Ferrin watched the latest dragon slayer leave the township and head up into the slopes of the fiery mountain. The leaders of the community wanted the dragon gone or dead. It had intermittently destroyed building with its enormous powers of claw and fang, the strength of its sinews and the wind generated from it's enormous wings, and of course, burned crops and buildings with its fiery breath. It could not be tolerated by the leadership any longer. It created nothing but havoc since it had come to live on the crumbling, sparsely grassed, slopes of the partially sleeping volcanic peak, it was said, long before his birth.
Ferrin's mother was secretly a witch of light and a healer, come to this township heavy with child, living in the forest before he was born, to escape the ignorance and fear of prejudice and the inevitable burning stake. She had taught Ferrin in all the nine languages she knew, both modern and ancient, and all the readings of hidden knowledge her privately stored books of magic contained, both practical and worldly, mysterious and hidden that were helpful to others and those far reaching tufts of wisdom within her great ability.
Yet there were some things, though very few, he did not know of, for there were still some items and secrets that were too dark for him to fully appreciate the dangers of, his mother had told him. And Ferrin respected and trusted her judgment. He did not go behind her back to seek out and uncover what those insidious bits of knowledge and voicings might contain, or produce in their incantations. He knew danger when he read it, or felt it, and waited for his mother's timing. He knew she would educate his mind with those pieces of truth, when needed, if ever.
With sixteen summers beneath his wide belt, Ferrin could do most everything his mother could, al-be-it, not as expertly or as smoothly.
They kept their magic hidden, however, for she had warned Ferrin of the dangers of their knowledge, and did not want her son to suffer the fate so many of her skills had suffered at the hands of that corrupt and, sometimes, downright evil clergy of that hated religion; Using fear and superstition to enforce their interpretation of divine law and goodness upon the masses. His mother had taught that the motivations of their leadership, at the highest levels, often were born out of the love of money and power, and most improbable, but true, over the lusts of the flesh. Though she did temper her knowledgeable and opinions by saying there were many, many good people in that church who tried diligently to help the poor they served.
All the township knew and needed to know about them was, he was a clever and skillful blacksmith and she, a quick and talented seamstress. What they didn't understand, or have knowledge of, was their discernment of the basic elements of life, and how to manipulate those things for the use and benefit of men.
His mother stood beside her son, both watching the doomed man grow smaller in the distance and whispered again, "These towns people are so foolish. They keep sending off these good but mislead men to die in the agony of fire, thinking they have a chance against such power. Dragon's never die or move on unless someone gives them the sacrificial heart of a virgin."
"You mean, literally?" he asked, surprised. This was the first time she had used those exact words. "Somebody has to cut the heart out of a young girl and give it to them? They kill her?"
"No, silly," she smiled, reaching up to touch one of his rose tinted cheeks and smoothing back the undisciplined, though beautiful, she thought, ebony curl over his forehead. "I'm speaking figuratively. Not one's body, but their spirit, their total devotion and love. They must forsake all things, all others and sacrifice themselves completely, with loyalty, and fidelity towards the beast. And it is not a woman that must be sacrificed, usually. It must be a man of perfect dominium over himself. He must give himself to her. And he must be a man of exacting sincerity, and nobility of spirit. He must be young and a virgin, for most dragons are female. They give birth to their own kind, in their season, but very seldom. Generations may pass before any new dragons are born.
"Not all is known about them," she told him. "But some knowledge has been passed down through the ages, a little here, a little there, and very few books exist concerning them. We possess one, as you know, and perhaps it is time I let you read it. But understand, sweetheart, it is not the final word. So much of the book is speculation. Informed speculation but they are no more than guesses."
"Dragons are very old, Ferrin," she continued, Ferrin looking at the fairness of his mother's beauty, her unearthly youthfulness. "Much older than man and will live forever. They long for the peace they've never known, though, it is written, and this love men and women have for one another, when man is at his best. But because they can never, or very rarely, receive this kind of peace in their fiery hearts, they are always filled with rage and hatred for all things man-made. Especially for the leaders of people that send men like that poor soul to try and kill them."
"I fear for this township, Ferrin," she said, looking over the skyline of the frontier settlement and out towards the disappearing dragon slayer as if a vision had suddenly appeared before her eyes.
"I think we should move and make a home for ourselves in the forest, again, to that place were you grew up, hidden from this particular dragon's attention. It is an old wound, with them, and can never be mended, but these recent and constant attempts at killing the beast, I fear, will bring grave consequence upon this town. As long as these leading men continue their assaults on it, fields will continue to burn, homes will be destroyed, and there is nothing these silly weak men can do except stop the hiring of dragon slayers. I've never known anyone that could kill a dragon, wizard, witch, or king, much less injure it."
Ferrin looked at his mother with the deepest of thoughts, and wondered at the kind of love one would have to show such an animal. Could he, with his depth of knowledge, stop the beast from further killings and destruction?
His mother seemed to know instantly what his thoughts were, as she always did.
"No," she said, coming close to embrace her only child, resting her head upon his broad chest. "Put those kinds of thoughts out of your mind, Ferrin. These things are beyond our learning. I know something of dragons, yes, but not enough to let you risk your life against one. They are wise and ancient with devious plans and cunning in dealings with men through the ages. Do not think that you can be one of those rare people that can reason with them. They would just as soon crush you beneath one of their huge paws as they would to set you aflame. No, my beautiful boy," she said. "Leave such ideas to others who dream of wonders beyond themselves. I will not allow you to throw away your life."
Ferrin knew she meant it. Her powers of witchcraft might already be stopping him. His desire to leave and try to calm the wickedness of the dragon already seemed to be waning. He noticed it, now, that she had touched him with magic. He could feel the silent spell working in him already.
"Mother. I give you my word. I will not leave you. I will not disobey. The spell is unnecessary."
She kissed him but left the spell in place. "I know you won't, but let me do this for my own peace of mind," she said. "A mother needs to feel her children are protected. I don't know what I'd do without you."
She was known as his sister, locally, still gazing into her beautiful face. She looked as young as he and the mother scenario would never have passed scrutiny.
"Very well," Ferrin said, smiling, and kissed his mother in return upon her cheek. "I better get back to the forge. I've got several jobs to finish," he told her.
"You have so much of your father in you," she said. "He would be so proud of you."
His father had been a wizard, as he was becoming. An ancient and wise wizard, she had told him. He realized she was so protective of him because he had been killed by that hated church. He would not further her pain by seeking after things that were too dangerous, though his heart longed for more than what he was. No. He would be patient. All things would come to him that were needed, in time.
But in spite of the spell, Ferrin continued to look up into the peak of the fiery summit-gorge, where the dragon kept the fires of the old volcanic vents open and active. The orange glow could be seen there still, at night, on occasion, as well as the infrequent smoking rivers of noisy magma that snaked their way down-slope with the combined roar of the magical beast. He couldn't help but wonder at the strength and will of such eternal animals, as he beat hot steel into shapes useful to men, the glow of the furnace and the white hot metal of the forge constantly reminding him of the last man sent out to kill the animal. He knew, as his mother did, that the dragon slayer would not be returning.
For two days, there was silence on the slopes and then the dragon flew. It was mid morning when someone first saw it and cried out, warning others. One never knew where it would go, what it would do, but after several low passes over the teaming spires of the town, Ferrin and his mother understood all to well, its current mission.
"Follow me," she told her son, pulling on his substantial bicep, and rushed back inside their little cottage. "Take your emergency pack and whatever food you can carry," she almost shouted. "It's come to destroy men and this place," she told him with some finality. He had suspected such, but knew his mother's judgment was correct and sound and with her infallible decision, did as she bid him.
They shouldered their packs and headed directly to the forest's edge, a substantial distance outside the edge of town.
The first blast of fire made a sweeping line of flame through the township and people could be seen, from even their vantage point, running and screaming in pain, and terror, then dropping in smoldering, sticky dragon flames as they left their burning homes, trying to flee the beast's wrath. The sight was horrible and Ferrin shrank for its vision, but could not look away.
"Shouldn't we go help them?" he asked, seeing the flames of the homes and the very cobbled streets melting and smoking in the distance as they entered the stealthy safety of the forest.
"I want to, Ferrin, believe me I do. This is a terrible thing for both of us to witness, especially you. You are too tender in years to have to see this. But I have gazed into the future. After the world has returned to peace, these good people would remember our magic and attempt to destroy us, knowing we had knowledge and power not sanctioned by their church. We would be burned alive, Ferrin. No. As horror filled as these sights are, we must wait and do what we can, afterwards, without magic. Oh, those poor people."
She came to him, laying her pack aside, weeping tears of pity onto his breast.
"Hold me," she said, and he did, knowing she was remembering his father. But Ferrin's eyes continued to watch as the blue-black dragon hissed it's fire from it's gaping maw which was easily twice as large as their home, while it streaked with whistling flight through the overcast skies above the town.
Whenever it exhumed fire, Ferrin noticed, the beast glowed as red-orange as the lava upon the mountain slopes. Several times it landed, coating the buildings and earth and people with incendiary fires, crushing and ripping apart the massive spires of their fair town and those few remaining towers of rock. The three tiered government house cracked with explosive noise when the stone crumbled beneath the mighty claws, and those massive support timbers splintered beneath the dragon's weight, the huge grasping feet of the beast seemingly without weakness.
Then it flew off to gather more strength and fire, he presumed, and renewed its attack on other targets. It proceeded to set them too, aflame, at first, and again come down upon each and rip it apart till nothing but twisted wreckage and smoke and flaming debris remained.
"Don't look," his mother said.
With one final witness to the still rising tumult across the open plain of ungathered and growing fields of grain, Ferrin did as his mother asked. Taking short steps to turn away from the carnage, hiding behind a great oak, he closed his eyes and hid them in the folds of his mother's soft hair blowing on the wind, as they both wept for humanity.
A year later, Ferrin was still working eighteen and twenty hour days. There was more work than he could handle but as fatigued as he became, at times, he found himself loving the feel of the fire upon his exposed skin, working without a tunic, gleaming with oil and sweat throughout the day. He drank pitchers of water, ate while hammering glowing arms of steel into shape, and felt the sparks of the hammerings, but did not mind their stings. He knew his skin had toughed as had his power and his strength to endure. The fire, he knew, somehow, made him stronger.
Before he slept, he would always walk to the river on the far side of the remaining town to wash with a diving plunge into the cold refreshment of the moving water. He scrubbed himself with sand and slapped his skin with willow leaves, walking home. It was good to be clean and to be full of hope, again. He was helping to rebuild their town and the creation of new buildings and seeing the formed irons he had made gave him pride and the will to continue.
Only twenty percent of the township remained, after the attack, their home and work-shops having, thankfully, been preserved, though slightly more than twenty percent of the people, there, survived. Many buildings were being remade in the new fashion, out of stone. Almost all of them were homes, though. There wasn't enough population left to construct anything larger and there was little if any government. Just a few leaders that had the ability to organize and make general decisions.
Some of the remaining merchants and farmers left the area, those that were left alive, but many more stayed to renew their farms and businesses. There was one general consensus, however, and that was to let the dragon be, completely. In fact, it was forbidden to step foot on the slopes of the fiery mountain, and in that decision, their was peace.
The dragon was seen to fly, on occasion, but it never came near the little village of humans.
After beginning a heated day of melting ore into iron and pouring metal into sandy patterns, pounding away on steel, and forming hard metal into shapes, Ferrin heard something he would never have expected to hear. The dragon speaking to him.
His mother, not hearing the clang of metal on metal, for some time, looked out from an open window of the house and saw her boy standing as if in a trance. She knew instantly, as well, it was the dragon. He stood, staring up at the mountain as if all other thought had been removed from his mind and it could only mean one thing and feared for him.
She went to his side and touched his thick forearm. He looked down at her. "The dragon?" she asked, already knowing the answer.
"She's calling to me."
"Yes. I was afraid that was it."
His eyes returned to the mountain.
"What is she saying?"
"I'm not quite sure. It's very strange. I don't understand or hear words, exactly, but its like she's saying, 'Come to me.'"
Her mother burst into open fright, he could see it in her face as she swept into his arms, the force of her approach knocking him back a step. She wept bitterly, squeezing him with all her might.
"Mother, what is it?"
She didn't answer.
"She is calling you for a reason, Ferrin. You must go to her. You have no choice and I must not try and stop you."
"Why? ... How do you know this?"
She hesitated. "Because it is how I called your father."
Ferrin slowly pushed her back from him, to arms length, looking intently into her eyes. "Mother? What are you saying?"
She looked aside, and then stood taller, coming to him for an embrace, once more, holding him as fervently as before.
"Because I was once like her," she said. "It is what I was before I became your mother."
Ferrin was shocked, but he believed her without question. She was always honest with him. His trust was that great in his understanding, regarding her words, but the idea of her once being a dragon was more than surprising.
"How ... How is this possible?" he asked, still holding her tight while touching and smoothing her hair, the wonder of it opening his heart to much richer, greater wonders. He loved her no matter what. It didn't matter. She was his mother.
"Magic emanates through and from dragons, Ferrin. It is what they are, pure magic. We are given so much through their influence and the channeling we can perform, put they are the source of our gifts and knowledge. That is how they came to discover what human life was like and that it was more longed for than their solitary, eternal existence. They know us more than most people realize. We are the vessels of their desire. She wants to see if you are worthy of her and if you will give yourself to her, forevermore."
Their was a silence, now, between mother and son. An uncomfortable pause before her next voicing.
"If she finds you undesirable, she will kill you, Ferrin," she told him, barely getting the words out before falling into tears.
"I'm so afraid to let you, go, but I mustn't prevent it. She would erase us from the earth, this entire place would be utterly wasted with fire and destroyed along with every one of the people. No one would escape, this time."
"You remember, then? That is how you know, isn't it?"
"I remember very little. I have no clear memory of my years before this life, but the magic is still in me, as it is in you. It simply is not developed, is all."
They heard the distant sound of thunder. A storm was approaching and then the roar of the dragon cried further from the peak, answering the hale, as if they were in some way connected. But no, it wasn't the lightning that drew his attention. It was the animal.
"She's calling, again," he said. "More strongly."
His mother knew.
"You must leave, immediately, Ferrin."
"Why does she want me?"
"She senses the dragon blood in you, and your innocence. She sees in you her chance to find peace," she said. "You may be her only attempt at happiness and her trials may be fierce. You must be ready for anything. Do not trust her."
His jaw was set firmly, but still, his mother feared for his life.
"You should go, Ferrin. Now. Come let us gather some things. Quickly dear."
Half way up the slope, Ferrin rehearsed the protective spell his mother had taught him, years ago. 'Saclameh-ah!' It was short and quick to think or say, and unnecessary to say it aloud. It would protect him against anything but a huge physical force, such as the dragon stepping on him. But possibly, that too. His mother couldn't say with any real certainty, though it was the best protection she knew of.
"It will keep her fire off your skin, as well as the heat," his mother had reminded him, tears flowing from her eyes as he walked towards the mountain. "Don't forget it?" she warned. "She will test you."
Ferrin was approaching the summit when the storm began to hiss rain and sleet off the rocks. It was getting very cold yet he was ready for it with plenty of wool and oiled canvas coverings. With clouds moving in to cover the peak in waves of mist, the lightning was striking the mountain with deafening thunders and brilliant white bolts that hurt his eyes, and Ferrin's ears range loudly after each strike. Fortunately, they were far enough away and beyond the distant buttresses, though with every hit, Ferrin crouched to the ground, closing his eyes and covering his ears. He felt a tingling in the volcanic rock each time and did not understand, completely, but knew it was the earth and sky rebelling. It was a frightening thing to experience and something new for him, but still he moved ever upward. Up into the smoking glow of the dragon's lair, almost hidden in the gray storm clouds.
When at last he arrived, Ferrin could not believe his eyes. He was looking down into a cone shaped bowl of steeply angled rock with a low exit for the fire filled lake's drainage. The dragon lay almost completely submerged in a molten fire of cracked, black, viscous rock that glowed orange and yellow, rippling with waves of heat.
Ferrin touched the white smooth stone tied around his neck, his mother had given him. She hadn't explained it, fully, briefly saying it was a stone of power, and that it would magnify his strength. It had been his fathers.
At first he thought the dragon dead, but then saw it was staring directly at him. He saw the long neck rising from the molten rock, flowing upward like an enormous trunk of a tall, thick tree, while the head continued its eerie, steady glare. Even from his vantage point, the heat was tremendous. He could go no further. She would have to come to him.
"Are you an assassin?" a voice clearly echoed through his mind.
It was her. The dragon. She was speaking directly to him and his skin grew goose-bumps. The voice was clear, now, and discernibly feminine. It hadn't been from the town. His mother was most certainly correct. Most dragons 'were' feminine. Who better than she should know such a thing?
"No," Ferrin answered, in voice and mind. "I am Ferrin. You called to me."
And with that simple greeting, he watched as the behemoth, that ancient and unfeeling dragon, rose from the black lake on it's long taloned legs, cracking free of the orange, molten glow, breaking out of the rock and rising onto the exit shore of the viscous materials with little effort.
The beast raised her wings, spreading them half way across the cone's width and with little effort rose out of the cone and flew around Ferrin several times, causing the air to swirl with such power he found himself on the ground, bracing himself to keep from tumbling down the severe slope of his perch within the vortex of its swirling moisture and cloud.
"You are young, for an assassin," said the beast.
"I have told you already who I am, dragon. You need have no concern with any feeble attempt I may have to harm you. And I carry no weapons, as you can plainly see."
"Ahh," she said, still circling, staring, the voice in his mind as clear as a great bronze bell. "But you have other weapons, unseen ones, don't you? You are a wizard, too, for your mother has taught you well, has she not?"