What seemed to be was that children held all the secrets of history, and adults only seemed to remember the things of which they wanted. So, when it came to mythical kingdoms, like the one of Gambrille, and dragons; it was the children that held onto the belief that these things were real, and adults just went about their days. These things were written about in books, but books that weren’t required reading in the village classrooms (which habitants of Springborough only had to attend until they were twelve years old) or in the lessons of the royals, who only learned of the popular, more successful kingdoms, and the politics contained therein. A kingdom that had not only been such a failure as to not exist anymore, but also to be scrubbed from the books of world history, was not one King Daniel wanted his children to gleam any information from.
In fact, the most knowledgable of the subject of forgotten histories and extinct animals, were the people of the Village of Fortis. They did not have a school in their tiny collections of huts in the woods, but that did not make them unintelligent. In Fortis, children relied on their parents for knowledge. The parents would first teach the children how to speak and how to eat. When the child was five years old, they would graduate to hunting, and learn how to purify river water in order not to get sick from drinking it. It was around seven that the children asked questions about the world, and sometimes the parents would know the exact answer, or sometimes they would relay the information they were told (and sometimes, they would just make something up, since not all parents tell the truth when backed into a corner).
This was why the people of the village believed the Severinus woman named Jaklyn when she said the kingdom that everyone was talking about, the Kingdom of Gambrille, was her family’s.
Jaklyn and John would tell stories that their own parents had passed down, of how the family was from Delfia, from a seaport town named Asbury. Asbury was a town for docking merchant vessels that came to do business in the Valley of Cherries. The Severinus family had grown tired of being in a town that seemed to be between one of the great Kingdoms of Consequence and the rest of the world. Since, John’s great grandmother did not like the business of the merchant town, they decided to see what was on the other side of the sea, and set sail for discovery.
No one in the family was a nautical expert, nor did they keep proper journals to record their particular voyages. So when they found a land mass that “one could see three of its shores from the middle” it was impossible to tell where exactly they had sailed. They decided it was as far as they could go; that the great unknown of the sea seemed to only carry the promise of dehydration and death. So they settled on this island that had very little flat area and one large mountain.
The villagers of Fortis had been passing down the legend for ages that not one person who was still living could recall ever meeting anyone who had ever seen it for themselves. Nobody could verify that Gambrille was more than a Severinus myth. No one could tell what exactly it looked like, even though, through the years, through multiple tellings of the Kingdom, every storyteller added a piece of detail to its description.
According to hearsay, it was in the perfect spot to avoid an ambush. Jaklyn and John’s ancestors were so enthralled by the mountain, having been living at sea level their entire lives, that they climbed the mountain as far as they could breathe, and began building the kingdom downward.
Once they were properly set up, they sent their children, which would be John’s great, great grandparents, to the shores. They told them to use all of the empty bottles, that had stored drinking water on their boat, as containers for messages. “Throw them out to the waters and the tide to get our position out to the world,” they commanded.
The message was simple- “To find us, set sail from Delfia, and once you get lost, keep on going.”
The mother, a self-titled Queen of the new Mountain kingdom, would trap the birds of the island, and would attach the same message to their legs. Much of those birds didn’t migrate, and so the Kingdom of Gambrille was filled with crows and gulls that had paper tied to their legs.
According to the legend, people did start showing up, sailing to the northern shore of Gambrille to march south toward the mountain. Some say they had found the message in the bottle while they were already lost at sea, and it had given them hope to keep going. Nobody had come from Delfia upon getting the message, and only four people said they set sail from SanBay when they shot, killed, and ate a bird that carried the message on its leg.
And so, the kingdom grew, the myth says…
The poorest people of the kingdom lived at the base of the mountain, and the richest people lived at the top. Not that there was much disparity between the two groups, as the rich were very giving of anything they had. They would dine regularly on the meat from mountain goats and bighorn sheep, and they would farm berries when the rocky exterior gave way to patches of soil. Harvesters would make sure to shake the trees periodically, covering their kingdoms in: raspberries, blueberries, service berries, chokecherries, mahonia cherries, and rose hips. The people of Gambrille would put wooden bowls outside of their door at night, and by morning, they would be filled with the most succulent array of berries one could ever wish for.
Where the story of the dragon came from, nobody knew. It, at first, was the reason for the kingdom’s downfall. The story went that it had built a nest inside of the mountain, but the kingdom was too close. So when the dragon laid eggs, and the eggs hatched into baby dragons, the slightest movement of the people, once ignored by the great beast, would send the dragon into a maternal protective tither, and the dragon would scorch anybody outside of their huts. This meant that no one could go hunt, or shake the trees, and eventually every resident of Gambrille laid down in their beds, with empty stomachs and dry blood, and fell asleep forever in their sheets.
Then, an odd thing happened to the stories. It was as if one person was telling it this way, and suddenly another went “no, that’s not how it happened.” Suddenly, the stories started telling of a friendlier dragon, a dragon that would fly around the mountaintop, nonstop, creating a breeze for the villagers whenever the day got too hot. The force of the dragon wings would spiral the clouds, making the top of the mountain look as if it was piercing the center of the sky. This dragon was a protector of sorts, “probably had a name” the Fortis children would speculate, and suddenly charcoal drawings of the beast would adorn hut walls, as the children’s imagination would go wild at the possibilities of such a creature.
“The dragon’s scales seemed to have fire trapped inside them as the scale itself was red with orange glowing edges.” “Its body was covered in fringe which acted like the whiskers of a cat, filled with nerve endings letting it know everything from wind speed and direction, to how small a cave was and whether its body would fit in it.” “A dragons mouth wasn’t rounded down the edges, but rather more like a rectangular shape, holding within it a square tongue.” “The teeth were in three rows, with the first row by the lips about the height of a small child, and about as wide as a log on the fire. The next row was smaller and sharper, and the final row by the tongue was the smallest and sharpest, but gave the appearance of the dragon eating like a grain-grinder.” “The first teeth would take off the chunks, and inside the mouth, flesh and bone would be dragged across the sharp interior teeth by its tongue.” “In one bite, a man would disappear, but his screams could still be heard inside as he was slowly torn apart.”
The dragon in some stories ate people. In some stories, it did not. The elders of the village liked to say that the dragon was more trying to quench a thirst, which it often did with the black blood of the earth, the liquid that seemed to catch fire and never stop. To make the story more interesting, the younger villagers would say the dragon drank straight lava from the top of the mountain (even though, mountains and volcanos were two separate things). Either way, the dragons breathed fire as their lungs were able to take the various gases from the sky and use them to ignite a burst of flames that would incinerate a man down to his bones in a matter of moments. (It was believed, that the story of a dragon burning a man before eating him was only a lesson to children to properly cook the bacteria out of their meat before eating it. “If a dragon has to wait until it is safe to eat a man, you can wait to eat this leg of lamb.”)
So, whether one believed the dragon was there to guard Gambrille or destroy it, the one thing all the stories agreed on was the fact that it was because of the dragon that nobody knew where the Kingdom was. It was why nobody who found it lived to tell of it, and it was why nobody in Gambrille could ever leave.
To the adults, mythical kingdoms were preposterous and the inclusion of the dragon made them even more of a fairy tale and unnecessary in nature. The children of Fortis were especially interested in these tales. Whatever might have been fact had been lost or diluted by adults as they made up their own version of events in order to talk long enough to put their children to sleep at night. If a generation or two ago the story was close enough to the original story to be able to find Gambrille, all of that was thrown to the wayside when one family put Gambrille beyond Baku, and another put it Eastward past the Valley of Cherries.
By the time Brynn heard the tale, the Kingdom of Gambrille could have been anywhere. She knew there was Fortis miners, and so not only could Gambrille be on the surface somewhere, some island out on the waters, but maybe it was underneath the ground, in a wide open cavern. She was hard pressed to believe the stories of the dragon as well, but maybe it wasn’t a flying dragon, but a burrowing great lizard? She pondered this one day while cultivating a field, breaking up the soil for better planting. Taking a break, she looked northward where she could just make out the tip of the Wintertide Mountain.
“Has anyone seen the North side of that mountain?” Brynn would ask her mother one day.
“Aye,” Jaklyn responded, “Boats have gone the water way.”
“What do they see?”
“Nothing,” her mother said, tucking her daughter into bed. “They say it looks as if the world ends on the other side of the mountain. And it’s nothing but water, icebergs and fog.”
“Could Gambrille be there?”
“If it is, who’d want it? A frozen kingdom? Eat ice for dinner, drink ice water for breakfast? Nothing could live there. For our sake, let’s hope it’s not.”
“Where do you think our kingdom is?” JJ would ask.
“If it is real,” Jaklyn would say, and she’d point to her heart.
And then she would point to her head, “if it is not real.”