Secret: A Tale of Draco The Dragon
By Neil Beynon
For Ziggy on his 9th birthday.
There you are. I’ve been looking for you everywhere. What are you doing out here?
Ah, yes, of course: the stars. There’s Orion with his sword. Have I told you about Orion? Ah, yes, I did. I’ve told you so many now that I lose track and of course you’re getting to an age now where you don’t want to listen to silly old me wittering on.
What’s that constellation?
Oh, that’s the plough, kid. You remember the magic, don’t you?
Above the plough…
Ah, well, that’s a trick now, isn’t it? You know that’s Draco. Do I take it you would like to hear more about our scaly friend? Well. Of course. I’ll just get this fire going.
There. Warmth enough for stories.
Stars are magic. You already know that, but did you know that everything we are, everything that has ever been, everything that ever will be has come from stars. We are all stardust someone once said…
Yes, I know it was Carl Sagan, but I’m impressed you do and that he actually said star stuff. Stardust is more poetic.
Anyway, as I was saying, stars are also guides. They can help a wanderer navigate the desert or the mountains or the sky or the sea. Imagine, the vastness of the oceans that cover more of this planet than any other surface and that you can never really be entirely lost while you have a star to steer by. You can see them?
Now picture a boat.
No little rowboat, a sailing warship with her prow in the carved shaped of a large purple- scaled dragon, and her small crew working the ship against the wine dark sea. No other ships nearby. Only the stars of the night sky above them for company. Smell the brine and the faint scent of rum. The gentle waves slapping against the hull.
You listen. You count the waves.
…somewhere there is a sound like a broadsword being swung in big looping arcs, repeating over and over again… 4, 5, 6…
…somewhere there is a sound like the roaring of storm tide, a flash of light in the distance. 7, 8, 9…
…the call goes out from the crow’s nest…
The ship’s sailors paused at the call. Several of the men, all archers by the look of them, stepped back from the cohort on the deck. Silently, they moved to the deck master who handed them their bows and arrows. The dragon’s flames lit up the sky, revealing flashes of red and gold on his hide. Behind him, darting in and out of view was a woman on a broomstick.
Yaasa wasn’t sure that what he was seeing was real. He had commanded this ship, Cadwaldr, for five years but he had been sailing since he was a boy and seen many strange things – some terrifying, some wonderful. Mermaids off the coast of Nirvana. Giant octopi in the jade sea far to the west, and herds of winged horses on the cliffs of Swarg.
“Light the lanterns,” ordered Yaasa.
“Captain,” replied Blake, the first mate. “Are you sure that is wise?”
Yaasa clenched his jaw for a moment. Blake was a relatively new addition to the crew, his previous first mate having been given a ship of her own by the king Poseidon. He had been pleased for her at the time but the easy-going partnership Yassa had once enjoyed had been replaced with constant questioning.
“How do you expect our archers to defend against a dragon without light?”
Blake frowned. “They may not need to if it flies on by.”
“Light the lanterns,” said Yaasa, fixing his eyes on Blake.
“As you wish.”
The lanterns spilled light onto the dark water, casting it in glass.
Yaasa watched the archers. They tracked the dragon’s plume of fire with their bows, he was pleased he didn’t have to order everyone. The dragon banked. The creature, nothing more than a shadow most of the time, clearly changed direction back towards the Cadwaldr.
Blake took in an audible breath. It wasn’t quite “I told you so” but not far off.
“Creature was clearly hunting,” said Yaasa, irked with himself. “It would have found us one way or another.”
“Archers draw,” called out Blake.
“Hold,” said Yaasa.
Blake stared at him as if he had gone mad.
“I thought the whole point of lighting the lanterns was…”
“He’s not attacking.”
“How can you say that?”
“Because he is clearly a breather,” said Yaasa, keeping the dragon in the view of his glass.
“And yet he has made no attempt to flame us. We’d go up like a candle if he did.”
Blake stared at him.
“Look for yourself.”
Blake took the spyglass and raised it to his eye.
“I like to know what a creature’s intentions are before trying to kill it,” said Yaasa.
“There’s something else up there,” said Blake.
“Aye,” said Yaasa. “Don’t say it, the crew will be disturbed.”
Blake nodded. “Aye, captain.
“Hold,” shouted Yaasa to the crew.
The dragon drew closer though the witch could not now be seen. Yaasa noted Blake moving closer to the door leading to Yassa’s quarters where there would be a modicum of shelter. Trust was a wonderful thing.
The beat of the dragon’s wings seemed like a loud, slow heartbeat that might belong to some sleeping giant far below the sea, like the titan from whom the king was said to have been born. Yaasa raised his hand in readiness to give the order to loose the bows lest he be wrong about the worm’s intentions. The order would be easy. Safe. Yet he kept his nerve, just as he had been taught as a boy: think, observe, react.
The dragon slowed to a hover, its wings beating only to keep it in the air some distance from the boat. It seemed amused at the sight of the archers in the rigging.
“Well met, Cadwaldr,” said the dragon in a voice that Yaasa could feel in the base of his spine. “What brings you this far out?”
“What business of yours is that?” responded Yaasa, raising his voice to make sure he was heard.
The dragon turned its head to look Yaasa in the eyes. The captain wasn’t sure what he had been expecting – coldness, hunger, evil – but not the warm intelligence he saw looking back at him. He could have been looking another man in the eye.
“Captain, I presume?”
Yaasa inclined his head.
“Are you dragon hunting?”
Yaasa laughed. “No, we have no quarrel with you worm, be on your way and we will be on ours.”
The dragon looked less happy at this. “I am no worm, sir. I am a dragon.”
The dragon looked away to the horizon. “Far enough that if you sailed for a year and day, through night and day, you would never get there, but close enough that if you look up at those stars and dream you would find my homeland.”
“Ah, riddles,” said Yaasa. “Are you proposing to play a game for the ship?”
The dragon laughed.
“I like you,” said the dragon. “You’re funny. Why would I want your ship? I can’t fit on it and human meat is poisonous contrary to what you might have been told.”
Yaasa winced. “How do you know such a thing?”
The dragon laughed. “What happens to dragons who have eaten people? Your kind hunt them and kill them. If that isn’t poison, I know not what is.”
“That’s not the reassurance I was looking for.”
“If I wanted to attack I could have done so.”
“Stand down, archers,” said Yaasa, irked.
Blake made a step forward but Yassa stopped him with a glare.
Yassa turned back to the dragon. “Are you going to ask the other one to come closer?”
The dragon frowned. “You saw her?”
Yaasa nodded. “Do I need to order the archers back into the rigging?”
The dragon shook his head. He called to the other side of the boat. “You can come out mother.”
Yaasa heard footsteps on the deck behind him. Captain and first mate spun as one, swords drawn and pointed at the woman on the deck. She was dressed in a black dress that looked slick like pitch, her hair was the colour of night and her eyes the colour of the ocean on a summer’s day. She held her hands up.
“No harm,” she said.
“It is customary to wait to be invited aboard a ship,” said Yaasa, not lowering his weapon.
“I thought it might be better for your crew if they did not see me land.”
“Captain?” asked Blake, edging closer to the woman.
“How do I know you are safe?” asked Yassa.
The woman smiled. “You don’t but if I meant you harm would I really be standing unarmed on your deck?”
Yaasa lowered his sword. Blake did not.
“Blake,” snapped Yaasa.
The first mate glared but sheathed his sword.
“Why are you out this far?” asked the witch. “The sea of tears is not a place people traverse lightly.”
Yaasa folded his arms. “I cannot say.”
The witch nodded. “The king sent you then.”
Yaasa flushed. He hated being read by people. It was a rare occurrence these days and he could not understand how the witch did it with such ease.
“Captain Yassa,” said the witch. “You should turn back, you are in danger.”
Yaasa raised his eyebrow. His head felt strange, itchy almost. “You have me at a disadvantage, lady.”
“Where are my manners?” said the witch. She bowed low. “I am Caerwen. The dragon is my adopted son, Draco.”
Yaasa frowned. “Draco?”
The witch straightened and smiled. “An educated man I see. Draco’s true name is a secret known only to a few, but I suspect you know that even if you have never seen a dragon before.”
That was where he had felt the sensation in his head before. At court, when he went to receive his commission, he had been forced to meet the royal mage and assessed for his suitability for command. The man had rifled through his thoughts as easily as he might his underwear drawer.
“You are skimming my mind,” said Yass, his voice low. “Please stop.”
Caerwen held her hands up again. “Forgive me. Old habits.”
There was a gentle splash alongside the boat, the men drew back from the port side of the boat. Yaasa turned to see the dragon in the water. Draco rolled onto his back and floated in the murk alongside the boat, an occasional flick of his tail keeping him in line with the boat.
“He’s tired,” said Caerwen. “We have been in the air a long time.”
“Why don’t you tell me what you two are doing out this far?”
Caerwen nodded. “We are seeking the ivory gate.”
“That’s a myth,” said Yaasa. “A dangerous one. Why seek a dream gate?”
Caerwen looked at the dragon. Sadness passed over her face and suddenly Yaasa wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
“We have travelled for so long,” said Caerwen, turning away. “Seen and done so much, left so many behind in our endless adventure but sometimes he wants to go back, and the old magic is not enough.”
“Pretty words,” snapped Blake. “Talk plainly.”
The witch blinked. The shadow passed and she smiled once more. “We seek to perform a ritual that might allow the dragon to look in on those he misses.”
“What danger in that?” asked Yaasa.
“There have been stories,” said Caerwen, scratching her head. “They talk of a vortex. That appears to be why no one ventures this far across the Sea of Tears.”
A vortex was not what he wanted to hear when the ship was running in a starlit sea on a fool’s chase. Was the king trying to get rid of us? The target of the ship’s hunt was so fantastical, so ludicrous, that it couldn’t be anything but a fisherman’s tale and an excuse for losing catches.
“What about you?”
Yaasa was about to repeat his order not to speak of their task when there was a shout from the crow’s nest.
Yaasa leapt to the railing. “Where?”
“Starboard, coming in fas…”
The ship shook as something collided with enough forced to cause it to list over to port. Yassa felt himself lurch forward. He was airbourn, missing the last safety of the railing as he fell onto the main deck. He managed to get his shoulders under him but he hit the planks hard. All the air was driven from his lungs. For a moment, all he could see were sparks of light as if the heavens had descended to witness his final moments. The dragon rose into the air.
Plenty were hurt by the collision. Yassa could hear that and knew how they felt. He did not feel like dying today, he forced himself to his feet. It was critical the crew knew he was not hurt in any significant way, even if that might be a lie. He stood. The pain nearly stole his voice.
“Report!” he demanded.
Blake called down from the quarterdeck, his shirt held to his bleeding head. “Masts still up.”
“We’re taking on water!” called the deck master from the hatch on the main deck.
“How bad?” asked Yassa, sounding calm.
“We can handle it,” said the deck master.
“Make it so,” said Yassa. “Get us dry.”
Yaasa forced himself to look up at the crow’s nest, even though it hurt like hell to do so.
“Where is it?”
“Heading west at speed,” came the call. “Reckon you can see it with the glass.”
Yassa climbed into the rigging and pulled his glass to his eye. All he could see was darkness at first, the occasional smudge of light from the stars, one of which seemed to be moving…no…that was it…a streak of silver moving near the surface of the water with impossible speed.
Caerwen was up in the ropes next to him, close enough that she could reach out and touch his arm. Yassa nearly let go of the rigging. He had not heard her approach. He looked at her outstretched hand and passed her the glass. There was nothing to lose. Two impossible things in one night, a record he supposed might not stand for long and she might be able to help.
The witch took the glass. She looked for what felt like an eternity before she lowered it and passed the device back to Yassa.
“How long has Poseidon being receiving reports of the sea wolf?” She asked.
“Some six months before we were tasked with finding it.”
“And you have been at sea how long?”
The witch climbed down.
Yassa was irked. He dropped down to the deck, ignoring the pain.
“Hey,” he said grabbing her arm. “Don’t just run off. What did I say?”
Caerwen looked down at his hand.
He let go. “I’m sorry.”
“No, captain,” said Caerwen. She sounded sad once more. He would do anything to prevent her from sounding that way though he couldn’t say why. “It is I who should apologise. I fear I placed your crew in terrible danger.”
Yaasa felt cold. He loathed magic, preferring the good old fashioned craftmanship of a sailing ship or a blacksmith’s forge rather than the easy compromise of reality. Perhaps he ought to throw the witch overboard?
Caerwen looked up at Draco circling in the air above. “I brought the creature here.”
“What do you mean?”
“I just wanted to ease the burden.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I performed a calling ritual,” said Caerwen. “It’s old magic. Dark magic. I was seeking the Chonyi Bardo but there is no trace of it that we could find and so that’s why we seek the ivory gate.”
“But to what end?”
“Why else seek a dream gate? We wished to create a dream. He seldom dreams. Endless silent nights will become too much, there is only ever so much light from stars alone.”
Yaasa shook his head. “Why would a summoning call a seawolf?”
Caerwen shrugged and looked away. “I do not know.”
“It does not matter,” Yaasa said. “We failed. The sea wolf is too fast.”
“Oh no,” she said. “I would not let that happen. Draco!”
The dragon spiralled down through the air until he was just above the rigging. He acknowledged the captain with a dip of his head before staring at his mother.
“We must follow the creature,” she said carefully.
“The seawolf?” asked Draco, confused.
“The creature,” said Caerwen, repeating her words. She pointed west. “You can see it, yes?”
Draco looked west. Smoke emerged from his nostrils.
“Fire and boats do not mix,” said Yaasa.
“I see the creature,” said Draco, holding his flames in. He sounded curious to Yaasa.
“Throw a line to Draco, captain,” said Caerwen.
Yassa shouted the order. Ropes were thrown and soon Draco was secured to the ship by a makeshift harness.
“Lower the sails,” said Yaasa.
“I don’t like this,” said Blake.
Yassa rounded on the first officer. “You can stay here if you prefer.”
Blake flushed. “Lower all sails, aye!”
“Onwards, Draco,” said Caerwen. “You know what to do.”
The dragon beat its wings. The boat lurched forwards. Draco’s pace increased, the boats prow lifted and the whole ship started to bounce as the vessel cut through the water at an ever-increasing pace. Blake and Yassa looked at each other as they steadied themselves against the main mast.
“Speed?” asked Blake.
They both watched one of the crew drop the log over the side and count the knots.
“Twenty knots,” came the cry.
“The ship will fly apart,” said Blake.
Yaasa shook his head.
“Oh no, Blake,” he said. “Old Cadwaldr will keep the faith. I suggest you do too.”
Draco kept the pace all through the night until the sun rose the next morning. As dawn rose, Yaasa looked to the western horizon for what he hoped would be a flash of silver in the water and saw what he feared most instead.
A wall of fog stretched across the horizon as far as he could see. Worse, the bank was rolling towards them, he believed they would be engulfed faster than they could slow and turn even with the dragon. He glanced over at Caerwen.
“How can he see through that?”
“He’s not going by sight any longer,” said Caerwen. “He’s been tracking by smell for some time.”
Yassa looked again at the fog bank.
“About that vortex…”
“I’m well aware captain,” said Caerwen. “But I don’t see we have a choice. Do you?”
Yaasa looked at Blake. The first mate shook his head in agreement with the witch, much to the captain’s surprise. A long time ago, when he had just been a deck hand, he remembered his captain telling him that sometimes you had less power as captain than most might think. He had since come to know the bitter truth of that. He didn’t have to like it any more than he did back when he was young and the idea the captain was not as god was terrifying in the face of the vast ocean.
“Anchor crew at the ready…” he called out.
Blake nodded. He was glad they could agree on somethings.
The fog engulfed them. They could barely see further than a few feet along the deck. The rope that attached them to the dragon remained taut and the ship continued to move. Occassionally, they could see the soft orange glow above them of Draco expelling flames into the air.
“Why the flames?” asked Yaasa.
“To let me know where he is,” said Caerwen.
“And the sea wolf?”
Caerwen sighed. “I do not know where the creature is, but I can sense it on the edge of my feelings.”
“What does it feel like?” asked Blake.
Caerwen turned to the first mate. “Wild, uncertain, lost…”
They fell silent. The passing of the watch and the tolling of the ship’s bell occurred before the mist began to thin and the dragon more visible. As the mist receded, and daylight spilled onto the deck, the dragon strained high above to keep the boat moving in one direction. Suddenly, the dragon banked hard to starboard, pulling away in a new direction faster than the pilot could keep his hands on the wheel to turn and causing the boat to list over.
“What in Golgotha?!” yelled Yaasa, clinging to the railing for his life.
“Vortex!” screamed the crow’s nest.
Yaasa felt ice on his neck as he stood. He glanced back in the direction they had been headed and saw the thing he was most terrified of in the world: a spinning well of certain destruction in the sea ahead. Looking over the edge of the boat, he could see the ocean was being pulled in a whirling current inexorably towards the vortex.
This is how you die.
The thought came with a tremendous sense of calm defiance. He was not concerned for himself, but he would be damned if his crew would suffer his fate.
“Where is that sea wolf?” demanded Blake.
Yaasa caught a flash of silver between them and the vortex. “There!”
“That’s no sea wolf.” said Caerwen.
“What do you mean?” asked Yaasa.
“It’s another dragon,” said Caerwen.
As if the creature heard her, the dragon burst from the ocean. Its scales a gleaming silver that flashed in the sunlight and snout flared as a wolf might on the hunt. The beast unfurled climbing high into the sky.
Yassa was too stunned to move.
Draco twisted in his hover, trying to keep the boat from the vortex, all while looking at another dragon whose intentions were unclear and could easily attack him.
“Can he talk to it?” Asked Yaasa.
“Potentially,” replied the witch. “But our experiences with other dragons has not been good.”
The silver dragon climbed high up into the air, seemingly oblivious to both boat and Draco, and at the height of its near vertical climb above the vortex, it folded its wings. As if a bird of prey descending on its victim, the silver dragon plunged into the centre of the vortex.
Drago let rip a jet of flame.
“He’s angry at losing the dragon,” said Caerwen.
“Do I need to worry?” asked Yassa.
“That question is beneath you, captain,” said Caerwen.
“I had to ask.”
“Just be ready with that anchor,” said Caerwen. “Draco will put you beyond the pull of the vortex but then he’ll go after the dragon.”
“Because you’d get pulled in otherwise.”
“No, why pursue the dragon?”
Caerwen looked down at the deck. “Because he has not met many of his own kin and he won’t be able to resist.”
The ship heaved with such force that Yaasa thought he heard the main beam crack. The ship lurched away from the vortex as the dragon tried valiantly to drag them to safety but the current was strong. Draco beat his wings high above and made no progress.
“Anchors, captain,” said Caerwen, fear edging her voice.
“He might succeed yet,” said Blake.
Caerwen clenched her fists.
“You’ll kill him if we all tumble down there.”
“But you said he would follow anyway.”
“There’s a difference between controlled flight and falling, sailor,” said Caerwen.
The ship lurched backwards.
Yaasa saw Draco curl his wings around himself to protect them as he was pulled backwards with the vessel. The dragon fell into the sea, drenching the ship. Yaasa strode across the deck, grabbing an axe as he went, cutting the harness with one enormous swing.
The ship lurched back towards the vortex at speed.
“You bloody fool!” yelled Blake.
“Anchors away,” yelled Yassa.
The anchor crew dropped the anchors and the ship’s progress arrested.
Yassa enjoyed a brief moment of hope.
The moment was snatched away as the ship continued its inexorable voyage towards the vortex, slipping into a slow circling orbit of the vortex, the centre an inky maw that seemed to consume all the light. All captains faced a difficult choice eventually. Yaasa regretted he had gotten this final duty so terribly wrong.
Draco emerged from the edge of the vortex.
Free of the harness, the dragon climbed high into the sky. Yassa felt the edge of the ship go over into the void. No dive from the dragon could possibly save them now. The dragon gleamed in the light. Yaasa consoled himself that he had at least saved one soul that day. He glanced at Caerwen. She had her eyes closed. He wondered that she had not gone for her broom and saved herself. The stern dipped into the dark.
All was freefall.
Draco saw the ship plunge into the vortex.
Caerwen looked up at him with apology. He felt the familiar lurching feeling in his chest when she did something foolish. He hoped to see her emerging from the deck on the broom. He knew she would not. Caerwen wouldn’t escape a fate she felt she had bestowed on others.
He looked down at the centre of the vortex. There was no sign of the other dragon. No light. Nothing. The centre was a void. A starless night. Draco couldn’t bear such evenings. In those darkest of nights he felt unmoored, rootless, and apart from all those that had made him, that he had encountered, that he had spent time and blood with. It was what he imagined death felt like in his lowest moments.
Draco didn’t want to go into that emptiness but down there the other dragon had gone. Down there the ship he had tried to save had gone. Down there his mother had gone. Somewhere in the night. There wasn’t really another way.
Darkness. Void. The dragon felt like he fell forever. The membrane was a shock. A thin veil that pushed gently back on him for the barest of moments before he passed through. The smell of brine vanished. There was light. There was a faint spice in the air.
Draco was in another place.
Below, a rocky landscape came into view, lit by crimson rays of a dying sun Draco had never seen before, casting everything in bloody hues. The Cadwaldr lay somewhat broken on the ground but nothing like as smashed as should have been the case. His mother knelt on the deck, hair as silver as starsteel with the price of the magic she had cast to save the ship. The crew were getting to their feet.
Draco unfurled his wings, slowing his fall. He landed softly on the ground. The rocks he had initially thought scattered randomly were arranged in a clear pattern though he could not recognise the symbol. Many were cracked, worn, and leaning or outright on their sides. Others still gleamed like polished marble. There was no other dragon.
He went over to the ship.
“Draco!” called Caerwen from the deck.
Draco looked up at Caerwen. “Is anyone hurt?”
“No,” said Yassa, leaning over the railing next to Caerwen. “Thanks to your mother. I am in your debt, witch.”
“Thank me when we are all safe,” said Caerwen, distracted by the world they found themselves in.
“I can’t sense the dragon,” said Draco. “Can you?”
Caerwen closed her eyes. “I can’t…wait…there’s something else…”
The witch opened her eyes and pointed.
The world was flat as far as the eye could see, save for the odd pit in the ground that looked as it had been peppered with meteor strikes. In the distance, the horizon gave way to a haze and mist beyond which it was hard to make anything out. The place was barren save for a lone figure, too small to be in such a place alone, sat on the dusty ground, hunched over something.
“I do not like this,” said Caerwen, softly. “Something is amiss.”
“I cannot just leave them,” said Draco.
“No, you cannot.”
Draco made his way across to where the small figure sat, cross-legged. As he drew closer, he saw the person was a girl, young, with wild hair and wrapped in a ragged dusty cloak. She was holding something that glowed with its own light though he could not make it out clearly. She did not appear aware of his approach.
Draco had once been to a world where he could walk as a human did, with their form and dearly wished he could do so again. He feared the girl would run when she saw him. Still. Eleutheria had been a long time ago, and he had lived that life and moved on. He cleared his throat.
“Do not be alarmed,” he said. “I mean no harm.”
The girl turned.
Draco raised his claws to show peaceful intent. He was surprised to see his own human hands as they had once looked. Had he returned? Was that where he was? He looked down. He was relieved to see he was dressed in his old leather riding trousers, boots and his pale tunic.
“Who are you?” asked the girl.
Her cheeks were as tear stained as they were dusty. Her eyes were big and brown and looked like she might start sobbing again at any moment.
“I am Draco,” he said, gently. “Why are you crying?”
“I can’t find him.”
The girl burst into sobs again. Draco sat down next to her, crossing his own legs, and put his arm around her. She let herself be folded into his chest. He could feel her tears soaking his tunic. When she stopped crying she wiped her nose on her sleeve.
“Who have you lost?” he asked.
“My brother,” said the girl, frowning as if just saying it hurt her deep down.
“Well,” said Draco, trying to sound confident. “He must be around somewhere. I will help you find him.”
The girl wiped her eyes. She was trying to look brave. Draco noted she spirited whatever she had been holding into the folds of her cloak but he ignored that for now.
“Where did you see him last?”
She shrugged. “Here. I think.”
“And what happened?”
“We had a fight!” she wailed. “And I ran off.”
The girl looked defiant. “But I had to you see. I had to go find it. They keep saying that its important and so I went and got it.”
Draco smiled. “Did he not want you to?”
“He said I was too little,” she said. “But I got it. So he was wrong.”
“What did you get?”
The girl looked round. Satisfied no one else was near, she lifted her left hand out from her cloak and held out a jewel unlike any he had ever seen. He would almost have said it was a dragon’s egg save the shape was all wrong. Still, its colours shifted and changed in a never ending miasma that was reminiscent of a dragon’s egg. He still did not understand.
“What is that?”
The girl looked at him as if he were stupid. “It’s a secret silly. Have you never seen one?”
The girl nodded. “Yes. They promised to give it to me when I was old enough, but I couldn’t wait any longer and so I went and found it myself.”
“Is that why you argued?”
She nodded. “And I said some mean things I didn’t mean and now I can’t find him!”
The girl buried her head in his chest again and cried.
Draco did not know what to do. He looked over at his mother but she was still watching from the deck of the ship for some inexplicable reason. She was so much better at this than he.
“Well,” he said. “What does your brother look like?”
The girl looked up. “He has hair like tarnished gold. He’s younger than you. But he has sparkling eyes and he’s paler than me.”
“He sounds quite striking.”
“Yes, he is,” said the girl. She looked like she might cry again.
Draco stood. “Come on, we won’t find him sat here,” he said. He waved back at the ship.
Caerwen looked at him confused, almost as if she couldn’t see him. He didn’t want to drag the girl back to the ship and so he waved once more and hoped she would understand. The girl stood up. She placed her right hand in his left without any further comment. Together they started walking towards the next crop of rocks.
“How do you know this is the way?” asked the girl.
“I do not,” said Draco. The girl looked worried. “But if I were looking for my sister, I would check each of these rocks.”
They walked on.
At the crop of rocks they found nothing but a solitary red cactus. Draco squeezed her hand reassuringly. “Onwards.”
They walked on.
At the next rock, they found nothing at all. Draco looked round at the confusing pattern of outcrops and fallen stones and realised he was going to be here a while. He smiled at the girl but she did not smile back.
They walked on.
At the next outcrop they did not see any catci but there was a single foot print in the dust. Draco knelt down to look. The person was unbooted as the girl was. “Could this be his footprint?”
The girl bit her lip.
“Maybe? I don’t know.”
She burst into tears.
Draco gave her a hug. “Hey, it’s alright, I got you.”
Draco turned. He saw a boy, older than the girl but not that old, running towards him with a look of fury on his face and a large stick in his hands.
“Get away from my sister!”
Draco let go of the girl and stepped back with his hands raised. “We were looking for you!”
The girl let out a yelp of delight. She threw herself at the boy. She clung onto him as if frightened he would vanish like a wraith. The boy dropped his stick and hugged her back.
“Don’t ever run off like that again,” he said.
“I won’t,” she said. “I promise.”
“Let’s find mother and go home.”
“Mum is here?”
The boy looked serious now. “Yes, you didn’t think I could get away with not telling her, did you?”
The girl let go of him. She stood staring at him as if disappointed.
“No, I suppose not.”
“All this chasing after secrets,” he said. “No need for it. Let us go.”
“But she found it,” said Draco.
He suspected the boy had forgotten he was there but now reminded the boy raised an eyebrow. “You did?”
The girl nodded. She took the stone out once more.
“I’ll be damned,” said the boy. “You really are fearless, Spark.”
The girl smiled.
Draco couldn’t help but grin himself. The boy was clearly feeling the same as he too grinned.
The girl laughed.
They were all laughing. Draco had not felt like this in a very long time. He wasn’t sure he had ever felt like it but, perhaps, briefly during his time in Eleutheria. What a moment to share with strangers?
“Where is mother?” asked the girl.
The boy looked round. “I am not sure.” He was trying to sound calm, Draco thought.
“Come back to the ship,” he said. “I’m sure she will pass by it if she is looking for you. Who expects to see a ship in the middle of a desert?”
The children looked at him as if he were mad. “Ship?”
Draco turned and pointed back to the wreck of the Cadwaldr. The boy let out an exhale of air as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing and then he said, for no reason Draco could determine.
“What did you do, Spark?”
“Not me,” said the girl.
“Indeed not,” said Draco, amused. “She would be a powerful witch indeed to cast a vortex.”
“You are strange,” said the boy, looking at Draco. “But I like you. We’ll come to the ship.”
They walked back to the ship.
“So what is the secret?” asked Draco, as much to break the silence.
“It wouldn’t be a secret if I told you,” said the boy. “Nor would it mean much to you.”
Draco sighed with irritation.
“See,” said the girl. “Annoying, isn’t it? I don’t really know what to do with it now.”
“Does he…” Draco turned to the boy. “I’m sorry, what is your name?”
“Oh he has lots of names!” said the girl giggling as she skipped ahead. “Don’t you.”
“Very funny,” said the boy.
“But the one that annoys him most is Button.”
The boy flushed. “You don’t go about telling people our names! It’s dangerous.”
“Quite right,” said Draco, who knew names had power, you could trap a dragon, for example. “But I think ‘Button’ would be safe.”
The boy stared at him.
Draco winked. The boy laughed. “What’s yours?”
“Draco,” he replied.
The boy looked puzzled. “Strange name for a man.”
Draco thought about explaining. He waved at his mother as he drew close to the ship, amused as she climbed down the rigging rather than use magic. Perhaps his returned shifting ability was not the only difference in this world. His mother walked over to them. He could see a look of deep, deep, concern on her face. She stopped a few feet from them.
“Who have you found?” she asked.
“This is Spark and Button,” said Draco. “Who know the dangers of throwing their real names around and have found a ‘secret’.”
Caerwen folded her arms. “Show me?”
Draco did not know how she knew the secret was an object. He had given up trying to find the limits of her knowledge and so he just went with the flow these days as the girl looked up at him as if to check. He nodded.
“This is my mother, Caerwen.” He added. “She is a witch.”
The girl smiled. “Ah, then you can help.” She held out the stone. “How do I open it?”
“Spark!” yelled the boy.
Caerwen took the stone. Draco had never seen his mother look so stunned as she examined the jewel from every angel before handing it back to the girl.
She looked at Draco.
“What is it?”
Caerwen replied. “I am sorry, Draco.”
“I did a spell,” she said. “I was trying to help.”
“Well,” she said, carefully. “This is the gate. The ivory one.” She gestured at the rocks.
“Oh,” said Draco. “Is that why I can look like this?”
Caerwen nodded. “But it also…”
The girl walked up to Caerwen and tugged her sleeve. “If you are a witch, can you help find our mum?”
The witch looked down astonished.
“Your mother…?” said Caerwen. Was that fear in her voice? “Is here?”
“Somewhere,” said the boy, cheerfully. “Spark’s right thought, we need to get back to her and you might well be quicker than waiting.”
Caerwen stared at the secret in the girl’s hands.
“What is it?” asked Draco. “You’re always saying we must help.”
Caerwen looked up at him. She was crying. She cleared her throat. “You’re quite right.”
She looked back at the girl. “You have what you need right there. The secret will bring her here as night brings day.”
“I don’t understand,” said the girl.
“I do,” said the boy, putting his hand over the girl’s. “It’s time.”
Caerwen nodded. “Kept it until she was ready, did you?”
The boy nodded.
“What are you all talking about?” demanded Draco.
“Magic,” said Caerwen, smiling sadly. “And secrets.”
The stone was glowing now.
“If they are kept too long,” said Caerwen. “Secrets grow heavier and heavier and eventually…if you are not careful…they explode.”
“Is that why it’s so bloody heavy?” asked the girl.
Caerwen nodded. “You must open it.”
“How?!” demanded the girl, exasperated.
Caerwen bent over and whispered in her ear. The girl looked shocked. She turned to her brother.
“In front of you all?” she asked, nervous.
The boy nodded.
The girl looked down at the stone. She looked at each of them. “Promise not to laugh?”
“We do,” said Caerwen.
The girl closed her eyes. And began to sing. Slowly, faltering at first but with growing confidence, she sang in a language that Draco did not understand. The secret did. The stone’s colours began to pulse and change, faster and faster. The boy began to sing too, wrapping his hand around the girl’s free hand, and weaving his own tune around hers. The stone’s colours quickened further.
“And you, Draco,” said Caerwen, softly. “It must be all three.”
Draco blinked. He felt afraid now. “Why?”
Caerwen sighed. “The magic requires it.”
Draco did not know what he was singing but he took their words and added his own voice to them. He took his voice into a minor key that made his teeth itch but seemed to work with theirs. Caerwen was crying. The stone bled magic, curls of energy crackled and leaped at them before the secret opened like the petals of a flower.
Cries rang out around the landscape. Faint voices spoke out in words he did not understand, strange metallic noises he did not understand and there through it all was anguish and pain. A pulse of light detonated.
Draco’s vision returned. The girl was holding nothing but pieces of glass.
“Did it work?” asked the boy.
Caerwen was not looking at them anymore. She was staring out at something…no someone else.
A woman stood a little way from them. She had dark hair save for two silver streaks, warm kind eyes, and a stern look on her face or the best approximation she could make for she also seemed relieved. She was wearing a dark purple dress without adornment. Her gaze was fixated on the children.
“Where have you two been?” she asked.
The girl threw herself at the woman and into her arms. The woman laughed. She held the girl and looked deep into her eyes. “Do not do that again.”
“I promise,” said the girl.
“You found her then?” she asked of the boy who was hanging back as if ashamed.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m really sorry for letting her run off.”
“Not your fault, Button,” she said. “When has anyone been able to stop your sister doing anything?”
“I found the secret!” said Spark. “And I opened it.”
The woman smiled sadly. “So you know?”
“The witch showed me.”
The woman looked at Caerwen. Her eyes narrowed. She looked up at the ship in surprise.
“You should not be here,” said Caerwen. “This is further than I intended the magic to go.”
The woman looked at Caerwen. “What did you do?”
Caerwen dropped to her knee.
Draco was in shock. Why would she do that?
The woman put the girl down and stepped towards the front of the ship, reaching up to touch the base of the purple dragon. She seemed lost in her own thoughts.
“Such echoes in dreams,” said the woman. “Who knew they could hurt so much?”
“I am sorry,” repeated Caerwen.
The woman turned to her and lifted her back to her feet. “No need. Not from you.”
The woman’s eyes fell on Draco. “Oh.”
Draco had never seen such an expression on someone. The woman’s eyes were sad and happy at the same time as she stepped towards him.
Draco felt confused. The woman touched his face and he saw dragons. Three of them, standing around his mother as if standing guard. One was silver like she had been cast from molten starsteel, one was orange like the flaming sun save for the sleek black stripes on his side, and one was purple like the ship’s prow. He blinked.
The woman smiled at him.
“Did you hear the secret too?” she asked, and then she said his true name.
The boy looked up startled. “What did you call him?”
Draco looked over at Caerwen. She nodded. “It is a dream gate after all.”
Draco touched the woman’s hand. It was warm. “Stay.”
“I wish I could,” she said.
Even in that moment the three of them were fading. The gate itself was fading. The ship too.
“What is happening?” demanded Draco, a dragon once more.
“All dreams fade,” said the woman. “And we all must wake.”
“I don’t want to,” said Draco.
“I know,” she said. “But we must.”
Draco woke in the sea, waves dark like blood. The Cadwaldr bobbed alongside him, the crew looking over at him with concern in the starlit sky and Caerwen in the water alongside him. She was young once more.
“You are safe,” she said.
“Am I?” asked Draco. He supposed the good thing about the sea was that no one could see the tear that rolled from his eye.
Whatever time had passed in the dream, the moon now hung big and bright in the night sky surrounded by stars. As they lit the lanterns, the Cadwaldr became as a fallen star on the water. Draco, floating on his back, could see the old familiar crooked saucepan of stars that was the plough in the distance as a shower of meteors whizzed passed in a rush of colours: red, purple, orange and silver.
Draco glanced at her. “I have never dreamed as I have this night.”
“I am sorry I couldn’t hold the spell,” said Caerwen.
“No apologies,” whispered Draco.
“I nearly broke the world,” said Caerwen. “Do you not feel it.”
Draco did. He could not feel bad.
“No regrets,” he replied. And he said her own words back to her. “We do not look back. That’s the only magic I really know.”
“Onwards,” whispered Caerwen.
“Onwards.” Agreed Draco.
There you go. You’re falling asleep now and the fire is getting low. Did you enjoy the story?
Well, Draco’s adventures never stop, son, because the dragon never stops travelling, and that’s really the point. Even in dreams.
Oh, that. Well, Shakespeare didn’t know everything. I suppose all things do pass but then stories aren’t really like that because we can pass them on and so I tell you stories about Draco and so you may tell your friends or even your own children one day and so you may eventually make up your own and Draco’s tales would or will continue on.
Perhaps. That’s a nice idea. Nos da, Cariad. Until next time.