Dragons

The Wise Ones told of a time when they rode the dragons far, far north. The Dragons brought the Wise Ones far, far north, where no ship had ever gone, where everything was covered in eternal snow. It was there, in a place called Njorfin, where the Dragons showed the Wise Ones how to make Fire. Not the kind of fire that one needed a flint and tinder to make, but Fire that could flow from the fingers, from the eyes, Fire that could be conjured. Since the dragons disappeared, no one knows how to get to Njorfin, and the secrets of Fire-Conjuring have been lost. The last Wise One who visited Njorfin is now an ancient man, and when he visited he was but a boy of 9. This last Wise One, Torin, is blind, but when he tells of conjuring fire, smoke, and sparks from nothing, his opaque eyes light up and it is almost as if he can see the Fire once again, see the steam of a dragon’s breath under the Northern Lights. He holds up his hands to show how big their teeth and claws were, he makes a fearsome rumble to demonstrate the sounds they made when expressing displeasure. It reminds us of why we worship them, why we hold on to our rites, why we whisper their names in our hour of need, when we grip our swords and spears and rush headlong into the bloodcurdling shrieks of pain and the horrid clang of metal against bone. Torin’s hands can no longer hold a sword, and he spends most of his time warming his old bones under wolf pelts, but he still bears a warrior’s scars. He likes to sit under a winter sky at night, gazing up with sightless eyes; even though he cannot see the Northern Lights, he says he can still feel them, dancing against his craggy face. He whispers the name of “Ygritte”, and tears run down his cheeks. He prays a prayer to the dragons, a prayer of hope that one day the Fire will return to his people.

There is a castle up there in Sweden, built long ago, wherein lived a family who worshiped dragons in a tradition that dated back before their neighbors and countrymen adopted first Norse pantheism and then Christianity. The dragon-worshiping clan endured through invasions, blights, plague, never-ending winters, and political pressure from kings and warlords. They remembered where they came from, they remembered the days when dragons ruled the forests, fjords, and mountains. They had accounts passed down to them of the times when dragons battled giant trolls, while we humans cowered in fear at the overwhelming power of these fire-breathing gods. The dragons are gone now, and there is no clear explanation why they disappeared, but they are still worshiped and revered, for soon is the day when they come again…

The dragon-worshipers tell a tale of a Sami princess that appeared at the gates of their castle on a cloudy moon-lit night many many years ago. She was dressed in bright red finery, with woven patterns never glimpsed before this far south. She was in distress, tears running down her dirt-smeared face. The dragon-worshipers brought her inside, her forehead and cheeks warm with fever. They brought her, sick and delirious, to the Altar of the Dragon, lay her among the ornately-carved images of the great dragons of yore. They implored the spirits of their gods to heal her, they fingered her colorful vestments, they whispered among themselves about where this girl with her haunted beauty could have come from. Old women in shawls placed damp clothes on her forehead, brought spoonfuls of broth to her lips, sang songs to her in the old tongues. After many days, her fever broke, and she awoke to see the carved dragons standing guard around her. She sat up, among the old women in shawls, and began to tell her tale…

For thousands of years, their fires have burned. Indeed, the dragon-worshipers, having endured all manner of trial and tribulation, believe that they will once again see the day when the fire-breathers take to the skies once again and claim the northern lands as their own. Each night, in ritual, rite, and ceremony, they affirm their fear of the winged gods. In sealed, carved boxes they keep their relics, teeth and scales said to have come from the more fearsome gods, Bel and Hvrita, Gundraka and Thyss. The Sami princess adopted their dress, their language (albeit with a strange accent), and their customs as she gradually healed in the ancient castle. She told the dragon-worshipers she was in hiding, and therefore her red woven garments should be well hidden and her origins never discussed outside of the castle walls. At night, she sang to herself in the haunted lilting tones of her homeland, singing songs to the Northern Lights and the Caribou spirits.

In the fields, forests, and meadows surrounding the castle, the Sami princess would wander and collect flowers and mushrooms. She didn’t exactly have a taste for mushrooms herself, but her dragon-worshiping hosts loved mushrooms and she wanted to show that she was grateful. The flowers, she would make garlands and arrangements to brighten up the dreary castle a bit. In the evenings, the Sami princess would sit and weave with the older women, Ingrid, Solveig, and Ulrika, as well as younger ones like Margareta, Anna, Astrid, and Karin. They would joke and gossip, their fingers working in a sort of dissonant rhythm with the flickering fire in the gigantic stone hearth. Outside, the beautiful summer evenings would either hum with crickets, or else warm southern winds would blow and whistle against the solid castle walls. Her heart stirred with those winds, something that rose deep within her breast. She listened to the words and rites of the dragon-worshipers, and knew that it meant something for her. Something that would come soon.

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