Saturday, August 27, 2011

Black Venom

Despite my father, Merlin’s, admonishments to stay safe inside the castle walls and search for instances of the mysterious black armor in the ancient scrolls, I donned the chain shirt that Arthur had given me when he grew too large to fit.  I had no intention of sitting on the sidelines studying while my family fought for our survival, our freedom, and the lives of the humans who counted on us to keep them safe.  
I was both pleased and dismayed to discover that my shoulders were beginning to strain the limits of the chain’s flexibility.  Soon, I would outgrow it completely, assuming the army of the Black Knight didn’t slay me and my entire family first. 
I had been listening to the distant horns of the battle while I searched futilely through dusty old scrolls. They had blown the charge boldly, and my mind went with them, even if my body could not. When I heard the horns turn frantic, and the retreat sounded again and again, I could stand it no longer. I might be too young to be sent out to war, but in a few minutes, the war would come to me.
I climbed the narrow stairs to the east wall, sword banging against stone as I walked. I could hear the horns of the cavalry and the drums of the foot soldiers in the distance. I flattened against the wall periodically to let soldiers rush past on errands of importance. Their swords never seemed to bang against anything. I tried to study how they walked so I could learn the trick of that. I was focusing so hard on keeping my sword under control that I walked right into the broad chest of Sir Cedric. “Apologies,” I mumbled, ducked my head, and stepped aside.
Cedric didn’t rush past. He just stood there in my path like an implacable green and silver stone merged with the granite battlements. His scales were almost fully in, so he didn’t need chain mail, just a surcoat with Arthur’s colors that left his wings free to unfold if needed, and a sword belt. “Where do you think you’re going, young Robert?”
“To defend the wall, Sir,” I drew myself up to my full height and put my hand on my sword. That only brought the top of my head to Cedric’s chin, unfortunately.
“I thought Merlin had you cloistered in the library, researching.” The way he said ‘researching’ it sounded like a curse.
“I cannot hide behind walls while others bleed to defend them,” I said. “I am yours to command.”
“Mmm,” Cedric grunted. “Lucky me.” But Cedric and I shared a bond. We were both sons of Silver.  Only the daughters of Silver ever grew up to have the pure silver scales that could often turn aside even bespelled weapons, and the deadly venom that could paralyze any enemy.  The daughters of Avalon were the guardians of the land. Those of us born to Green fathers and Silver mothers inherited the hearts of warriors, but scales and venom better suited to healing than fighting, and we grew up motherless for the most part.
When a terrible crack of thunder heralded one of the Silver’s greatest powers, calling lightning from the sky, we both looked up at the summoned storm. Cedric grunted again. “Fine, boy. Find a spot on the wall, and don’t get killed. Your father would turn me into something unwholesome.”
I grinned my thanks to him, and ran along the battlement walkway before he changed his mind. I wasn’t about to tell him that Father could not turn him into anything, he could only change himself into birds and beasts.  People believed the strangest things about Merlin the Wizard. Father told me to let people think what they wished; they would anyway.
I found a spot and squeezed between two guardsmen so that I could see over the edge of the battlements.
Arthur’s troops were retreating at such speed, it looked like an orderless chaotic mass at first, but I could see the mounted knights holding the rear to give the common soldiers more time to get back to the dubious safety of the castle.
The storm winds blew rain hard into the faces of the pursuing black army, while our own troops ran on firm ground. That was my mother’s doing. She was the pendragon of Silver, the second eldest dragon in all of the islands, even though she was only half as old as Father.
Mother and her Silver sisters should have been fighting the Blacks in the stormy sky, but three Blacks flew all but unopposed, wreaking havoc with the retreating troops. I could see Father tending a badly wounded Aunt Fiona at the base of the walls, but I couldn’t see Aunt Cion.
All of that I understood in an instant, and forgot as I saw my mother struggle into the air, the tiny forms of King Arthur and Sir Gawain on her back, one of her legs streaked with crimson. The magnificent sight of my mother in her huge silver combat form, big enough to stand on her feet and peer over the castle wall always filled me with awe, but her usual grace and power were gone. She wobbled in the air like a drunkard on Midwinter’s Eve.
She flew directly toward me, growing larger and larger, her blue eyes glassy and half lidded as if she were struggling to stay awake. Her head passed less than a man’s height above me.
 I threw myself flat on the stone walkway as her limply hanging wounded leg crashed into the wall. Stones she knocked loose from the mortar hit my back hard. I suffered no more than minor bruises, thanks to my chain shirt, but I heard her scream in agony at the impact on her already wounded leg. The guardsman next to me didn’t duck. He shouted as the huge silver clawed foot knocked him off the walkway to the cobblestone courtyard, a fall that would shatter bones.
Mother didn’t land in the courtyard, so much as just stop flying. Gawain and Arthur jumped clear of her massive body as she fell on her side, one wing awkwardly half folded beneath her.
I struggled out of the chain shirt in seconds and my hands shook as I flung it aside. I jumped off the battlement before I even had my wings spread, just catching enough air to slow my fall, so my bones wouldn’t be shattered like the luckless guardsman’s.
I landed beside my Mother’s unmoving form, whispering to her again and again. “Please, be all right, Please.” Blood poured from the wound in her leg in buckets, and it smelled wrong. I could see an odd tint of black, like tarnish on her silver scales near the edges of the wound.
My scales were decades from coming in properly, but I had my venom, and already it had proven as effective at healing as Father’s, but only if I could calm my mind.
Tears streaked my cheeks as I touched my Mother’s silver scales that I had always thought impregnable. My throat closed and choked me. How could I be calm?
Anger stopped my useless tears. Because if I was not calm, my mother would die.
I tried to think of the wounded dragon in front of me as just a wounded animal. Use your head for more than a place to put your hat, Father always said. Think it through.
The wound was long and deep, the edges cleanly cut. A sword wound, from a very sharp blade, undoubtedly, and one powerfully bespelled to cut through Silver scales as if they were silk. It bled so much because the artery was cut. I found the artery, as big around as my finger. I put my hand into the cut and pushed to try to slow the flow.
“Help me!” I shouted.
Arthur and Gawain knelt beside me. Neither had inherited healing venom, only the paralysis venom of the Silvers. “What can we do?” Arthur asked me.
“Bring the edges of her wound together.” If I could calm myself enough, with a wound this clean, I might be able to heal it completely. You can do this, Robert.
My arm touched the black smears on the edge, and I smelled them. It smelled oddly pleasant, like something that would taste good, and just a little like my own venom. I touched it to my tongue and felt a trace of dizziness, like when I drank too much wine at dinner. Venom. Black venom, but incredible amounts of it, far more than a simple bite would produce.
Father had taught me the effects of all the venoms of the various dragon clans. Black venom caused passivity and compliance. It weakened the will of the one bitten and made them easy to control. But a massive amount of it like this might cause far more severe effects. 
Mother still breathed. I could see her huge chest rise and fall, but only shallowly, as if she had fallen into a very deep sleep. I didn’t know if my venom could counteract so much of the venom of the black, but there was only one way to find out. Her blood continued to pulse through my fingers even as Gawain and Arthur pushed the great wound closed.
I was as calm as I could be under the circumstances. I had to try my venom quickly. The only place I could bite her was in the wound itself. I couldn’t possibly pierce her scales with my fangs. I took a deep breath with eyes closed, breathed out again, and bit my mother’s torn flesh, piercing deep to give her all the venom I could.
The blood pulsing between my fingers slowed and stopped. I opened my eyes horrified.
She died. I was too late! My mother was dead, and it was my fault!
But, no. I wept with relief as I watched, the gaping wound sealed closed where the edges touched. I hastily shoved together the two ends of the severed artery, and it healed whole.
Mother didn’t waken, though. She lay in a sleep so deep that I wondered if she ever would.
As I wept beside her, I looked up to see a black-winged dragon fly over the wall, and for the first time ever, my heart filled with hate.

I woke up in my own bed, at 3 in the afternoon, my odd schedule’s equivalent of the dead of night. That boy in my dream was my dad, Sir Robert Drake. I dreamed my dad’s memories when he was a teenager. I immediately got up and wrote it every detail down in my diary. I don’t want to forget a moment of it. Seeing my grandmother’s life was cool, but this was so much better.  I was with my dad. It wasn’t a memory that I’d gone over a hundred times, fighting to hold on to every detail. This was a new memory, one I never could have shared with him when he was alive. My dad had faced a situation much like me on the dam with Vlad. It’s hard to be calm when someone you care about is bleeding in front of you. He would have understood.
I lay awake a long time, holding on to that memory, sad and violent though it was. It made me feel as if my dad had come to visit me.

D Dragon

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