralyzed as he watched a beast the size of his house slip out from the trees and into the clearing.
Its entire body was covered in glistening black scales with a ridge almost like a spine running from the start of its long neck to the very tip of its tail, which stretched at least the length of two full grown men. Its giant head was split through the center by a powerful jaw littered with sharp pearly white teeth that looked all the more menacing against the jet black colour of the rest of its features.
Slowly it turned its head sideways and fixed Taro to the spot with a large brilliantly blue eye. “You have been marked by a Dragon Taro, in more ways than I believe you realized.”
Taro immediately leapt to a standing position. His hands were shaking so violently that when he reached to pull out his sword it slipped from his grasp and clattered down the rock, finally resting on the grass far below. His heart beat so wildly he could hear it thundering in his ear drums and his face held tight in a look of shock and
fear. He looked down at his blade that lay far out of reach and than cautiously back up at the Dragon and was surprised to find it smiling.
“Would you really have tried to kill me?”
Taro’s mouth went completely dry, “Aren’t you going to kill me?”
The Dragon laughed his loud boisterous laugh that Taro had heard many times before, “That depends boy on whether you try to kill me. Contrary to what you may believe I don’t kill for pleasure, only in defense, well or for a good meal.” The Dragon smiled wide flashing his large teeth and Taro gulped hard.
“I should have seen this coming. In all honesty I guess I’ve brought this upon myself.” The Dragon had been talking more to himself but now it brought its head in towards Taro, so close he could feel its hot breath. “Sotua la Dragone, young one, means the Dragon’s man.”
Taro stood still, paralyzed by fear. He looked over at the enormous creature in front of him. Its large muscles were obvious even under its thick armor like scales and the shear bulk of the beast was so great he nearly filled the entire clearing. He looked down at the large claws that looked like giant black curved daggers extending from its feet. They seemed even larger than the one that had hung from the wizard’s neck.
Finally Taro was able to find his voice, though it came out as only a whisper, “The Dragon’s man… how did the wizard know I knew you if I didn’t even know I knew you.”
“Wizards, while still only humans, have some sort of connection to the magic of the world. They work with balance, so I allow that wizard to wander my wood for he
helps to keep the balance of evil and good magic within the forest. Ever since I befriended you the balance has been off and I’ve known for a while that he’s sensed it. Dragons don’t usually befriend little human boys, young one.”
Taro couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that his closest friend was the beast he’d been brought up to fear his whole life. And fear it he did. This beast was far greater and ferocious looking than he’d ever imagined. Still, mixed in with his fear was the realization that standing before him was his friend, someone he’d trusted for years.
“I can’t believe you’re the Dragon, Spirit.”
Once again the Dragon laughed, “Ironic isn’t it. Even after all my years life never ceases to amaze me. The one and only human I’ve ever befriended has been sent to kill me. Every year some nitwit wanders into my wood and I have no grievances ridding the earth of him.” Taro swallowed hard and felt his knees weaken. “Now here you stand in front of me and for the first time I find myself unsure of what to do.”
“Are… are you going to kill me?” Taro’s voice shook almost as much as his body.
“I’ll answer you with a question, do you plan to kill me?”
Taro’s brain began to wrestle with itself. He’d been sent here by his village, the gods had chosen him, they all looked to him to save them from this beast. It had killed so many people in his village, eaten their livestock and ruined their fields. He had to kill it… didn’t he?
Taro looked into the Dragon’s face and even though it still frightened him he couldn’t help but see his friend. He’d loved the Spirit, now that his Spirit had become a Dragon did he love it any less?
“I don’t know… I don’t want to kill you but I was chosen. I don’t think I have a choice.”
“You always have a choice young one. Your life is your own.” Slowly the Dragon bent its head forward and using its mouth picked up Taro’s blade and placed it on the rocks in front of the boy.
Taro looked down at his blade but didn’t stoop to retrieve it. The blade shined bright in the afternoon sun. It looked so new, so clean, its steel not yet tarnished by blood.
“If I don’t kill you I can’t return to my village and than I have no where to go. I can’t wander the world alone, and you will continue to harm and terrorize my people.” Taro looked back up at the Dragon still leaving his sword bellow him on the rocks.
“I have no want to kill you boy. I will only strike if you do. You are unarmed, retrieve your sword.”
Taro looked down again at his sword resting at his feet. It was a brilliant weapon, one that was most certainly destined for many battles and adventures, but he would not use it here today. He couldn’t imagine staining the blade with the blood of his friend.
Suddenly an idea sprang into Taro’s mind, an idea he couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of before. “No, I don’t want to fight you. Instead I will make you an offer.”
A glint came into the Dragon’s eye and slowly a smile slid across his face. “Continue young one.”
“We’ll leave, both of us. Go away to some far off land and have an adventure. You’ll have to leave your forest, and I know that’ll be hard. I also have to leave my
village, my family and friends, but I feel this is our best choice. You are my friend and therefore I can’t kill you, if you feel the same than leave with me and we’ll never return.”
The Dragon fell silent. Taro watched the smile leave its face and his stomach clenched with fear. If the Dragon refused his offer they would be forced to fight and Taro was not stupid, he knew he had no chance against the beast. He’d meant what he’d said, he didn’t wish to fight his friend and he prayed with all his heart that it wouldn’t come to that.
The Dragon brought his head up high, stretching his neck to its full height far above Taro forcing him to lean back and look up. When he spoke his voice was stern, “I’ve fought hard to keep this land my own. I’ve lived here my whole life. This forest is mine and you ask me so easily to leave it. What do I gain by your offer? Friend or not, I do nothing for free.”
Taro gulped hard, his thoughts racing. He spat out the first thing that came to mind, “Greater lands, adventure! You say you’ve lived here your whole life Spirit, haven’t you ever dreamed of other places, of seeing the world, experiencing what else is out there? Leave with me and we will see it all together.”
“You forget how old I am young one, so ancient I don’t even know my true age. An old soul like myself should be settled, in one place awaiting the end, not gallivanting
around the earth in search of long lost adventure. Why should I join you when I can so easily crush you and end all this?”
“A wise Spirit once told me age is but a number. Being 700 doesn’t make you old anymore than being 15 makes me a man. It’s how you feel on the inside that matters…”
In the silence that followed Taro could feel his heart racing and his palms sweating. Slowly the Dragon lowered his head and brought it down to Taro’s level. There was no smile yet its features had lightened.
“You are far smarter than any man who has ever come into this wood to face me. In a war with muscle and strength you would most certainly have been bested. Instead you’ve fought with words, something no man has ever done before.” The Dragon paused and breathed out slowly. “Grab your sword boy,” Taro felt his stomach drop, “If we are to travel you should have a way to defend yourself from what is out there.”
Taro stood dumbfounded for a moment, not sure if he’d heard the Dragon right. “You’re going to join me?” He felt his fear replaced by excitement making his heart beat even faster.
The Dragon smiled almost as cheekily as Ian, “First friends with a human, now traveling the world with him, life never ceases to amaze me.” The Dragon tilted his head and focused on Taro, “Though I can think of no one else I’d rather seek my adventure with.”
“Nor I Spirit…”
“Oh and now that you can no longer call me Spirit I guess I shall have to tell you my real name, Ferindor.”
“Ferindor,” Taro repeated the name and smiled at his friend. “I guess I’ll have to get used to it.”
For anyone who had been watching the skies that day they would have seen the immense body of Ferindor rising from the trees and the small speck of Taro holding on for his life on the Dragon’s back. They both said their goodbyes to the places they knew and loved and with only a few powerful strokes of Ferindor’s Wings they were so far away they looked like no more than a bird flying off in the horizon.
Though the people of the village never saw Taro again they also were never harassed by the Dragon and it was quickly decided that though Taro had died he’d done so slaying the Dragon and freeing his people. To this day stories are told, and ballads are sung in Taro’s honour. The man who was marked by the Dragon.
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