Lost: A Tale of Draco The Dragon
By Neil Beynon
For Ziggy on his 8th birthday.
“Hello, it’s been a while.”
“Gone? Oh, no son, I’m never gone. Sometimes, when the journey is long and hard, we don’t need to talk, it’s enough for us to know we are with you.”
“A story? I was worried you were reaching an age where you wouldn’t want a tale anymore. I know: silly.”
“Sit here, next to me. What happened to Draco next? Well, that’s funny you should ask because I was just thinking about it. That’s why I’m out here, in the dark, looking out at the universe.”
“No one knows how big the universe is really, we know how much we can see, right now. We know how many of its rules work in the part where we live and the time we have seen here. We don’t know if there are regions where those rules break down or a time when they did not apply. We do not know a lot. The multiverse? We know even less. There may be universes where time runs backward or where gravity is a storm or those that are smaller in size than you. You can wander reality for eternity and not reach the end. Out here though, if you listen carefully, you can just hear the sound of reality, like waves crashing on a beach. Count them – 1, 2, 3… they will guide you… 4, 5, 6 …you can always find them with your breath… 7, 8, 9… they will stop you getting…
Lost. The dragon flew high over the clear crisp snow, his shadow perfectly cast on its shining surface. The ruby red dragon was lost and no matter which direction he kept the sun in, he could not find the end of the snow or his mother. The dragon rolled over, letting the sun warm his golden belly against the cold. He could not recall how he came to be here, caught between the blue and the white. He knew his name was Draco. He knew his mother was Caerwen. He knew his life thus far. He knew the worlds he had lost – the one he barely knew and the one he had lived a lifetime in. He just did not know where this was or how he had found himself here.
He knew he was lost.
Draco threw out his wings, drifting down to the cold powder of the ground, his claws marking the virgin snow. All was flat. All was silent. The dragon felt his anger growing in his belly, hot and violent, like a summer storm. He let the pressure build until he thought he would burst. Then he roared. Flame burst from his jaws, scorching the snow, beating it back: deeper and deeper the snow parted, until the dragon found he had no fire left.
Draco stared at the valley that he had made in the snow. The wood was deep enough for the dragon to jump into and be hidden from view entirely. There was no snow at the bottom, only rock, blackened and scorched with nothing to distinguish it from anything else.
Draco felt cold. Draco felt alone.
This was no place for a dragon. No place for anyone. He knew if he stayed. The cold would slow his brain, and his blood, and he’d want to lie down, and he might never leave again. His wings already ached from flying and so he resolved to walk. He walked until the sunset in the west and rose again in the east. When he could walk no further, he flew once more. The sunset in the west and rose in the east once more.
On the third day, Draco was walking again, his wings dragging in the snow as if made of lead, feeling he would need to give some thought to sleep, when he saw a plume of smoke ahead. For a moment, he feared he had just walked in a giant loop and was back to the valley he had made in the snow.
He remembered how long he had been walking, deciding this made that unlikely. Draco unfurled his wings, leaping into the air to get a better look at the source of the fire. Years had passed since he had seen another dragon, a nasty creature, and he knew the danger well. A few miles distant: a small hillock, nothing more than a collection of rocks and hardy shrubs, protruding from the ice and snow. A figure was huddled by a small fire, hooded and hard to see. Draco would have sworn none had been there the day before.
The dragon had no choice really. There was nothing else for miles and he could not keep walking forever. He went towards the smoke. He knew humans would be fearful of dragons, with good reason, and so he landed a short walk from the hillock. He waited.
Sure enough, a short while later, the figure could be seen pushing itself to its feet and turning to walk down out the snow. The human took longer than Draco would have supposed to reach him. Who rushes to meet a dragon? Thought Draco.
The human was a man. Draco was disappointed it wasn’t his mother.
“Hello there,” said the human, pushing back his hood. He revealed a weather-beaten face and a beard as full of as much grey as brown, his hair a tangle that had barely been tamed, his clothes stained as if from a long journey. He looked weary but not unkind.”
“Hello,” said the dragon.
“Where are you going?” asked man.
Draco thought. “I’m not sure.”
The man laughed: “Lost?”
“Me too,” said the man. “Join me by the fire, dragon, you must be cold.”
“Are you sure?” asked Draco. “Many fear me.”
“Do you plan to eat me?”
“Good,” said the man. “Come with me.”
Draco followed the man up the hillock, thinking it seemed bigger now he was down on the ground. The fire was actually shielded from the tundra wind by a series of standing stones that looked ancient from their gnarled and pitted surfaces. Draco had not spotted them from the air.
“They’re pretty well embedded,” said the man. “You can rest against them.”
Draco settled himself down against them, enjoying the way they supported his aching back and the way they reflected the heat of the fire, warming him. The man sat cross-legged on the other side of the fire.
“Have we met before?” asked the man. As if seeing dragons was the most common thing in the world.
“I do not think so,” replied Draco.
It felt like so long since he had spoken to another creature that the sound of his own voice made him jump.
“Easy big fella,” said the man. “How did you come to be here?”
Draco thought. “I don’t remember.”
The man raised his eyebrows.
“I know that sounds foolish…” began Draco, flicking his tail.
“Not at all…” answered the man, poking the fire with a stick. “I don’t know how I got here either.”
Draco stared at the fire, sparks of light sparking off the burning wood.
“Magic,” said the dragon.
“Do you think so?” asked the man.
“Perhaps,” said Draco, looking at the setting sun. “It would explain much but usually I can scent a spell.”
The man said nothing. He seemed mesmerised by the fire.
“I wish my mother were here,” said the dragon. “She would know.”
“One dragon is enough for me.”
“My mother is not a dragon, she is a witch,” said Draco.
The man poked the fire again. “I would be worried if a witch were here, just in case she decided to turn me in to a frog.”
“You are a strange human.”
The man smiled. “I’d get over my fear if she were one of those pretty witches that like to dance around at midnight.”
“You’re making fun of me.”
The man laughed. He shook his head. “No, dragon. I am not. Just trying to cheer you up.”
“Hard to be cheerful when you are lost and have no idea where to go.”
The man folded his arms. He looked around the tundra as the sky fell to black. There was not a star in the sky and there had been nothing to navigate by for many nights. Draco could not recall when he saw them last.
“Where do you suppose the stars are?” asked the man.
“I don’t know,” answered Draco. “I was telling my mother only the other day that I had not seen them for ages…”
The man stared at the dragon. “Go on…”
“I remember something,” said Draco, excited. He tried to grab for the memory, but it danced away from his mind’s eye like a frightened bird.
“Where were you?”
The man smiled. “Well, you are doing better than me, I cannot remember anything after the meteor shower.”
“Meteor shower?” asked Draco, feeling uneasy at the mention of this event though he could not say why.
The man nodded. “I woke here after that. I think.” He stood and threw another log on the fire. “I can’t complain. It’s a nice enough house.”
Draco looked over at the small wooden cottage at the base of the hill, nestled by snow, smoke billowed from a stone chimney. He felt itchy here. Something was pressing on him, some thought that flew into the edge of his mind’s eye and flew away again whenever he moved near to it.
“It’s late,” said the man, sounding tired.
“We should go in little one,” said the man.
Draco stood. He felt lighter, he looked behind him at the standing stones and could not see his wings. He looked down at the ground and saw two feet. Human feet.
“What is this?”
“I don’t know,” said the man. “We need to go and get some rest. We’ll figure it out in the morning.”
“No,” said Draco, looking up at the sky.
There was nothing, just void. He turned inwards, looking with his mind’s eye. The bird landed once more.
“I was looking at the sky, I couldn’t see the stars. I hadn’t seen them in such a long time: not the stars, not the ghosts. I felt…”
Draco looked over at the man, but the human was not there. In his place stood a dragon: large and gnarly with age. His wine dark scales looked scarred and weather-beaten, his whiskers falling in soft silver strands.
“Lost,” said Draco. He felt his skin pricking as if the icy wind of the tundra was just for him.
“Me too,” said the larger dragon.
Draco walked towards him. He reached out with human hands he had never used in this world, and not at all since a time when he had been a king. He placed his hands on the scales of the dragon and let the warmth of the beast ease the bite of the icy wind.
“We have met before,” said the larger dragon. “I am sure of it.”
“Perhaps,” said Draco, feeling dizzy.
The fire cracked. A piece of wood smoking in the heart of it sent sparks into the sky. They looked like stars in the black. Briefly making a pattern that Draco knew like the back of his claws. He looked down. His hand was a red claw. He opened and folded his wings once more.
The man stepped next to him, placing his hand on the dragon’s shoulder.
He spoke: “This is like a…”
“…dream.” Finished Draco. He looked at the man. “I think it is a dream.”
The man held the dragon’s gaze.
“Are you sure?”
Draco nodded. The house had gone, the tundra remained. The dragon’s eyes stung but whether it was from the wind or something else, he could not say.
“We never met,” said Draco. “Though I wish it were otherwise.”
“Oh,” said the man.
Draco let himself change as he had once done in another world where he had lived a lifetime. They looked alike now enough now, the resemblance as pronounced as when they were dragons.
“The real question,” said Draco. “is am I dreaming of you, or you of me?”
“Does it matter?” asked the man.
“I suppose not,” said Draco, holding his hand.
The ground shifted. There was another crack, this loud enough for them to let go of each other and cover their ears. When Draco looked up, he was a dragon once more though the man was now on the other side of a gulf in the ice.
“How do we find our way home?” asked the man.
Draco looked down into the gulf, old plants and shrubs lined the dead ground where the ice had been. He thought of his mother’s words and of the sparks in the fire and how dreams and magic are alike but different. He let all the fire in his belly build with all the anger in his chest at the unfair and uncaring multiverse and roared flame into the gulf in the ice. The fire rolled down the wound in the ice, igniting the plant matter on the rock underneath and sending flames high into the night. As the fire grew higher, flecks of sparks lifted into the black where they became stars. The stars became patterns in the sky, constellations and one shone brighter than the others. A constellation that looked like a wonky saucepan that pointed towards north.
“Follow the stars,” said Draco.
The man’s side of the ice was drifting away. In the distance, three lights were moving amongst the stars: silver, purple and one that was all the colours of reality.
“How will I find you again?” asked the man.
“You don’t need to,” said the dragon. “I’m not lost.”
Draco woke. The standing stones stretched out around him, like a stone house with no roof. Caerwen stirred next to him, lifting her head and pushing her dark hair out of her face so she could look at him with her sharp green eyes.
“Hey,” she said. “Did you see them?”
“See,” she said. “The stars are always there, even if you can’t see them.”
“Look at you asleep already. Never mind, cariad. I’ll carry you in. Plenty more stories about Draco to tell you, when you need them. Good night, son. Sleep well.