Though this may be a bit unusual, I have decided to alter the background of the blog for just a short while for the sake of this post as this story cannot be fully appreciated with the current backdrop. Enjoy the shane while you can, as it will be back to the ordinary before too long.
Stories can start with the smallest of actions and in the most unexpected of places. A single out of the ordinary occurrence and the ordinary life, becomes uncommon and a story is started.
Our story starts in a stable.
Vast and round, the stable is built from stone and wood and stretches hundreds of meters in diameter, and hundreds more up, so that the vaulted roof is lost in darkness. The ground of the great stable is packed down hard, stomped and trod by many thousands of feet before now ‘till it is hard as the stones of the walls.
All round the walls are the stalls, each one large enough to house a dozen horses in cumfort, but made for something much, much larger than any horse. From each of the stalls waft the gentle sounds of deep breathing and of the shifting of heavy bodies and along each door is written a name in golden ink; Jeeri, Tiamat, Fafnir and many more.
All is quiet in the stable, even when the small boy in the leather jerkin and leggings steals in through the great doors, for he moves with such stealth that he makes not a sound. Even when he shuts the door behind him, there is not a sound. Even as he tip-toes across the vast open space, not a noise does he make on his bare feet.
And now he creeps along one edge of the enclosure, making his way past stall after stall, and his bright eyes, so green they are visible even in this dark, flick to each golden name as he passes by them. Nidhogg, Ladon, Glaurung, Chrysophylax, and still he moves on, past Scatha, Ancalegon, Apep, and Galeru, barely glancing at the stalls of Rahu, Ketu, Manasa, Jormungand, and Ouroboros, ignoring the stalls of Peluda, Rinjin, Sirrush, Abraxas, and Zu, and finally arriving at the stall of his destination.
Reaching out a small, pale hand, the boy unlatches the gate to the stall and nudges it open slightly before slipping inside and shutting it softly behind him. The air smells of clean hay and copper and of smoke and the sounds of deep breathing rustle through the stall, ruffling the boy’s hair as he steps forward into the darkness.
“Orion,” the boys first word is a half musical sound, the kind of half-sung note that one makes when they are trying hard to control mounting excitement, “wake up.”
A break in the breathing, a snort, the sounds of something huge moving, rising from the floor. The boy stands very still as the sound of a massive tail sliding heavily across the floor of the stall reaches his ears. Then comes a yawn so wide that the long teeth gleam for a moment in the almost noexistant light of the stables. The breath, intensely warm and smelling pleasantly of smoke and animal smells, blows back the hair from the boy’s face, causing him to smile.
“No time for sleep,” whispers the boy, trotting through the straw to one wall of the stable as more sounds of heavy movement reach his ears, “it’s getting on to midnight, and a full moon too. Time to fly.”
For a moment, the boy scrabbles about for the object of his search on the wall, then his fingers close around leather and he pulls the massive bridle from its peg.
Then, careful to make as little noise as possible, he pads to the gate of the stall and gently pushes it wide.
The boy slowly proceeds out through the door of the stall backwards, humming and whispering enouragment to the tired creature still inside and slowly, excruciatingly slowly, the massive golden dragon proceeds out into the stables proper. First his great smoking muzzle, then the head, ridged with golden horns and almost the full length of the boy’s body, then the long spiky neck, the wings, massive and furled at its sides, the legs, the body and the heavy, spiked, whiplike tail.
The boy leads the dragon further and further out until they both stand at the center of the stable enclosure. Then, as the tired dragon looks about him with eyes that really do glow gold in the darkness, the boy steps forward and heaves the massive bridle over the neck of the golden beast and sets aout fastening the buckles and laces tight.
By the time the final belt is sinched tight, the dragon is wide awake, its great eyes bright and filled with the same escitement that courses from the small boy before him.
“You ready?” the boy asks at last, and, as though it understands him, the golden dragon wags its massive head up and down vigorously.
“Me too” breaths the boy with a smile, “just let me get the roof.”
The boy makes his way to a spot at the exact measured center of the stable and, after a quick padding search through the utter darkness, takes hold of a long chain which hangs from the ceiling far above. Giving it a swift tug, the boy turns and trots back to the waiting Dragon and swings himself up onto its back. There is no time for a saddle now, so the boy finds himself a place between two of the long, jagged spines that rise from the dragon's back and watches as the roof above slowly, bit by bit, opens outwards until there is a circular hole in the roof large enough for a house to drop through.
And now the boy can feel the slight shudders that run through the dragon as it too looks upwards at the hole through which the full moon now shines bright, can feel its heart beating with the same exileration as his, matching it beat for beat.
“Orion,” the boy whispers, his voice all-but inaudible and choked with excitement, “time to fly.”
The dragon crouches and launches itself straight up, twenty-foot wings unfurling with a crack and beating with a sound like war drums sending it soaring upwards towards the circle of moonlight.
As they reach the opening, the dragon curls its wings inwards slightly and they burst upwards into the open air. Then the wings are open once more and the two of them, dragon and ride, rise steadily above the stables and up towards the gleaming full moon.
The boy clenches the reins fiercely and grips the dragon’s neck with his knees as they rise straight up, the wind tearing at his clothes and hair, the ground now far, far below and growing further still with every passing second.
Then, far, far, far, above the stables, the dragon ceases its ascent and the two of them glide on the winds. The boy gazes down at the stables, the paddock, the dormitory, the grainary, all of them so far below now. The other boys and girls would be fast asleep by now, snuffling like hogs in their beds.
Tomorrow he would be questioned about his pale face, the dark circles beneath his eyes. He would be asked why he had not slept, but he would not tell. These nights flying high above the world below were worth any punishments the Masters could deal out. He would take it knowing that each night when everyone else was fast asleep, he could once more slip from his bed, pick the lock on the dormitory door and steal out to the stables for yet another midnight ride on Orion.
Now too far above the earth for any sound he made to be heard by those below, the boy looked up at the moon and crowedhis joy and his freedom to the open skies. His cry was mimicked Orion who threw back his great, horned golden head and roared aloud, jetting a stream of golden-orange flame into the night sky. Its light illuminated both dragon and rider, far above the earth.When they returned, they would once again shrug on the heavy hide of earthly things, of worries about food and sleep and pain. But for this tim, they were beyond it completely and absolutely. For these few precious, moonlit hours, Rowan and Orion were flying.