Adalardo’s Story by Dusty Zirgar
As the dust clears, the men hesitate and form a large circle around me. My size, my blue scales and my fire-breathing reputation holds them at bay. I feel dizzy, nauseated, as I lie in the dirt in a crumpled heap. I’m not sure I can manage to move and I think that this will be the ignoble ending of an ignoble life.
A small boy wiggles his way in front of the men and gazes at me. He takes a step forward and then another as I watch him through fogged eyes. A man tries to grab his sleeve, but the boy shakes him off. As he takes a third step, I blink rapidly to clear my vision and I squint at him. He continues to walk towards me, his hands stretched out in front of him, palms up.
“Hi, dragon,” the boy says. “ My name is Renfrew, but I’m called just Ren. I won’t hurt you.”
His voice is high and clear as he prattles. The sounds soothes my jangled nerves. I haven’t had contact with humans for decades, and now, at the end of a long life, I find myself hungering for it.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
I ease myself up into a more dignified position. My head throbs and my wing aches. It feels like I may have some broken ribs. I cautiously shake myself off and dust again fills the air. Coughing, the boy advances and places his hand on a front leg. I sigh and the gust of air tousles the boy’s light brown hair. The hair dances around his tanned face. I lower my head down to his level and look into his eyes. His astonishing brown eyes. Eyes that remind me of so much.
“I think I’ll be okay.” I whisper. My earth-rumbling voice would scare him.
The boy’s eyes open wide and his mouth forms a small puckered ‘O.’ I see him take a deep breath.
“You talk,” he says. He pants and gulps air. “I didn’t know dragons could talk.”
“Yesssss, well, it’s a long story,” I answer.
“Who are you, where’re you from, what’s your name?” The boy can’t stop asking questions long enough to let me answer them. His hands reach up to touch my nose.
“Whoa,” I say, “One question at a time. My name is Adalardo. As for who I am and where I’m from, that’s part of the long story. And your parents are rather anxious for you right now.”
I point a claw towards a man and woman that stand just inside the circle. The man scowls at the boy and me, and the woman gathers her apron and crumples it until it is a ball of cloth held tightly between her small hands.
“Why don’t you see if they’ll let you come to my cave and I’ll tell you my story. Ask your mother, she knows who I am.”
I was once a boy, like you. I did chores for my father and I watched Mother bake bread and roast meat and I helped her with her vegetable garden. Father owned seven fine horses and great expanses of farmland and meadows. He rode a different horse everyday to oversee his land and his farms. He never spent time with me, his eldest son, and would not allow me to touch his horses. He whipped me until welts grew on my back if I fed his horses a carrot. My bitterness festered in me like a maggot-plagued wound.
I was a bit older than you, about seventeen I’d say, when Mother sent me on yet another errand.
“Adalardo,” she said. “Fetch a bag of ground wheat from the miller. I need to bake tomorrow. And salt. You need to stop by the merchant in town for salt.
I scowled at her.
“Why me?” I said. “Why can’t one of Father’s servant run your stupid errand?”
“Just do as I ask,” she said. She did not look up from her weaving. “You have no chores until evening.”
I rode one of my father’s horses, since he be gone until the week’s end. The sack of ground wheat and a small sack of salt rested behind me on the horse’s rump as I cantered the horse along the forest trail.
Without warning, my horse reared and danced backward a few steps.
In front of me, a bear rose on its hind legs and growled while a girl huddled against a tree. She shivered and wrapped her arms tight around her chest. She stared the bear in the eye. The bear crashed his forepaws to the ground and feigned an attack.
I looked around for a heavy stick to scare the bear off. In the trees behind the girl I saw a cub. This was no he-bear. The girl stood between a mother bear and her cub.
“Get out of there,” I said, keeping my voice low and motioning with my hands for her to come towards me. “But walk, really slow, and don’t turn your back. Her cub is behind you.”
The girl shook her head. She froze in place, her back pressed against a tree. I banged my stick against the ground. The bear ignored me. It growled at the girl, a deep rumble grew louder until the leaves shook on the trees. I moved closer and banged against a tree, hard. The bear turned towards me. Its great maw opened and a roar shook the ground.
“Get out, now,” I said to the girl. I breathed deep, trying to keep my voice calm. “Move, walk slowly, but move.”
The girl sidled several steps away from me.
“Slow down, you’re doing fine, now circle way around behind it,” I said.
The bear roared again. I hit the tree harder with my stick. I could see the girl take a deep breath. She walked, one foot crossing over the other, making her way around the bear. With the girl clear, I threw the stick. It smashed against a tree with a loud whack. The bear swung back towards her cub. She lumbered across the small glen, growling and nudging her young as they disappeared into the trees.
The girl crumpled and I rushed to her. She lay on the ground shaking as I wrapped my cloak around her. Her disheveled brown hair had wisps and strands dangling around her neck and face. Mud and dirt streaked her dress and apron. I squatted down beside her. She lifted her head and her brown eyes, warm and liquid, astonished me. I could not talk, my throat felt closed. I inhaled and whooshed the air out through my mouth.
“What are you doing out here by yourself? Can I help you home?” I said, almost babbling. “My name is Adalardo and I live on the other side of the river.”
“Oh, sire, please, just help me up. You’ve done enough,” the girl said. Although, now that I saw her close up, I realized she was about my age.
“No, my honor requires that I help you home. What is your name? Where do you live?”
I held out my hand and let her grip it as she struggle to stand. Her hand looked so small in mine. She looked up at me as she rose from the ground. My heart melted bit by bit every time I saw those remarkable eyes.
“My name is Seanna and I live just up the road a bit.” She pulled her hand free from mine and drew her self up to full height. But even then she barely reached my shoulder. She turned down the road and started walking. I grabbed the reins of my horse and followed.
“May I walk with you, Seanna?” I said.
She turned her face up to me and a small smile played around her lips. I decided that was a yes and we strolled through the forest talking a bit, but mostly just listening to the forest sounds. A jay cawed in a tree and a squirrel rustled in the bushes. Over these small sounds, I could hear her soul. It reached out to me, mending my bitterness.
We approached a small thatched hut surrounded by a fence. Two cows and four goats stood in the yard. They raised their head and gazed at Seanna.
“Thank you, sire,” she said. “I really must get the milking done. My father is away, but if you’d like to come back sometime to meet him, I know he’d be honored. He’s a good man, someone you’d be glad to know.”
Her invitation echoed through my mind; proof, I thought, of her desire to see me again. But I soon learned someone else haunted the forest that day. A sorceress by the name of Ceridwen. She’d been stalking me, thinking I would be a perfect mate and she would produce heirs to take over my father’s lands.
Upon leaving Seanna, I rode my horse across the bridge, heading home, thinking about her and her invitation to visit again. The thought made me smile and I could feel a silly grin spread across my face as my heart beat faster. I knew my father would never approve, she was a simple farm girl, daughter of a carpenter. I suppose I wasn’t paying attention, out of nowhere a woman materialized in front of my horse. My horse reared and snorted his displeasure. I quieted him.
“M’lady, my pardon,” I said. “I seemed to have been adrift.”
The lady looked up and reached towards me with one hand just as I was thinking <I>“Two such lovely ladies in one …”</i>
“Sire, your pardon is accepted,” she said, looking up at me. I looked into her eyes and felt myself sinking into the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. They pulled me in, drowning me in their deep blue glow. I could not remember what had enthralled me so much that I missed seeing her approach on the road.
“I am Ceridwen. I know you to be Adalardo, I have visited your home and have met your father. Come, walk with me.”
I walked with her a while, forgetting about my father and the chores I need to finish. I forgot about the flour and salt my mother needed for her baking. And I forgot about Seanna; Seanna with the warm soul and small hands.
Six months passed and I thought only of Ceridwen. I found myself in the middle of a barn, wondering what I was suppose to be doing. I looked around at the horses and the cows, but the open barn door beckoned. I saddled and bridled a horse and before I knew it, I was mounted and on the road towards Ceridwen.
On this day her castle loomed ahead of me, its tall towers and inner bastion peered down at the surrounding countryside. The cross walls and towers were old and moss-covered. The gatehouse stones crumbled onto the path and servants bent over their brooms, clearing the trail of debris. They looked up as my horse neared but quickly returned to their task, a look in their eyes caught my attention as they watched me pass with eyes gazing upward from lowered heads.
“Odd,” I said to myself. “I never noticed how fearful they looked before.”
My horse clattered on cobblestones as I swept into the courtyard. Ceridwen stood as she always did upon my arrival, tall and stately, standing on the stairs leading to the main tower, as if she expected me to arrive exactly now.
Her appearance today startled me. Lines appeared on her face where none had been before. Strands of gray and white hair, just a few, mixed with course black hair. The hair I remembered was silky and soft. My hands could never leave it alone.
“What does this mean,” I wondered. “Did love blind me?”
We climbed the steps to her room high up in the main tower. Her room had always exuded feminine charm with soft pillows and colorful wall hangings. As I glanced around the room on this day, however, three of the wall hangings showed images of creatures I had never seen before, creatures so ugly I could not imagine they existed in this world. Huge heads, matted fur, scaly wings and sharp claws. Vicious and deadly.
As Ceridwen lead me to the soft couch a crackle of lightning flashed in the distance outside her window.
I know now that Ceridwen had become complacent. She assumed my love for her had moved beyond her spells and charms and she had not renewed them for weeks. Her glamour spell wore thin, her appearance fading to the hag she really was. Her love spell loosened its grip as well. An image flashed in my mind of a young maiden with small hands and I wondered where I knew such a delicate girl.
I looked at Ceridwen as she held my hand and stroked my face and her touch became unbearable, like the grittiness of a rock and the dryness of leaves left on the tree in February. My eyes closed and my teeth clenched as I bore her caresses. My heart hammered against my chest and my stomach lurched. I could bear it no longer.
I leaped from her couch and rushed to the door. She shrieked with rage and the door slammed shut. I pulled on the handle, tugging with all my strength, knowing my life depended on my escape. The door did not budge. I dashed from door to window in a mad hope of finding a way out.
I stumbled and fell against a small table set against the rear wall. The table crashed to the ground and her shrill cries grew louder. Splinters scattered. I tripped and stumbled. My hand landed on a large amulet cast off from the table. With no idea what it was, I grasped at it. Heat seared my hand.
The instant I touched the amulet, Ceridwen face withered and wrinkled, her hair grayed and coarsened. She rose from the couch and floated into the air. She sailed around the room above me muttering phrases I could not decipher. Smoke curled around her, acrid smoke that filled the room with a gagging stench. Lightning flashed outside and thunder crashed. I could not breath. I could not see.
I knew her magic needed the amulet. I threw its chain around my neck and rushed to a window.
I saw below me, only three man-heights down, the roof of the guardhouse. A jump was possible and I took the risk. I stood on the deep rocky sill and hesitated an instant, inhaling deeply, before throwing myself out the window.
Her incantations grew louder and faster. Flashes of light sparked off the tower, crackling into the fading light of dusk. I dropped through the air and time seemed to stop. In my rush to jump I’d misjudged and I knew I wouldn’t survive. I would crash into the rotted timbers of the roof of the crumbling guardhouse and fall onto its stone floor, crushing my body.
A horrible pain stabbed through my body as, inch by inch, the roof seemed to float upwards to meet me. My head throbbed and ached. The flesh on my back ripped open, crippling me with searing pain. Then, suddenly, the roof that once loomed so near was far below me and I soared through the sky.
A horrible anger consumed me. The bitterness of my youth returned. And a hunger for flesh. Human flesh. I peered down at the ground below me and searched for towns and huts. I needed raw, live human flesh. I needed to snatch villagers with my talons. Shred the flesh from their bones.
In a lake below me, by the light of the full moon, I saw a horrible creature fly by, its reflection glimmering across the still surface. I drifted down for a better look. The creature’s reflection stared up at me from the depth of the lake. A four-legged creature, monstrous, scaly wings beating against the night sky. Fur-covered. A huge head with hideous teeth, drool dripping from its snout. The creature from Ceridwen’s wall hangings.
It was me. In her jealous rage, Ceridwen, a sorceress of enormous power, had changed me into a creature, a hideous monster. I landed on a rock near the shore of the lake and studied the image. The moon shimmered round and glowed with its faint light beside my reflection. The amulet I stole hung around my neck. The amulet was silver, an image of a dragon cast into one side. The other side had figures I could not read. I grasped the amulet in my claw, ready to rip it off and hurl it into the lake.
The amulet burned in my clawed fist and the fire freed me from the urge for human flesh. My own flesh charred under the heat and the smell stripped my anger away. I did not want to live like a monster, but the urge to hunt was strong. I lifted off the rock and soared over the country side.
For decades I hunted. A monster creature that caused brave men to hide and children to run. I hunted only livestock once the woodland game vanished. The amulet calmed my need for human flesh. I knew what would happen if I ever loss the charm. The villagers had reason to fear me.
A thunderous summer day filled with gray skies and black clouds matched my rage as I hunted. The villagers hid their cows and sheep and it became ever harder to find food. I clutched my amulet, never wanting to hunt the humans themselves. I traveled further from my home, a cold bare cave buried deep in the mountains. Hours of hunting left me exhausted and hungry as I soared ever further. A small farm below caught my eye. A thatched roof surrounded by a fenced yard filled with cows and goats. A grey-haired woman and a small child bent over a tub of water, rubbing clothes to clean them.
The woman looked up and I saw her eyes grow large as I dove to earth. But something in her face resonated deep in my soul, in a place long forgotten. Seanna. The name came unbidden. And her daughter. No, a granddaughter. How many years had passed since our chance meeting?
I drifted down and the woman and the girl dashed into the house as I landed in the meadow by their hut.
“Seanna,” I said, my voice a growl, unintelligible to humans. But something in the tone must have filtered into the hut and deep into Seanna core. She peered out from the doorway, the little girl peeking around her grandmother’s skirts. Two pairs of brown eyes stared at me. I huddled in the grasses just outside the fence, mesmerized by her long forgotten warmth.
She stepped out of the house, commanding the young child to stay within. She walked five paces from the door, watching me. I did not move. I held my breath, awaiting her decision.
After an eternity, she walked across her small yard to the fence where I sat.
“Adalardo?” she said. “My gods, what happened?”
“Witch,” I managed to say in a barely understandable growl. She nodded her head.
“I had heard of a beast that lived far away in the mountains. It is you, isn’t it?” she wrapped her arms across her chest and I was reminded of how she stood on that day so long ago and faced the bear.
“I know of a wizard,” she said. I shook my head. My body quivered. I wanted nothing to do with sorcery.
“This is a good man,” she said. She placed her small, warm hand on my forepaw. My shivering calmed.
The wizard was a good man. But he could not free me from the witch’s spell.
Black clouds gathered as he stirred his cauldron of magic. The clouds swirled over our heads, gathering strength. The winds howled until we clutched trees to stay on the ground. The wizard, unaffected by the wind devil that roared around us, stirred his pot. The fire grew brighter, unwavering in the storm. His words roared above the howls and the winds sped faster around us.
Lightning flashed and thunder crashed. Closer and closer to the huge cauldron. With a loud crack and a blinding flash, a bolt of fire struck the cauldron.
Blue skies opened above us and the clouds scurried to the horizons. The wizard and Seanna looked at me. I closed my eyes. I could not look, did not dare look. I heard a sigh. I peeked through a half-opened eyelid. Seanna’s somber face saddened me.
“I’m Ceridwen’s monster,” I said. “Aren’t I?” I hung my head and closed my eyes tighter.
“Not the same,” Seanna said. “Open your eyes. And you can talk now. Your voice is rich and full.”
With my head hanging down, I opened one eye and saw orange scales. I opened the other eye and held up my front leg. Orange and yellow and red scales, the color of sunrises, the color of autumn, covered my body. I lumbered over to the lake and looked at my reflection.
“A dragon!” I said. “I’m a dragon.”
Orange scales covered my long neck, gracefully arching as I looked in the lake. My muzzle was yellow, a brilliant yellow, like the sun itself. Red wings the size of two huts spread outward from my back. A long tail trailed behind me and ridges decorated my spine all the way down to the end of the tail. I was the most handsome dragon I’d ever seen.
The silver amulet still hung around my neck. The dragon emblazoned on it looked a lot like me.
My heart felt light, my rage disappeared. I turned back to Seanna and the wizard.
“I’m a dragon.” I said again.
“Yes, yes, well, that’s the best we can do,” the wizard said. “No sense whining about it. It was all I could do to get this far. Good thing you had that amulet. It’s the only thing that kept you this side of the netherworld. I’m afraid we’re stuck with a dragon.”
“You’re a gorgeous dragon, Adalardo,” Seanna said.
I puffed up my chest. After all the years of being a hideous monster, a monster hungry for human flesh; after decades of fighting the urge to sink my sharp teeth into the soft, pale flesh of humans, of terrorizing villagers, of no contact with humans, I could live with this.
I visited Seanna often. I’d spread my red wings and fly across the skies, wheeling and turning, playing in the winds. Seanna would ride on my back as I floated through the heavens. When she died, I visited her granddaughter, whose name was also Seanna. And when Seanna the younger died, I could bare the world no more. My brilliant orange scale were fading and turning blue and my great body withered and weakened. I returned to my cave and never again soared the heaven until the day I fell from the skies into your village.
The time of the dragon has ended in this world.
I finish my tale and the young boy, Renfrew, sits for a bit, not moving. The fire catches the gleam from a tear as it trickles down his face. He rubs his face and runs his hands through his hair.
“You knew I was Seanna the Younger’s grandson,” he says.
“Ummm – yes.” I lift my head to look into his brown eyes.
“How much longer do you have?” he asks.
“I think I shall see you grown to a full man and wedded with children before I decide to depart this world.” I say.