I have forgotten my name.
It was among the first stirrings of wakefulness that I heard it, felt it, a resonance within my being, and at its utterance I came to be. I was awakened then, before I was, from a dreamless eternal slumber by a whisper, a voice in the swirlings of Chaos, a pure and perfect melody upon which the lyric of my name was carried. That was then, before my becoming, before I returned to my slumber many ages later, only to be awakened again. This time was different: I was taken from my rest by a hum – a dull roar that in its persistence crept into my dreams and slowly, relentlessly pried me from them. But there was no name to be heard, save the word lost in a world-song that had forgotten it and drowned out its melody.
Without a name I had no word to whisper, no will to make myself manifest in this age. My body held me captive, a prison of flesh and bone and blood made unmovable by centuries of death-like sleep, and only through intense, labored effort was I able to restore life to my flesh. I lay for a long while listening to this new world in which I had awakened while the fire of my soul warmed my blood and quickened the beating of my heart. Bone and sinew, muscle and tendon, aching from atrophy, became flush with returning life-force, and a soft luster returned to long dull scales and the bony ridges that run from my brow to the tip of my tail.
I understood quickly that the hum was not a single thing, not a single note, nor the sound of the world, but rather the sound of things in the world. New, unfamiliar sounds competed for space and time, becoming lost in each other in a cacophony of noise drowning out the harmony of the world I remembered and now long for. It was -it is- still there, but it is now faint and forgotten, I fear, by all but a few. A few, I had thought, such as I.
My blood warmed me even as my spirit chilled. The fire in my belly grew hotter. Warmth returning to my limbs allowed me to break the fetters of dust and earth that had blanketed me; talons flexed and wings unfolded and stretched and I enjoyed a renewed familiarity with the body from which I had been so long absent. Muscles rippled, straining beneath my scaled hide as my joints relaxed, creaking and groaning after an age of disuse.
When dragons slumber, we sleep so deeply that we are in a sort of state of death, at least as you would describe and understand it. Our spirits travel deep into the dreamscape and dwell there until a sound, a word, our name, calls us back to the waking world. Had I known what world was calling me, I may have stayed in my dreams a while longer.
The world I remembered was lush and green, alive with the songs of nature. That world had changed little over the course of ages, but this world, your world, had changed so greatly in so short a time that I at first thought myself still slumbering, still dreaming, still exploring worlds beyond this one. The cool, heavy, wet scent of earth in my nostrils and lungs and the warmth of the fire in my belly left no doubt that I was awake. I continued to listen for a time, waiting to hear the whisper of a name, my name, in the symphony of creation, but it did not come.
I eventually realized that not only was I not hearing my name, I was not hearing the familiar tunes of the voices that usually sang it. Straining, I thought at first that maybe they too had been washed out by the hum of this world, but they were not there. Surely songs as mighty as ours would cut through the discordant frequencies of this new age had they been there! Silent were the voices of my kin, now only echoes in eternity, faded and unremembered by a world not of our understanding.
Sorrow washed over me in that moment.
I was alone.
A long, low rumble escaped my throat as I accepted my situation before grudgingly opening my eyes to the darkness around me. There was a lonely comfort in the stillness of the cavern, and I pondered a moment its similarity to a tomb – was this what the grave was like for mortal creatures? My slow, heavy breaths reverberated off the stone walls, slow and steady and deep like the blacksmith’s bellows. Other than me, only the hum of your world was present in that darkness, and I knew that there I would have no peace.
The gifts of my kind are many, and among them is the ability to change our form and move about the world as one of its ‘natural’ beings, including the form of men. I sang the words and felt the change wash over me – man had once called such things magic, but for my kind it was as natural and innate a thing as breathing. Warm light bathed me, illuminating the cavern and casting shifting shadows against the walls; I caught the sound of a rodent skittering away in the darkness, the only witness to my taking the form of man.
It had been an age since I’d taken human form, and though it is frail and limited, there is a comfortable familiarity in this skin. My natural draconic features are reflected in it, my hair red and my skin fair and freckled, echoing the rusty hue of my scales; even my eyes, I knew from past experience, altered, but only slightly, their normally golden hue softening to a brown that I had once been told glowed with its own luster. I allowed myself a few moments to settle into my new form, shivering from the damp chill of the cavern soaking into my new, delicate skin and feeling the smooth, cold stone beneath my bare feet. In time (time being relative to your kind’s understanding as mortal beings, yet all but meaningless to my kind) I made my way to the surface and the world above.
A cool, but unnaturally thick night air greeted me, polluted by sickly orange light that caused my weary eyes to ache. Despite the limitations of my human form, my senses were overwhelmed. My ears struggled, straining to sort out the wash of sound assaulting them and my nostrils burned from caustic fumes that hung heavy in the air. Gone was the sweet taste of night, gone were her melodies, replaced by toxic vapors that taste of slow, painful death and a discordant hum composed of unfamiliar harmonies.
There I discovered the source of the hum – a world of steel and iron towers skinned in glass and perpetually illuminated with artificial light so as to hide the night sky. Being as old as the world and remembering it as it first was, I was unsettled by what I found, though unsurprised. Man had always been a creature of invention, not content to live in harmony with the world around him, instead always seeking to change it according to his whim and his will. The extent to which you have gone though, in such a short amount of time, left me wondering if my brothers and sisters had left the world by choice, as I had sought to do. I soon learned that they hadn’t left the world at all, but had been taken from it, killed by men – men that you now call heroes in your myths and legends.
Oh, yes. Your stories are true. Men have been slaying dragons since they learned to harness fire and fashion weapons of metal. My long memory recalls events in your history that are now celebrated as myth – events that were unfortunate and unnecessary, even harmful to the world itself. I remember when my sister fell to Wiglaf’s blade (Beowulf was there, but it was Wiglaf who struck the fatal blow), when my brother fell to George’s sword, when Gilgamesh took the head of Humbaba, and when Sigurd slew Fafnir. Few we were at our birth, made fewer still over the ages by the greed and arrogance of men. When I went to my slumber those few centuries ago, I was among the last of my kind. But now, I am the last of an immortal breed.
I wandered your world for a while, searching for my kin but finding only fragmented memories wrapped up in your legends and the stories passed down through your short history. Each of your peoples, each of your cultures, each of your eras, had some mention of my kind; some were very far from the truth, some very close to it, most having some balance of fact and fantasy in them.
I kept hoping to find evidence that my brothers and sisters had done as I had and taken to slumber, but instead I found only epitaphs written in verse and story; gone were the songs of my siblings, never to be heard again, only longingly remembered in my dreams. I had fled to the worlds beyond sleep to escape – the timeless and unchanging seeking to flee both time and change, and my sins. The truth is that my dreams were nightmares, haunting reminders of noble intentions turned to corrupted purposes. I had taken to my slumber in shame for my deed, for having given men a wisdom they were not yet meant to have in their youth, and while I had seen then what would become of my ‘gift,’ I had not envisioned how wrong I was to give it; age, it seems, is not always attributable to wisdom. My dreams were haunted by my guilt and I found no rest in the worlds beyond.
At first I fell into sorrow. I was alone in a world that remembered my kind only as terrible monsters of the imagination. A world so unlike the one I left behind as to be unrecognizable. Even the skies, which had once belonged only to us and the birds were now crowded with your machines and choked with poisonous black clouds. We had failed in our duty as protectors of nature and the Mother and there was now nowhere in the world that I could seek atonement for such a sin, nor escape and find refuge from my grief.
Only death offered any hope of peace to my weary soul.
I longed for death, for release from the embrace of the world, even if it meant oblivion and to be no more. Yet I was immortal, bearer of the sacred fire of creation, born of the world and with it. There is no natural form in which death could claim me, for as our gifts gave us great power to protect the Mother, so too were we granted a life that transcended time and the ravages of disease and age. We were – I am – timeless and ageless and eternal in our being.
I had unintentionally made this world, and now, clothed in steel and smog, it was a constant reminder of my sin, and an endless torment of my being. I tried to return to my slumber, but found that escape in such a way was impossible. Without the gentle lullaby of the old world to ease me into my rest, the long sleep of ages was unattainable. For years I dwelt in this self-made hell, seeking a way to change it to a sort of purgatory before realizing what I had, in my despair, overlooked.
I could die, and in that I found hope.
I soon came to look for a ‘champion,’ a new hero worthy of slaying the last dragon and simultaneously delivering unto me the mercy of my deserved punishment and release from an existence of shame. None of my kind had before willfully sought death; we had been hunted throughout your history, and only those of your kind with certain rare gifts had ever been successful in killing one of us. Yet men had spread over the world as rapidly as insects forming a new colony in a rotten tree; how then was I to find such a rare being among you?
Once, long ago, I had done battle with a would-be hero, a Northman who sought to win renown among his people by bringing me death. He was strong for a man, certainly blessed with gifts uncommon among his people, and where we fought the land was scarred, and still bears its wounds today. His blade had bit deep into my hide and drawn blood that rained hot from the sky, mixing with thunder, wind and rain; he very nearly proved then to be my unintended salvation. In the end though, my flame and claw proved too much for him, and he passed into history, his name forgotten.
Knowing that I would be hard pressed to find a hero in this age, my sorrow became anger, and I envisioned taking to the sky in my true form as a wrathful agent of vengeance that would lay low your cities and restore balance to the world. However, I realized that such action would be of nothing more than momentary consequence, and indeed, your kind’s attempts to bring me down would very likely only further upset the balance and harm the Mother. For while man possesses fire, it is not the cleansing fire of creation and renewal, a gift given only to my kind as caretakers and cleansers of the world; yours is a fire that destroys but leaves in the ashes nothing natural and healthy from which new life may grow. Men had used their fire to kill the world and to silence its song; dragons had used our fire to renew and refresh the world and add new melody and harmony to its symphony.
On my own, war against your kind would be hopeless, and though the thought that one among you would arise to slay me and send me to my eternal rest tempted me, I chose to become a student of men. No love of your kind motivated me at first. While it is true that I had enjoyed the company of your kind in long ago ages, I viewed men as nothing more than a disease upon the world, infinitely contagious and spreading uncontrollably, with no means of stopping or curing it. Instead, I sought to understand the world as it had become. I sought to know my enemy.
I chose to dwell among you as one of you, to learn your customs, your culture, and to view the world and yourselves as you did. In doing so, I came to find that though there are among you those who seek treasures and wealth with greater avarice than any of my kind ever did (there is a simple, regrettable truth to the stories of my kind having a love of gold and jewels) there are far more among you who love the world and seek to learn its song and add your own melodies to it. I became enamored of many of your new technologies and found in them the means to rejoin the world and become part of it. In time, the despair that had become anger and rage turned to curiosity, and my song found a Muse, and through her, a new voice.
Dragons have always been capable of love, and as I have said, many among us, including me, found joy in the companionship of your kind. So too it has been with me in this new age, finding she whose song hinted at the Mother’s and echoed its refrain. In her I found a new hope that the world was not lost, that it might yet be saved, that there was hope for men, that the song might be heard and sung again. With her my sorrow and my anger are soothed and while my fire is made hotter it is kept in check by her love, as cooling and calming as summer rain.
It was on such a summer evening that she and I first embraced, she taking refuge in the innate warmth of my body, seeking to escape the chill of the night air. That night, as the world outside turned around us, time stopped and I forgot my pain. Golden strands of hair fell around me and her crystal blue eyes pierced the veil of my soul, reaching into my very being. She did not understand me, but she knew me and she allowed me to know her, and through her I could know a world I had created but did not understand. The coolness of her porcelain skin was soft against the weathered ruggedness of my own, a comfort that eased me out of my anger and into deeper thoughts of the nature of my own being. And then, she woke me.
From her lips came a whisper, and on that whisper came a lyric… a name. It was not the name I have known since my birth; it was a new name, but I knew it to be mine, mine as she gave it to me, mine as much as it made me hers. In the moment in which that word came to be, in which that song was sung, I was renewed and made whole again. In the power of a word I found temperance of my fire. I also found my salvation.
Though I have her, and through her a new name, I am still angry, and I still grieve the loss of my kin – fallen are my brothers and sisters, forgotten and believed now to have been nothing more than myth and metaphor. Once, we ruled the land and the skies, not as kings and queens, but as stewards and caretakers. We were proud and mighty and strong and we dwelt with the world and men peacefully and in harmony. For ages that harmony was lost and men and dragons warred with each other. But now, I have found a new harmony, found a new hope, and have remembered the peace that once was.
My wrath for now is contained, my fire turned toward love rather than anger. But such a thing can only be for a time, a brief moment that will pass too quickly, and will likely never be again. Frail and weak is your kind, doomed to suffer the decay of the body, yet your spirit is strong; the strength of her spirit lies in the softness and beauty of her song, and it is that which has conquered me for a moment. She offers me a vision of redemption, and in it, hope. In the hum of this new world I have found a new melody, one that will reach its crescendo soon.
Even with that hope, even with her love, I am alone in the world. I expect that in time I will reveal myself or find myself revealed and one will rise from your numbers to challenge and defeat me, and in my atonement will come my peace. When that time comes I will embrace my fate as a condition of my penance and I will hope to join my brothers and sisters in eternal slumber and leave the world to you. And perhaps, that moment may even be worth an epitaph such as some of my kin have been given in your histories; and though my name is lost, never to be sung again, maybe I will be remembered and not forgotten.
I have forgotten the name that made me, but I have been given a new one, one sung on the lips of she who might be my salvation, and I know who and what I am, and why.
I am the last dragon.
Copyright © 2015 Rob Salem. Redistribution in any form, including digital, print, or audio is expressly prohibited without written consent. For publication and permissions queries, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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