art by @kristyglas
Years pass by, and every summer the boy heard tales of dragons and fay, stories of the great deeds and vile treachery of man. And, sometimes, stories of his father when he was a boy. However, the boy's mind would often wander back to the story of The Great Seer. Could a dragon really be only a day's walk from him? Could such magic really exist? He often pondered this on his walk home from school as it was lonely. "Oh come off it," he thought "I'm 13 years old, how could something like Roimh Dhiaidh be real, and if she was, how would I even find her?" Then as if in answer, the very trees seemed to exhale.
What was that!
There it is again.
A voice, he was sure this time. He spins around on the spot. "Where? Hello?" He catches something out of the corner of his eye, and he can hear something like water running over rocks.
The honk from the car was almost deafening. "HEY!" yells his mom. "You okay?" Startled, the boy jumps and quickly pretends to watch something scurry into the grass. "Sorry I was--"
"Day dreaming," finishes his mother. "Look, I've got to go into town to finish something at work, and then I'm going to pick up your father at the airport. His flight isn't til really late, and we might not be home before you go to school. Do you think you can take care of the house without me?"
He nods his assent, and she motions for him to come over to the car. "Thanks, honey. I left a little money for tomorrow if you need it. Don't stay up too late, and Jon said he can be at the house in a moment's notice if you need him." They embrace through the window and after their goodbyes his mom heads on down the lane. He gives one last glance at the grove of trees and heads home.
Late that night, the wind once again whispers to him: "Ancryn, come."
"That isn't my name..." thinks the boy. "That's not even English. I'm crazy, I'm just crazy." And even as he thinks this he slips on his shoes and finds his way outside. "Well?" He says to the night. "Come." The wind calls again and blows softly against his skin. Something isn't right about this wind, but what? His eyes scan the fields and houses that dot the landscape. The night is still, yet he feels wind. He steps directly to his left; the wind only hits the right side of his body. Now to the right; the wind is on his left. Smiling, he stretches out his arms and walks, guided by the river of air out into the darkness.
After only a short walk the channel of air begins to turn, leading him into a small thicket of trees. This is the same place I heard that voice. Were these trees always here? he thinks as he stoops to get under a large patchwork of branches. The thought that such a large grove could have been overlooked on so many slow walks home bothers the boy, but now isn't the time to dwell on it. On the other side of the bramble, he begins to hear the sound of running water, but it's not the kind you hear when a storm drain is swollen with rain or when a water main breaks. This is gentle, babbling. The boy has never actually heard a babbling brook, and he laughs at how perfect the description really is. He reaches down to touch the water; it is cool, and even in the darkness he can tell it is clear. The water seems to come more and more into focus as he crouches, and it takes him several minutes to realize that it isn't his eyes getting used to the dark, but a light slowly growing from a nearby overhang, like those you find when a creek shifts direction because of a rock or a particularly stubborn tree. The warmth of the light is inviting and reminds him of Gran's fireplace. To say he isn't afraid would be a lie, but the wind doesn't usually guide a person, and tree groves don't just pop up like fairy rings after a storm. He know this is magic. Whether he dies tonight, or not does't matter. He has to see more. Still, he walks slowly, careful not to make any more sound than he has to. He remembers how, in Gran's stories at least, the more inviting the scene the more horrible the outcome. Reaching the edge of the cave from where the light emanates, the boy presses his body against the hard stone and leans just enough to peer inside. The cave doesn't look like any he has seen before. The ground is smooth and carved with what looks like wind. The walls and ceiling are likewise carved but with planets and stars, the constellations clearly visible. There is no sign of danger or anything beyond the rocks. Then, the wind begins to blow once more, this time from his back, pushing him toward the cave. As he complies, the wind becomes excited, swirling around him as he enters the cave. Then, all is still. As he walks deeper into the cave, he takes note of the star chart. It is the sky above me for sure, but how can it be? Rock can't change like the stars. But even as he thinks this he knows that these rocks can.
"Welcome, human child" says a voice inside his head. "Come and have the questions you seek answered." The voice is calm and gentle but lacks warmth.
"I," the boy hesitates, but continues to walk. "I don't have any questions," he says to the cave.
There is silence for a moment, and then the voice enters into his mind once more. "You don't?" This time it is slightly amused. There is a sound of something large moving further down the path. "Well, come up with some before you get here." The boy smiles at this, and hurries his steps.
When he finally makes it to the inner chamber, he freezes.
"Not so loud, Ancryn, I can read your mind you know," says the beast before him--not inside his head, but through her enormous mouth. The voice is far grander than what came to his mind, but still feminine. She is beautiful. Catlike in poise, she sits facing him. The enormous amulet hangs upon her chest, and the crescent moon stands suspended just above her head. Her scales are purple and opalescent with the shimmer of the torches that mark the walls of the chamber. Her long spade-ended tail moves gently side to side as her knife-like claws gently caress a crystal ball nestled between them. Though she wears a blindfold made out of what the boy believes to be a large sail, he has the distinct impression she can see him.
"Roimh Dhiaidh," he gasps.
The Great Seer lowers her head in a graceful bow. "You seek my guidance, my wisdom, young Ancryn," she says softly in what the boy thinks is a very businesslike tone.
"I, no, I . . .," the boy is afraid to correct her, but at the same time if she is looking for this Ancryn person . . . He looks at her claws again and begins, "My name is Peter, not Ancryn."
The dragon makes a low noise like a growl, and her tail twitches more rapidly. "Are you saying I made a mistake? That you are not the one that summoned me!" There is clearly anger in her voice but also something else.
"I'm sorry! I'll go! I just wanted to know." The low noise gets louder and begins to pulse. The dragon's long tail wraps around the boy, and her head comes down level with his.
She is even bigger than he realized.
Her mouth opens.
Her four inch long fangs gleam in the light of the fire.
Peter feels her hot breath and closes his eyes.
The laugh is almost human and fills the tunnel as Roimh Dhiaidh releases her serpentine grip and she rears back her head and tries to regain her composure. "You're given name may be Peter, but you're true name is Ancryn. I am bound to speak only the truth, so you are Ancryn." She clears her throat and shakes off the last of the giggles. "Now what is your question, and what have you brought me as payment?"
Payment? Gran didn't say anything about payment Ancryn (Peter) thought. "I don't have a question, or payment," he says in a much smaller voice than he intends. "I just, I wanted to meet you. To know if you were real, to know your story."
The dragon remains motionless for a moment, and then she speaks. "I believe you, though I am curious if it was your Gran that told you of me. Was her story not enough?" Her voice is different. Gone is the air of professionalism that she once held.
Peter relaxes a little. "No, but my father always says there is more to every story. Gran told me what she knew, but there seemed like so much was missing. Like why you don't kill knights or steal livestock? Why doesn't your story have anything about payment? Why you have lived for so long?"
The dragon shows her teeth, but there is no malice in them. To Ancryn it looks like a smile, a sad sort of smile. "I was cursed," she began, "by my own kind." As if on cue, the ball between her hands comes to life, showing shadows of the past. "We weren't always at odds, humans and dragons. There were times when great kingdoms were forged by man and dragon alike, and they lived side by side as friends." The images in the ball swirl and change as she continues. "But, like man, not all dragons are good, and one dragon above all wanted to subject man and dragon under his control. It was at the beginning of his rise that my powers became manifest." At this a small slit in the middle of her forehead opened, or did it? Ancryn isn't sure, but the effect is instant. He can feel the eye looking into him. At his thoughts, his memories, his future. "I had no control over my powers and could not focus as I do now. I saw his treachery and warned as many as I could of what he had done." She hangs her head low at this and her third eye closes. "I was wrong. The events I foresaw were caused by my haste. Many died because of my mistake." The ball begins to fade. "News spread of my power, about how dangerous it could be, and now the evil dragon had gained the position he desperately desired, he ordered my execution. The dragon named Chronos was put in charge of my capture along with two knights sworn to protect the crown. Chronos was a large and gifted dragon with the ability to change the flow of time at will. I had hidden in this very cave when they found me. Chronos took pity on me and turned on the knights before they drove their spears into my chest. The battle was terrible; though he was stronger than the knights, the armor they wore was enchanted and designed to withstand a dragon's mighty claws. In the end, all three lay dead. I rushed to Chronos, hoping upon hope that he had survived, though I knew he had not. I reached out with my mind and touched the last thoughts that ran through Chronos' mind. Bury me here, and be protected from all time. What I didn't know then, what I was too foolish to understand, was that this was a warning. I buried the body beneath the stream, and, indeed, no one else came looking for me. Days passed, then weeks, months, years, and I remained the same, as did the grove. You see, I was protected from all time. Here in this grove time never passes, or, if it does, it happens so slowly as to not be noticed." She breathes heavily and falls silent.
"So," says Ancryn after a few long moments, "Why not just leave?"
"I tried once." Roimh Dhiaidh raises her right front leg to show a large area where her scales are missing. "I am trapped here, but it is not without its upside. I now have near complete control over my powers, and using them I have helped many find their path, though I fear fewer and fewer call out for me as the years pass."
"Now, as for payment." Her long, powerful tail curls back around the boy, this time gently. "Tell me a story."