Timeless Spirit Logo DRAGON'S DAUGHTER

A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. January's Theme: "Our Relationship with Earth"
Volume 3 Issue 2 ISSN# 1708-3265
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Dragon's Daughter
Part Three

by Jennifer Monaghan

If you missed it, here's a link to Part Two.

The days were beginning to shorten and the air to cool. The clouds were heavy in the sky, portending an early winter. It had been three months since Abigeal's disappearance and although Conall searched for her night and day, he found no trace of her. Her father became forlorn, coming out of the house only to view the moon in her pregnant state with a worried gaze. On those nights he sat until sunrise, retreating back indoors just before dawn. My mother danced around any question I posed regarding the man's strange behavior, it was as though she knew and understood something that no one else could see.

The snows came and soon the Winter Solstice was upon us. Many in the village, less only Abigeal and her father and my absent brother Conall, celebrated by adorning trees with symbolic ornaments and gifts. My mother and I served cookies, cakes and spiced cider to visitors. Ivy, holly and mistletoe were hung indoors and out. Young ones could be seen carrying baskets from house to house, made of evergreen and wheat stalks dusted with flour and filled with clove-spiked apples. Yule logs were lit, songs were sung, bellies filled and the air itself seemed to resonate with merriment. Even the lately somber Liadain and her shy daughter attended the festivities in our house, both smiling, albeit with dark eyes. They brought with them a gift of a traditional log to burn in our fire, lit with the remains of last year's yule log. I overheard Liadain whisper to my mother in confidence that her husband had refused to light the fire, the house was left dark and cold. My mother made a sign against bad omens and sent her home with a spare log from the stack outside and a tin of ashes from our own fire, sure to be mixed with last year's ashes. "Light this when he is asleep, but before night is through, lest you upset the spirits and gods." That night I watched the fire in our own hearth burn well into the night, finally falling asleep just before light but not before my brother Conall stole into the house with a look of hate and grief in his bloodshot eyes. I said nothing as he gathered some clean clothes and foodstuffs and exited with the barest of glances in my direction. I had grown accustomed to his burglar-like habits, stealing in with empty arms and out with full ones like a common thief. He rarely stayed more than a few minutes, speaking little when he did. He was always out searching, always finding nothing. I missed him but knew better than to ask him to stay.

I did not see him again for many days, though I stayed up many nights in a row watching for him. My other brother, Cormac, was angry with him and berated me for my actions. "Why do you wait for him so? He has deserted you and mother, left me to care for the family, he cares not for any of us."

"He cares much and you see little. Mother and I can take care of ourselves, we need no man to provide for our shelter and meal, you are simply a guest in this house until you marry and build your own."

Speechless, fuming, Cormac pounded on his booted feet out the door, fists clenched. I watched him walk away. His fists remained clenched until he reached the well where Liadain's daughter stood. She spoke to him, something she seldom did with other villagers. He relaxed and I turned away, staring back at the fire.

It was said that, on the nights following the solstice, if one looked far into the distance, small flickering lights could be seen accompanied by twinkling voices singing in celebration. On one such night, berating myself for being too old for such fancies, I nonetheless found myself gazing into the black of night searching for the Faerie lights, straining my ears to hear their song. Instead what I saw was a shadow against the stars and what I heard was far from the joyful singing of the Faerie-people. It began as a low, quiet rumbling and rose into a shriek such as I had never heard or imagined. Hands clamped o'er my painful ears, paralyzed and exposed, I stared with curiosity and fear into the sky at the shadow moving towards the village. It blocked out moon and stars alike with its great wingspan. If I had looked, I would have seen Abigeal's father rise from his seat on the porch, knocking over his chair in the process, but I was too enthralled by the sight before me to pay heed to aught else. As it was, he had apparently run screaming from his house toward the great beast in the sky. It seemed to stall, positioning itself almost vertically, wings flapping heavily to hold its great bulk in place. Suspended over the man, who had rooted himself firm to the ground and stood tall and straight as an old evergreen, the beast ceased its shrieking. It's long and slender neck curved into a hook as it gazed sharply downward. After what was only a moment's pause, but what seemed to me like an eternity, the creature straightened, shot up in the air, wings pressed to body and snout pointed to the heavens. Then, in a smooth motion, it changed direction, giving a tremendous cry as it dove downward and towards the house of Abigeal's father and blew from its nostrils a great flame. My mouth opened and my eyes widened as I watched the scene unfold. The house burst into flame, from it a young girl emerged, screaming and wreathed in flames. She was tackled to the ground, the fire on her body put out, by someone nearby. The man stood motionless, watching as his house was destroyed, eaten by flames. Only later did he realize that he also witnessed the burning death of his second wife, Liadain.

All this I learnt from others, for the only thing I could see during the events that transpired was the dragon, the beast. I was mesmerized by it - by her, for although I had no basis, I knew it to be female. As she turned from the village and retreated back to the mountains from whence she had come, I was certain that her head turned and her eyes fell upon me, eyes that I knew to be crystalline blue though I could not see them. Dread and pity filled me in that moment, for I had come to a realization that I was loath to accept. My mother seemed to share my realization, for I could see it in her face when finally I tore my gaze from the mountains to look back at her.

The village was quick to gather, splitting into two sections: the warriors and the caregivers. Many of the men, any who were young or old enough to fight, gathered arms and armour and supply. The women and the remaining men provided shelter and food and comfort to the man who had lost his wife and house in one fell swoop. All that remained of the house was the rocking chair, it had fallen from the porch and suffered only a scorching. The remainder of the house was ash and in that ash nothing tangible remained, not even a definitive indication of Liadain's corpse.

A new house would be built in the spring. Meanwhile, the old man stayed in the house of another, while his second daughter, now motherless, stayed in our house. She slept in Conall's bed, a bed that had gone unused for many months. My mother and I tended to her burns, applying cooling and healing salves and forcing her to drink various herbal tinctures to reduce fever and calm the mind. She woke frequently, screaming in pain or nightmare or both, eyes wide with horror. Cormac could be seen sitting by her side at night, whispering softly to her, gingerly petting her one unscathed hand.

By day Cormac acted as the leader of the new army, an army meant to hunt and kill without mercy. Only one man objected to the forming of this army. Abigeal's father pleaded with Cormac and his men to stand down, begging and weeping on his knees, hands folded and eyes filled with desperation. None of them could understand the man's reasoning, for why would he not desire to slay the murderer of his beloved wife? His cries went unheeded, dismissed as the delusional requests of one who had gone mad with grief. Sword was forged, shield crafted, spear made by felled tree and arrow. The men were hot with anger, motivated by pride, nothing would change their hearts or their minds.

Conall had been to the house just days following the incident and upon learning of it, he was off again in a frantic rush. He returned again a week later, his face hardened and his eyes filled with rage. In one hand he held his sword, in another a lock of blue-black hair that could have only come from one head. He approached the army of soldiers as they fastened gear and gathered up packs. He raised his sword high above his head and cried out, "Kill the dragon, slay the beast!" He chanted this again and again till the entire army chanted with him. He joined Cormac in leadership of the army. He braided the lock of hair, attaching it to the hilt of his sword with a scrap of leather. Two days later they were gone, headed toward the mountains with courageous hearts and determined minds. They marched into battle, they marched into death, knowingly and assuredly. Nothing would stay their course.

Nothing except for their foe, that is…

They were gone more than a fortnight, returning hungry, weakened and lessened in numbers. My brothers were still at the head. Of what transpired I learned from Cormac and the remaining men, as Conall would not speak. They marched and searched for many days for sign of the dragon or its lair. At times the men swore to hearing the sweet and melancholy sound of a woman singing, and this sound they did follow night after night, finding nothing but a bit of old fabric, which had been snatched up by Conall and kept safe. It was thought to be a torn fragment of Abigeal's dress and many were convinced that she was being held captive by the horrid creature. It seemed that Conall shared these thoughts, though he did not voice them. They continued to search in vain, until one night, near the witching hour, they came upon a chasm in the mountain rock. Dangerous though it was to seek out such a monster in its wakeful hour, they proceeded into the chasm. Deep in, they heard a growl that shook the stone around them. Unsure of whether to continue, many stalled. It was to their undoing. The ones that bravely walked on found themselves in a large stone cavern and on the far side could be seen the dragon beast. The torchlight reflected off of her gleaming scales, which were black as a starless and moonless sky. She rose on her hind legs at the sight of the men. Backed against the wall with no way out large enough for her enormous bulk, she shrieked loudly enough to wake the mountain. The ceiling and walls of the cavern cracked and started to break apart. Stone falling all around them, the men panicked. Cormac called out to his men, directing them to escape through a tunnel to the left of the dragon. He waited until all of the men were in the tunnel and then started in, when he heard a shout. "Surrender her to me or die, you filthy beast!"

"Conall!" Cormac called to him. The dragon's shriek lowered to a roar. Its crystal eyes were locked with Conall's as he stood his ground, refusing to retreat.

"What have you done with her? Surrender her now!" He raised his spear, clutching possessively the piece of his lover's dress in his free hand.

Cormac, dodging falling rock, made his way to Conall, grabbing his sword arm and twisting it round behind his back. He shoved him in the direction of the tunnel, Conall fighting him every step of the way.

"We will come back, if you die now you will never avenge your love, now GO!" Cormac shouted at him. Finally in the tunnel, Conall collapsed to the ground, weeping. Cormac had to drag him back to his feet and force him onward, lest they be crushed. Once on the other side, they watched as the dragon broke through the mountain side and soared into the night sky, sounding a cry akin to wailing and lamenting. Later, numbers counted, it was discovered that many were missing, presumably dead. The ones who had stalled in fear had been trapped in the mountain, crushed by weight and force of the crumbling walls.

Both men and supplies lost, the army admitted defeat and turned homeward. Conall argued at first, but acquiesced at the promise of return once supplies were restored and men rested. They neither saw nor heard the dragon following their departure from the mountainside, but the distant singing was carried on the air through the valley and could even be heard in the midst of forest thick with slumbering trees and evergreens.

Once home, none of the men were eager to return to the dragon's mountain. None except for Conall, that is. He was impatient as a child, yet fierce as a man in his conviction. "If we do not march soon, I march alone," he often declared.

Cormac spent much of his time by the side of Muirne, Liadain's daughter who still lay in Conall's bed, prone to fits, both skin and mind still healing. She was thin and frail from lack of nourishment, it seemed as though she were wasting away. Brightness, however, could be seen in her eye following one of Cormac's visits. It was evident to any and all, the unspoken bond between them. It was especially evident and apparently disturbing to Conall. "How can you love her, with the way her mother drove away my Abby?" he asked more than once, always receiving silence for a reply.

A month, then two, passed by. Muirne grew stronger, took more food and was able to sit up in bed for short periods of time. She would be scarred, but her skin would heal. Her mind, still tender, would not mend as quickly, but with love in her view she was more at peace. Cormac spent his time working and tending to Muirne. Conall spent his time brooding in his tent - he had refused to sleep in the house - fingering the braided hair and torn fabric obsessively. He had given up on his brother and the army. The dragon had been silent, fear and urgency no longer drove the men to battle cry. Conall, instead, made plans in secret to travel alone into the mountains and single-handedly capture his love, if she still drew breath, and slay the dragon.

Please return next issue for Part Four of Jennifer's "Dragon's Daughter".

Jennifer is happily married to a wonderful woman, Lisa. Theirs is a union of true, deep, respectful love… the kind we all dream about. She is also a writer and poet with a passion for the written word since childhood. Jennifer's poetry has been featured in The Prologue, an annual publication of the University of WI, River Falls, Body Mind Spirit Magazine and here at TSM. In addition to writing, Jennifer recently graduated and is now working as a veterinary technician.

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