Of Sailing Ships and Dragon’s Tails
There comes a time in everyone’s life when they come to realize that the Boogy Man isn’t real. That is a sad, sad day. Because on that day, magic, miracles and wonder are over. You no longer ask yourself, “Did dragons really fly in the sky?”, or “Did Elves dance in the woods?”. Those things just don’t matter anymore.
Except for my Grandfather, he believed in dragons and elves and dwarves and magical beings with vast power. He was also the town’s Baptist Minister. How can these beliefs all live together in one man and not get him ran out of town, you ask? Simple, in my Grandfather’s own words, “I will not put boundaries on God. If He wills it, it happens, end of story. I don’t believe these things exist now. I believe that God CAN make them, I believe in the possibility that God made them. Having faith in something that you can see and touch isn’t faith, it’s being a part of reality. Having faith in the risen Jesus Christ shouldn’t be just faith it should be a relationship. And having faith in the possibility of something that God can do, is a wonder and a joy.”
I went to live with my Grandfather when I was 7 years old, after my parents were killed in a car accident. I was badly injured as well, but my young body was able to heal itself quickly. And when I moved in, my days and nights were filled with storied from the Bible and the written works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. I believed that Moses, Gandalf and Aslan would sit together and drink ale and tell stories of their adventures together. Then, one day, the question came. Were all these things real? I had to know, so I asked my Grandfather, the wisest man I knew.
“What’s more real, a sailing ship or a dragon’s tail?” he asked me.
“I don’t know.” I answered.
“Can you see a sailing ship?”
“I see them all the time on the lake.”
“Who made them?”
“People, I guess.”
“So if people can make sailing ships, can God, creator of all there is, make a dragon’s tail?”
“Yeah, if He wants to.”
“So you can have faith in the possibility of a dragon’s tail because you have faith that God can create a dragon’s tail if He wants to. All God asks of you, son, is the faith in a possibility. Because if you have faith in the possibility of the seemingly impossible then you will have faith in the reality of God’s power and wonder all around you.”
So I lived my life with faith in the possibility of the impossible, and it has served me well. When my Grandfather passed on to his reward I found, in his papers a large stack that was dated a couple of weeks after I was born, and it was dedicated to me, and so it seemed that even as I was still that young, he always intended to install in me the faith of the possibility. The papers were the story of the Land of Phelestia, which means “Prosperity” in the “Old Tongue”, the adventures, the successes and failures, but always the faith of that wonderful, magical land. Now, I pass that on to you.
In the days of Rasthalan, the King of Phelestia, after the Winter War, Jacob and Michelle prayed to Maran, the One God, through the blood of His son Jesu, the Saviour that they be blessed with a child. So it happened that Michael, their son was born. Michael grew into a healthy, strong young man, and was raised in the ways of Maran, to love and to care for his friends and neighbours.
Jacob was a Swordsmaster and teacher of the King’s guards of Phelestia. He taught his son as well and Michael grew to be a finer swordsman than any that his father taught. In his 17th year Michael had grown to be a handsome man with long dark hair that he held away from his face with a leather thong with small charms on the ends, as was the custom in those days. His friend, Benjamin was also a handsome man and the two were seldom seen apart. Benjamin’s father was a farmer and one day, Michael and Benjamin were travelling to Dark Watch, a garrison in the northern part of Phelestia, to bring them wheat from Benjamin’s farm. Thus begins the First Tale of Michael.
The horses pulled the wagon loaded with wheat flour over the rough road as Benjamin flipped the reins to keep the animals moving. Michael, sitting beside him stuck his fist into his mouth to cover a yawn. They had gotten up well before the sun to load the wagon before they left.
“Why did I come with you again?” Michael asked.
“You’re my guard.” Benjamin replied.
Michael motioned to the yew longbow beside Benjamin. “You can hit a squirrel’s eye at 50 paces with that thing.”
“And what if there’s more than one squirrel?”
Michael laughed. “Was there a great squirrel uprising on the most heavily guarded road in the Kingdom that I don’t know about?”
“You should come work on the farm for a few weeks, it’d be good for your soul, rather than sleeping in until well after sunrise every day.” Ben replied. “Besides you always talk about wanting to travel.”
“If the Good Lord Jesu wanted me to be a farmer I would have been born to farmers.” Michael looked around at the tall, lush trees around them. “Besides, I want to see the endless sands of the Caran D’Ache. I want to stand on the shores of Paramon’s Tears, and walk down the stone streets of the Elvish city of Haven.”
Benjamin laughed. “The Canan D’Ache worship Mishra, the blood god. Your father would never let you go there.”
Michael stifled another yawn. “I wouldn’t go there to convert to their blasphemous religion. I just want to see the land. Maran made it all; is there something wrong with wanting to see it?”
Benjamin nodded and they travelled for a while in silence. They met few travelers on the road and more than a few soldiers riding along on huge warhorses keeping the peace. Michael and Benjamin greeted every one they met and received a few greetings in return. As they turned a corner and started up a hill they could smell the familiar scents of cookfires and hear the sounds of forges and men training. When they topped the hill they saw the fortified town of Black Watch.
Large wooded palisades surrounded the town, whose only purpose was to house the 500 soldiers that lived there. A large, 4 foot thick wooden gate stood closed along the road and stopped their path. Three guards stood at the gate and motioned the two boys down from the wagon.
A man with two gold braids on his shoulder stepped forward and eyed the sword at Michael’s side. He looked each boy up and down. “Your purpose?” he said with a dry, strained voice.
“Carrying flour from my father’s farm, sergeant.” Benjamin replied. “Why are the gates closed?”
“There’s a Caran D’Ache raiding party a few days from the town.” The sergeant said gruffly.
“A raiding party!” Michael exclaimed. “Shouldn’t you be riding out to stop them?”
“They have a dragon, boy.” The man retorted hotly. “If you think that’s not enough to button up the town you can speak to the commander.”
“Sounds like more than a raiding party then.” Benjamin said, holding a hand up to stop Michael’s reply.
The Sergeant motioned to one of the men to open the gate. “Go in and drop your load off. You’ll want to be on the road back as soon as possible to get away from here. It’s not going to be pretty.”
Michael and Benjamin climbed back onto the wagon. “Will it be that bad?” Benjamin asked.
“I’ve seen a couple of dragons and fought one of them.” The older man replied. “The one took out 50 men before we brought him down. The other took out twice as many and then flew away when it saw that we took out his partner.”
“How did you kill it?” Michael asked.
“The plates on it’s belly are loose. If you can get a spear or sword under the plate without it killing you, you can cut into it’s belly.” The man said. “Or if you’re a really good shot you can shoot it in the eye.” The sergeant motioned to Benjamin’s longbow.
“Bet a dragon’s eye is bigger than a squirrel’s.” Michael smiled.
Benjamin looked at Michael sideways and said, “Don’t get any ideas.”
The Sergeant smiled. “No offence intended, boys but you’d probably just be in the way.” He pointed at the sword at Michael’s side. “You’d probably just as soon stick yourself with that big knife as kill an enemy.”
“My father taught me how to fight with this!” Michael exclaimed.
“And your father is whom exactly?” the sergeant asked.
“Jacob, Swordsmaster to the King’s Guard.” Michael replied.
The old soldier nodded. “Well then you probably know enough not to kill yourself with that, but you and your friend here are still green.”
Just then a huge roar erupted from the far side of the town. A building suddenly was engulfed in flames and soldiers started running to the burning building, as the townsfolk who lived there ran away.
“Get inside!” the sergeant screamed. “You’ll be safer inside the walls!” He looked up at Michael, whose face went white. “You’ll get your chance to show us your skill now, it appears.”
Benjamin struck the horses with the reins and they quickly trotted into the town, their eyes wild and all white. Benjamin jumped off the wagon and reached in to grab his longbow as Michael leapt off the other side and drew his sword.
Raising his sword he kissed the blade. “May the blood of the Lord Jesu and the power of Maran be upon me and guide my arm today.” He said. Stringing his bow, Benjamin then slung his quiver over his back, repeating the same prayer.
As they trotted, side by side toward the burning buildings they saw a priest kneeling over the charred remains of a man in the street. The priest looked up and locked eyes with Michael. He then stood and ran to the startled young man.
“What is your name, boy?” the priest demanded.
“Michael, father.” He replied as he stepped a few paces away.
The priest raised his hand and placed it on Michael’s forehead as if in blessing. “As surely as the God Maran lives in the flesh as His son Jesu, by dusk tonight you shall be called Michael Dragonslayer.”
Michael pulled back as if he had been struck and stumbled in behind Benjamin, whom had moved on. They rounded the corner of a burning building and suddenly stopped. They stared in amazement at the great beast before them. Burnished red and golden scales covered the 30 foot tall creature. It’s short legs ended in paws with four razor sharp talons the length of a longsword. Leathery black wings were folded on the monster’s back. The square of the town was not long enough to hold it, so the creature swung it’s tail to and fro, crashing into buildings and knocking them down. A long sinewy neck ended in a great head with a crown of black horns, and a huge gaping maw with teeth as long as a man’s arm. Red, eyes as big as dinner plates, blazed with hatred. Men with halberds and long spears struck at the creatures sides, but the weapons just broke off against the scales without leaving so much as a scratch. The creature turned to one man and locked his eyes on him, then it opened it’s mouth and fire spewed forth from it’s throat. The man took one step back and fell in a charred heap of burning flesh.
The sergeant from the gate jogged up and put a hand on Michael’s shoulder. “THAT, boys,” he said. “Is a dragon.”
“Benjamin, “ Michael said. “Can you hit it’s eye?”
“Well it IS bigger than a squirrel’s” Benjamin said as he knocked and arrow drew and shot in one swift, practiced motion.
The dragon shut it’s great eyelid and the arrow broke and fell away harmlessly.
“It’s eyelids are armoured?” Benjamin exclaimed.
“It’s all armoured.” The sergeant replied. “This kind is designed for one thing, to kill.”
The priest from the street came up behind Michael and laid a long fingered hand on Michael’s shoulder. “Have faith in the possibility of victory through Maranthas.”
“Maranthas?” Benjamin asked.
“Maran is God in the Old Tongue.” The priest said. “Thas is Trinity. The Trinity is Maran, the One God, Creator of all. Jesu, His son and Saviour of all the world. And The Faithful Gifter. If we have faith in the possibility of victory, then we can accept the Blessings and Will of Maran.”
Michael turned to face the grizzled old sergeant. “How do we kill it?”
“You have to get under it’s left front leg and thrust under the plate that’s there. Your sword will drive right to it’s heart.” He said.
Benjamin knocked another arrow. “I’ll try to distract it.” Taking careful aim he paused and then cried, “Now!”
Benjamin loosed the arrow and Michael ran at the same time. The dragon swept it’s huge paw and knocked the arrow out of the sky. The paw came down and nearly struck Michael, who dropped and rolled under the creature’s swing. The paw hit a soldier bearing a halberd and neatly sliced him into 4 pieces.
Michael found himself on the dragon’s left side and all alone. The dragon raised his head and slowly turned to look for him.
“Where are you, little man?” the dragon hissed, a deep booming sound, like bass drums.
“It can speak?” Benjamin said, amazed to the sergeant.
“Apparently.” The sergeant said, equally amazed.
Benjamin knocked an arrow and aimed. “Now, “ he said. “While it’s looking for Michael.” Loosing the arrow, it struck in the side of one of the dragon’s plate sized eyes.
Crying out in pain, the dragon reached up to swat at the arrow. It was then that Michael saw the scale the sergeant had spoke of and with both hands struck into the dragon’s side, driving the sword to the hilt into the soft flesh under the scale. Blood flowed from the wound and covered Michael’s arms and chest. Rolling back he stumbled towards the dragon’s hind legs.
The dragon reared on it’s hind legs and spewed fire all around it, torching buildings and men alike, Michael barely made it behind the creature as it fell, fire seeping from it’s gasping maw.
Pushing itself up, once, the dragon fell and died.
Benjamin and the sergeant raced forward and helped Michael to his feet.
“You did it, boy!” the sergeant cried. “You did it!”
A soldier ran forward and yelled. “One hundred Caran D’Ache at the North Gate!”
The sergeant turned to the remaining soldiers in the square. “Come on boys!” he cried. “Let’s show them what Phelestian men are like!”
“Tired and soaked in dragon blood?” Michael muttered.
“You wanted to fight a dragon.” Benjamin said dryly as he pulled Michael to the North Gate.
Michael leaned down and grabbed a sword that was lying and arm’s reach from a dead soldier. “I didn’t know I’d be covered in dragon blood at the time.”
“Picky, picky.” Benjamin muttered as they approached the gate.
“You, boy!” a man with a large white plume on his helmet yelled. “Up on the battlements with the rest of the archers.”
“That must be the garrison commander.” Michael replied.
Benjamin nodded and trotted up the stairs where other men were showering the other side of the wall with arrows.
Michael was left in the street with a few soldiers standing staring at the gates as they bulged in and out, with great crashes and groans from the battering ram on the other side.
“You alright, boy?” a soldier asked him.
“That’s dragon’s blood!” a young solder said to the veteran. “He’s the one that killed the dragon in the square. Saw it all I did!”
“Did you now?” the veteran said. “What’s your name, boy”
“Then I suppose we should be calling you Michael Dargonslayer.”
“What?” Michael stammered at the name. Just then the gates burst open and Caran D’Ache soldiers flooded through. Michael raised his sword and fought.
The battle went on for what seemed like hours to Michael. Man after man came after him and he was separate from the two men that he was fighting with for a while. Just as he realized he was surrounded a call went up from behind him.
“The Dragonslayer is trapped!”
Thirty men lead by the sergeant from the gate and the veteran that gave him the title dragonslayer burst through and guided him to safety. After no longer than thirty minutes the streets were quiet except for the groans of the dying and the pleas of the captured. Michael stumbled to a set of stairs and sat down heavily. Benjamin rushed over and grabbed his shoulder.
“Are you injured?” he asked sharply.
Michael shook his head. “Just tired. Not even a scratch.”
Benjamin sat down beside him and sighed. “Strange thing, a battle.”
“How so?” Michael asked, setting the borrowed sword down beside himself.
“We spent so many years dreaming about being in a battle, and playing at it with sticks in the fields with the other boys. We longed for the glory of the stories and the honour of victory in Maran’s name.” Benjamin sighed again and rubbed a dirty hand through his hair. “Now I find myself sickened by the smell of blood and the sounds of death.”
“It was necessary to save the lives of these men.” Michael said rubbing his eyes with a blood stained hand. “They attacked us, not the other way around.”
Benjamin nodded. “I suppose.”
Michael slapped Benjamin weakly on the shoulder. “Besides, all they had was a blood god. “We had the creator of all there was, is and ever shall be.”
The commander of the garrison approached them, his helmet gone and a long gash on his cheek. “You fought well dragonslayer.” He said shortly. “And your aim is flawless, archer.”
Michael looked sideways at Benjamin. “Apparently we’re not boys any more.”
“You’re still boys.” The commander smiled, but the gash made it look more like a grimace. “You’re just boys with honour now.” He turned to walk away. “Come, we’ll get you fed and then send you back to the capital with one of my messengers and a small detail.”
Michael followed the commander with Benjamin and saw the priest standing on the burnt remains of a building and crying out to a small crowd in front of him.
“The blessed light of Jesu has saved us all! He has blessed us with his mercy and has showered his grace on Michael, the Dragonslayer whose faith and skill through the hand of the Faithful Gifter has delivered us from the evil of the dragon’s fire!”
Michael chuckled. “It’s not dusk yet.”
Benjamin nodded and started to smile. “He was right.”
Thus Ends The First Tale of Michael
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