The Beginning Part 1
The ancients tell a story of a fierce dragon who was tamed by the love of a woman. It is the story of how a woman saw past the beast to the heart of the man inside and came to love them both.
The small island nation of Konets Sveta, meaning World’s End, sat in a bowl of ice and harsh cold circling the open Arctic sea. As the daughter of the king, Karina was much loved by her father’s subjects. Although her home was unforgiving, she loved it and its people. But there was a plague that descended on the Svetians over a century before her birth. A great black beast that breathed fire took dominion over them. A dragon. The beast brought with him darkness and death for he demanded a bride be given to him to perpetuate his rule. If no bride was provided, he would take a blood sacrifice from the fearful villagers.
A lottery was set up for all the village maidens who had come of age, between fifteen and eighteen. Their names would be added to a sealed box. The villagers would gather around the sacred fires in the center of the great hall. The elders would pray to the dragon to keep peace with them and accept the bride they offered to him. The box would be shaken vigorously over the sacred fires into a ceremonial stone bowl and the names of the maidens would be revealed. This was done six times and each time, the fires would heat the bowl to reveal the name of the chosen maiden.
The maidens were taken from their homes and families to be prepared as offerings to the dragon. One maiden from the group would be chosen by the dragon to breed. The chosen maiden never returned. It was only assumed she didn’t survive the mating but no one knew for sure. The maidens were cleaned and dressed in traditional Svetian wedding garb. It was as if they were prepared for what would have been their human groom instead of the scaly beast who preyed upon them. Once the preparations were complete, the maidens were escorted to an open area of a small inlet that held small boats built just for this act.
The elders would sing the dragon’s song, the song that would summon the beast and the maidens were laid in the boats. There would be great lamenting from the young girls and from their mothers. This was not a joyous occasion. This was a death knell. As the wind picked up from the flap of the massive leather like wings, an unholy silence would spill over the inlet. The dragon would circle the boats inspecting his offering. In one fell swoop, his gigantic claws would clasp one of the boats. Amidst blood curdling screams for mercy, the bride would be chosen.
Karina would soon be celebrating her eighteenth birthday. It fell on the Day of Choosing. She often wondered why she nor any of the royal women since the practice was put in place had been chosen before. Her curiosity getting the better of her, she snuck into the king’s private meeting room where he was gathered with the elders. Tucking herself behind a large decorative wooden screen, she peeked anxiously through the intricate scrollwork.
“Your Majesty, the tiles are ready. They have been inscribed with the names of the maidens who will be part of the Choosing this year.” Elder Ivan regarded King Leonid, leaning heavily on his carved walking stick. “We have taken great care to exclude the women of the royal house.” Exclude? What did Elder Ivan mean by that?
“I trust you, Elder Ivan,” her father’s deep voice answered. “I cannot have one of my daughters sacrificed to that savage beast.” Karina couldn’t believe what she was hearing. What made her more special than the maidens in the village? Was it simply because she had royal blood and they did not? Did that somehow elevate her above the Choosing? “It will never get a bride of royal heritage. That would make it a king. I refuse to share my crown with anyone or anything.”
So that’s what this was all about. Her father and the kings before her were nothing more than selfish men who thought so little of their subjects that they would use them to assuage the appetites of the great beast while they sat untouched in the palace. Tears were freely coursing down Karina’s cheeks as she tried to come to terms with her father’s words. She thought of all those frightened girls, some of whom had been her friends. They were stripped of everything just to be offered in her place. She could not let that happen again.
The Day of Choosing had arrived, along with Karina’s eighteenth birthday. She had taken special care that morning to bathe in fragrantly scented water and have her long hair intricately woven. Her mother’s wedding attire was hidden in the hollow of an old tree by the inlet. Only one boat remained in the water. The rest she had let loose and watched them float out to the open sea. She would not let another girl go in her place. What her ancestors and her father had done was barbaric in her mind. She would set things right, even if she was the only one brave enough to stand against tradition.
The Choosing ceremony had begun and just as she suspected, none of the names of the princesses were among the tiles revealed. She steeled herself against the anguished cries of the six chosen maidens as they were dragged away to be prepared. She silently slipped away from her father and made her way down to the inlet. She quickly donned her mother’s wedding attire and stood in the small boat waiting. It was not long before the villagers walked down the path, the dragon’s song of summoning sounding from their lips. When the elders arrived with the six maidens, a great hush whispered through the people.
“Karina!” her father yelled. “My child, what are you doing?” Squaring her shoulders, she tilted her chin up in defiance.