Note: I’ve rewritten and reorganized (and added a bit to) the beginning of Dragon Land (working title). Here it is, and I hope from here on just to post new additions, although this is a work in progress, so no guarantees (Updated to add: The rest of the novel can be found here):
The villagers watched in fear as the huge shape circled over their village. No one had seen it until it had started circling. By then it was far too late to run for cover ― no sense attracting its attention. So they stood frozen wherever they had been on its arrival.
After what seemed an eternity to the terrified villagers, the dragon landed in the village square. Its tail caught the edge of the village fountain and stone tumbled to the ground. The noise was explosive in the silent village.
The dragon leaned its head down to the nearest villager and boomed, “Where is your chief?”
The trembling villager pointed across the square to the largest house, where the chief stood. The dragon turned ponderously and announced, “I require a person.”
The gasp echoed through the village. It was one thing to be eaten, quite another to be asked for first.
The dragon blinked and seemed to realize the misunderstanding. “Oh, not to eat. I don’t eat humans. You taste nasty. No. I require a human to return with me to my land and break the curse on my family.”
“No,” said the chief.
“No? No? What do you mean, no? I am a dragon. I could char you and your village to ashes in seconds!”
“I mean no. Kill us all if you must, but I will not ask one of my people to serve the object of their fears.”
The dragon stared, uncertain what to do. She had threatened flames, but she needed a live human, and this was the first village where the inhabitants hadn’t run screaming at the first sight of her. She had been flying for days, and she was tired and worried about her family. She didn’t really feel like finding another village.
A soft voice spoke into the silence. “I’ll do it.”
The chief’s reaction was instantaneous. “No! I forbid it.”
“But Father, if I volunteer, we don’t get charred, and you don’t have to force someone to face their fears.”
“But, but … Melinda, I can’t let you go!”
“I’m sorry, Daddy. I love you and Mother, but I must go. Goodbye.”
And the chief’s eldest daughter walked calmly up to the dragon and swung herself up. The dragon leaped into the sky and flew away to the west, whence it had come.
Jeric fed a few more small sticks into the fire and adjusted the spit with the rabbit. He carefully laid the spit in the forks of the wooden supports he had carved. There. Finely balanced this time, it wouldn’t fall in the fire like last night. Perhaps he was getting the hang of it, this living off the land.
A while later, he reached for the spit to turn the rabbit over. His hand touched the spit, and jerked at a whooshing crashing noise in the forest behind him. The rabbit fell into the fire. He swore. He fished it out of the flames, replaced it on the supports, and turned to investigate the noise. He saw a smallish dragon folding its wings in the clearing, obviously having just landed. To his surprise, a girl slid off the dragon’s back and fell over. He suppressed the urge to run over and glided behind a tree, instead. He needed more information before he revealed himself.
He watched the dragon speak to the girl, listening to the deep rumblings without understanding the words. When the girl nodded and turned towards the nearby stream, Jeric turned back to his campsite tucked next to a massive tree. He quickly doused the fire, packed his meager belongings, and grabbed the rabbit spit. He strode into the forest away from the dragon. He did not think he was in danger, but he must think about these new developments and his place in them before he was discovered.
Melinda stretched by the stream. It felt good to be off the dragon. She knelt and splashed her face with water and took a drink, then lay down motionless, her fingers dangling in the water. She put her strange journey out of her mind, paying attention only to the movement of the clear water and the shadows in it. Soon a small fish, reassured by her motionlessness, came bumping up against her fingers. Ever so slowly, she closed her fingers around it, lifted it from the stream, and laid it on the bank. It thrashed while she held it. She found her little knife with her other hand and slit its belly. She carried her prize back to the clearing where she was happy to find a tiny fire. She cooked the trout and ate it, then stretched out next to the sleeping dragon. She closed her eyes, only for a moment, she told herself.
The dragons awoke as the sun spilled into the sunrise facing cave mouth. They had slept like usual, all curled into one big scaly ball. They stretched into the rising sun and began to crawl out of the cave.
Erithyima, the matriarch, said, “I hope Christalos comes home today. She has been gone long on her moving about. I wish she would come home and be a grown dragon.”
The others murmured agreement and began to prepare the morning meal, lighting a fire in the pit and opening the grain bins.
A tuneless droning sound began. The dragons looked at each other in bewilderment and confusion. It was a very odd sound for a sun shining, clear morning.
Two legged beings rushed into the clearing, spinning in rapid circles, hooded cloaks swirling around their lithe bodies. They flung dust in the dragons’ faces, and before they could draw breath for fire, they fell to the ground with heavy thumps, choking. There was silence.
The two legged ones pushed back their hoods. The leader spoke. “Good. Nessie, put out their little fire. No need for a wildfire.” She smiled. “Don’t want to ruin this prime farmland here. The rest of you, come with me. Let’s start surveying our new property.”
She strode off, the others scurrying in her wake. One stayed to douse the fire. She turned for the water bucket. One old dragon, unseen by her, forced open an eye and saw her and knew her for human. Then he fainted again.
Melinda’s eyes flew open. She saw the dragon peering at her. “Are you alright, human child? You cried out.”
“I dreamed. Of dragons like you.”
The dragon was fierce. “Tell me.”
“I was in a clearing, by a fire pit. A cave was in front of me. I could see a lot of dragons, curled up together. It was dark, but the sky was lightening. A shaft of sunlight slanted into the cave, and the dragons began to move. A old one, her scales fading, and her horns curling, moved slowly out of the cave. The others moved aside to let her pass. She was talking about missing another dragon, a young one, and wishing she would come back.” Melinda paused as the dragon’s eyes closed, and a silver tear ran down the side of her face. “Do you want me to go on?”
“Yes.” The dragon’s voice vibrated with the force of the word, and she opened her eyes.
“All the dragons came into the clearing then. Some began lighting a fire in the pit, some began opening bins at the side of the clearing. It looked like they were preparing the morning meal. Then I heard a droning noise. I thought it was humans chanting. The dragons could hear it too, but they didn’t seem to know what it was. They looked around with puzzled eyes. Then many cloaked humans came into the clearing, flinging powder about. When it fell on the dragons, they began to cough and choke. Then they fell over. I cried out, but no one heard me. When all the powder was gone, and the dragons fallen, the humans pushed back their hoods. The leader told one to put out the fire, and took the others to survey the land. She said it was theirs, now. One dragon opened his eyes when she was gone, but fainted again very quickly. Then I woke up.”
“Have you dreamed true before, child?”
Melinda thought about lying, but she looked up into the dragon’s eyes and knew that the truth was very important now. She felt safe with the dragon, too, although she could think of no reason why she should.
“Yes, I have. The old seeress in my village was just beginning to train me. She said I can only see true, I cannot see the reasons for what I see, for now. I need more training, she said. But two nights before you came to my village, I dreamed a dragon would come, and that I should go with it.”
The dragon blinked, then nodded slowly. “I can see that the time has come for me to tell you more about our tasks.”
Melinda swallowed hard. She stared deep into the dragon’s golden eyes. They both failed to see a slight movement in the trees behind them.
The dragon began to speak, slowly and softly. “I am Christalos, the young dragon you heard spoken of in your dream. I believe that you dreamed of what befell my family two weeks ago. I was away on what we call moving about, a travel that young dragons do just before reaching adulthood. It is supposed to last a year, but I had delayed coming home.
“I was visiting another farm not too far away from my family’s land, but I was flirting with the young farmer there. He achieved adulthood shortly before I went on moving about, and I had dreamed of coupling with him. So I was late coming home. The old one you heard wishing I would come home, I expect that was my grandmother.
“I came home late that same day, actually, and found my family in an unnatural hibernation, scattered about the clearing in front of our home. I tried to rouse them, but none responded to me except my old uncle, who opened an eye, whispered, ‘Humans. Run.’ and lapsed back into hibernation. Just then I heard women’s voices, coming towards me. I slid into the cave and held perfectly still. They were laughing about how easy it had been to subdue the dragons. They left soon after, and I fled. I thought about going to my friend at the next farm for help, but what if we were as easily maimed as my family had been? I decided to seek the help of other humans. I have spent two weeks searching the nearby human villages for a human who wouldn’t run on sight.”
Miranda was puzzled. “How can I help you? I am merely a young girl who might be a seeress from an isolated village on the edge of the empire.”
Christalos smiled. “Ah, but you forget one thing. You are human and so you can go places and talk to people to whom I cannot. Best of all, you are a woman, and so you can go talk to the humans who did this to my family, since I think they are all women, too.”
Miranda blanched. “I don’t think so.”
“Oh, yes, my dear. You agreed to help me, after all.” Christalos smiled widely, showing all her large teeth.
Suddenly Miranda remembered that dragons are much longer lived than humans, and so even a young dragon, on the cusp of adulthood, might be one or two centuries old and vastly more experienced than she, also on the cusp of human adulthood.
Christalos spoke again. “Now that’s settled, I think we better get some sleep. First thing in the morning, you can go looking for these women.”