I snuggled close to my beloved Merlin, the familiar warmth and scent of his lean body, a great comfort after many nights spent alone. Pounding on the thick wooden door made him groan, sit up, and shout, voice gruff from sleep, “What? Come in.”
A servant in the green and white of Arthur’s household burst in, a human boy, no more than twelve. “A dragon has been sighted over the village, flying this way!”
Merlin grunted. “So, make him welcome and wake me when he gets here, boy. We’re expecting a messenger from Eric the Red.” My mate snuggled back into my arms.
“His body is red, but he has wings and breast of black!”
“Black!” Merlin sat up again and I sat up with him. Surely it was too soon for the Black Knight of his vision to come, and he had said the enemy was a fledgling, not yet a flyer. Nor should he have been alone. The vision said he had an army at his back. But visions are notoriously vague and often symbolic, rather than literal.
“It seems unlikely that this is the enemy we feared,” I offered cautiously.
“We’d best be prepared in any case. Go and wake Arthur, and make certain that young Robert is guarded. Run, boy!”
The page sketched a bow and ran.
We hastily dressed in court finery, but with weapons as well. It’s hard to know what to wear when you don’t know if a visitor comes to kill you or dine with you. For my own part, I dressed simply. If I needed to fight, my garments would lie in shreds when I transformed.
Arthur met us as we entered the kill tunnel under the front wall, dressed in a fine surcoat and his golden crown, but with his sword and a dagger belted at his waist, and a fine suit of chain under the surcoat. He left the portcullis raised and the drawbridge down as he would for any honored guest, but Arthur had the guards stand in their places, ready to seal the defenses again if needed.
Such defenses were a joke in any case against a flyer. Only a dragon could properly defend a keep against another dragon. Merlin was too old to take to the sky without first jumping from a high tower, and Arthur was too young. Both were formidable warriors in their own ways, but if it came to combat, I would be the one who faced the enemy in the sky.
We waited in the sheltering shadow of the wall until the stranger landed in the drilling field beyond the moat. That way we were not vulnerable to attack from above. The largest dragon I had ever seen landed before us, wings beating so hard that dust flew in our eyes even fifteen feet away. He was truly magnificent, this dragon of Red and Black, a young dragon in his prime strength, with spikes down his spine and barbing his tail. I hoped he was a friend. For the first time in my life, I faced an opponent that I was not certain I could defeat.
“Hail stranger,” Arthur greeted. “I am Arthur Pendragon. State your name and business here.”
“I am Fafnir Drage, eldest son of Eric the Red. You sent a messenger asking for aid. I am your answer.” The dragon’s voice boomed from a chest two wide to fit through the castle gate. I had no doubt that everyone in the castle heard him.
Arthur’s brow furrowed. “I had hoped Eric would send an army.”
Fafnir turned his head, neck arching almost in an S curve so that he could look at us with one eye, but face to the side. He inhaled deeply, then exhaled with force. Fire so hot it scorched the very air, making it difficult to breathe for a moment, blasted the pounded dirt of the drilling field until the very soil melted and blackened into glass. “I am better than an army.” The huge dragon shifted form, shrinking into a shaggy red-haired man, still bigger than any man I’d seen by a foot at least. “I’m easier to feed than an army, too.”
Arthur laughed, and I couldn’t help but smile. This Fafnir was certainly very sure of himself.
“Welcome, Fafnir, son of the Red.” At his words of welcome, servants came forward bearing a tunic and belt of fine cloth for the visiting dragon prince.
We escorted him into the great dining hall where breakfast of eggs and pork waited. While he might be easier to feed than an army, that was only true by a small degree. The man ate a dozen eggs and an entire haunch of roast pig. He requested ale to wash it down and was accommodated.
When our hunger was eased, Arthur spoke to the northman, “Forgive our hesitant welcome. The enemy on our shores is of the Black.”
Fafnir nodded and wiped ale foam from his bushy red beard. “So your message said. My mother is of the Black, youngest daughter of the old Dracul himself, wedded to my father to cement the peace. We have the same truce with Black that we have with Green and Silver. Eric sends these words...” Fafnir closed his eyes like a schoolboy striving to remember his lessons. “Red will not raid the shores of Black, Green, or Silver, and they will not raid ours. Those are the terms of our truce. Battles between you are not our concern. But if Black truly seeks to conquer Red lands as you say, then my son will remind them why they made the truce in the first place.”
“I see,” Merlin said thoughtfully. “You will require proof of Black’s intention to attack your own shores before you will fight beside us then.”
“How can we prove their intentions?” Arthur objected. “By the time they’re ready to turn against Red, our lands will be in ruins and thousands will be dead.”
I had had enough of this Red prince. I stood and faced Arthur. “If the only aid Eric will send is one arrogant half Black boy who refuses to even fight until the war is done, then it is clear we are on our own. The Silver guard will not fail to protect the land as we have for millennia. We have no need of the Red.”
Merlin caught my hand. “Do not be so quick to judge, my love. Fafnir’s aid may be more valuable than you …
Camelot slipped away in the wailing cry of “Let me Go- oh- oh! You don’t need me, baby. Stop holding on the way you are,” from my cell phone ring tone. I rolled over and answered, brain still half in the dream. “Mm?”
“Hello, fledgling. You wished to speak to me?” Fafnir’s deep voice said through the tiny box by my ear.
“Eric insults us by sending you. We need an army, not a single arrogant boy,” I snapped at him, eyes still closed.
Dead silence on the line.
I opened my eyes to my familiar bedroom, posters of Elvis, the Eagles and various incarnations of Doctor Who on the wall. I blinked a few times in light that seemed bright even though the heavy curtains were pulled closed to block out the daylight.
“Damson?” Fafnir finally spoke after several seconds.
“Fafnir? I’ve been trying to get hold of you for days. Where have you been?”
“Cell reception at the Faire site in California is abysmal. I just received your message and had to drive an hour into town to get a good signal. What was that about Eric and sending an army?”
“Sorry. Weird dream.”
“For a moment, you sounded exactly like Lady Nyneve of Avalon.”
My turn for stunned silence.
“Uh. Would Lady Nyneve happen to have been my grandmother? Tall lady with ash blonde hair, in love with Merlin, who could turn into a huge silver dragon?”
“I would have described her as a formidable silver dragon who could turn into a tall, slender woman with pale hair. But, yes, that was Lady Nyneve. You remember her well, it seems.”
“How can I remember her at all? I’ve never seen her in my life.”
“That’s because she died centuries before you were born, fledgling.”
I sighed and flopped back into the dubious comfort of my bed. “You’re not helping, Fafnir.”
Fafnir chuckled. “It is said that dragons have long memories. Some of us remember things that happened before we were born. Some of us can even remember things that haven’t happened yet.”
“Merlin was something of a legend even when I was a fledgling, the most gifted wizard of the Green ever known. You are his granddaughter. It’s not surprising that you have memories older than your lifetime. What surprises me is that you have such a gift so young.”
“That’s why I’ve been trying to get hold of you. I’m not so young anymore. Domina Death stole about 60 years from me.”
“You really should lock your doors.”
“I’m serious, Fafnir. All of a sudden, I’m twice as old as I was before, but I don’t know any more than I did when you left.” I paced around the room, waving my scaly left arm with the clawed hand for emphasis. “I’m almost totally covered in scales, I can’t see outside without super-dark sunglasses, and I can barely walk across the floor without tripping because everything feels off balance and weird. You said dragon puberty was so slow so I’d have time to adjust.” My voice got a bit strident. “I haven’t had time to adjust to squat!”
“What do you expect from me, child? I cannot give you back those stolen years.”
I sat back on my bed. He had a point. Fafnir had become my surrogate dragon father figure, but he couldn’t fix this. “I don’t know how to hide my differences and look human. I don’t know how to deal with the light.”
“You will learn in time.”
“Time is what I don’t have. I don’t know how to be a dragon, and I don’t have decades to learn it on my own anymore. I need a crash course.”
Fafnir sighed. “It has been millennia since I had children as young as you are, and I never had to teach them such things. You would be better off learning from a dragon nearer your own age, one who has had to master the same skills in recent memory.”
“The only other dragon I know is Vlad, and he’s like 700.”
“Perfect. He is young enough that the lessons of the fledgling are still new in his mind.”
Young. Right. “Fafnir, how old are you?”
His rumbling laugh vibrated the phone in my ear. “Only a few thousand years, fledgling. By dragon standards, I am merely middle-aged. But our elders have all been killed or gone so deeply into hiding that even I cannot find them. So, I find myself in the odd position of the eldest and wisest. Most of my life I have been considered the brash, impulsive young fool. Now, the young look to me for guidance. It is good that you have the gift of long memory. Through you, the wisdom of elders like Merlin the Wise and the valiant Lady Nyneve are no longer lost.”
“I don’t feel particularly wise.”
Fafnir laughed again. “You give me hope, fledgling. I thank you for that. The young Black can teach you what you need to know, and will enjoy the chance, I think.”
“Yeah. Um, about that. Vlad is sort of not talking to me.”
“Did you break his heart, little one?”
“Yeah, probably. This dating thing is pretty much a lose, lose game. I can’t do anything without someone getting hurt.”
“There is never love without pain. You will have to swallow your pride and ask for his assistance.”
“Jack is going to love that.”
Fafnir chuckled again. Glad my misery was so amusing to him. “I wish you luck, fledgling.”
“Thanks just bunches.”
He was still laughing when he hung up.