I saw this pic today on Facebook (a quick google search found that it’s by Donato Giancola and can be found HERE) and a tiny bit of story popped into my head. So I wrote it down. Also, procrastination. Here is my flash fiction about this pic.
Morath sat silent in the saddle as he approached Dragons Glen. The horse sloshed slowly through the water, parting the green that covered the surface. The animal kept its ears pitched forward, clearly more concerned with its footing than with location. Truly, the horse had nothing to worry about and it knew it. Only the rider, covered in armor that would do no good, need worry.
Nervous sweat trickled down the sides of his face and sank into his dark beard. He was known among his countrymen as Morath the Great. He’d faced many battles and come out the victor. He’d earned titles, lands, and castles he didn’t even want through those victories. It meant nothing in the face of this. His throat dried as a dragon slid between the trees and his horse came to stop. Morath held the pike aloft, the rag on the end catching the dragon’s attention.
Some came to Dragons Glen to kill a dragon. Not because the dragons had committed crimes that deserved it, for they were never seen outside the Glen, but to gain glory in the eyes of the Throne in the same way one might hunt a lion. The fools never returned. Only their horses eventually wandered home.
Morath was no fool and the rag showed he sought only their ancient wisdom. Though blood and battles had earned him his place in the world, he found no joy in it. The ceaseless fighting at the Throne’s whims wearied him to his bones. Nor was there joy in his home where the well-bred wife the Throne had insisted he wed, awaited his return. It was a shame bloodlines and not temperament was the only determining factor when deciding if one was well-bred or not. Morath had not encountered a colder, more conniving woman than his wife. Her pleasure in their union had nothing to with him and everything to do with the new title she’d gained upon their marriage. Empathy and kindness were foreign to her.
His deeds had trapped him into this life and he saw no way out. He’d gone to war because he’d been commanded to and he’d won because he fought to survive. But perhaps that fact he hadn’t went eagerly nor fought for glory wasn’t good enough. Maybe he deserved the “rewards” he’d gotten.
Though the simple rag showed his intentions, it did nothing to guarantee his safety. Only the dragon could do that. Morath barely took a breath as the dragon’s gaze settled on him, seeing past the armor and his physical form to look at the soul that lay within. Would the dragon find him worthy? Or would his horse leave the Glen riderless?
Finally, the dragon’s eyes focused on his face as it settled its front feet lower on the rocks. Her voice filled his head, “Greetings Morath the Sad. If it is only wisdom you seek, then I shall give it, though I doubt you will find it to your liking. However, I have seen into your soul and am prepared to grant you much more than wisdom.”
Morath took a deep breath, his first since the dragon appeared. He’d feared the dragon’s wisdom would offer no true solutions. There was little that could be done about his plight. And yet, more was offered. Intrigued, he asked, “What could be greater than your wisdom.”
The dragon snorted, sending a curl of smoke up from her nostrils. “I can set you free from that which leaves you lonely, weary, and sad. You are worthy and so you will not die. Even so, should you choose to accept the offer of more, your horse will still leave here without a rider.”
What did he truly have to lose? There was nothing he longed to return to. Only the horse made him hesitate. “If the horse is made to leave here without me and eventually finds his way home, another will ride him into battle. Many are not kind to the animals, but this horse has been with me since the beginning and I have always been careful to treat him fairly and see to his comfort myself. I do not wish for him to face life as a warhorse with another.”
The dragon regarded him for a long moment before her voice once again filled his mind, “I do not believe I have ever encountered a man such as you who would hesitate in order to plead the case of an animal. Do not worry, your horse will live a great many more years yet and never again be forced into battle or rode by another.”
That promise alone sealed Morath’s decision. Whatever the dragon’s promise of more was, whatever his own fate may be, the horse was safe. The worry of what would happen to his beloved horse if he fell in battle was the only thing haunted him.
“Then I will accept your offer.”
Amusement glinted in the dragon’s eyes. “Before we begin, it would be best if you stepped down from the horse. I don’t believe it would find this to its liking.”
Uncertain, but hopeful, Morath eased out of the saddle, his feet landing in the water that reached just above his knees. With a huff of approval, the dragon stepped off the rocks and waded into the water. She raised one foot and touched the tip of her claw to his forehead.
As a sharp tingle began to spread throughout his body, the dragon did the same to the horse. His warhorse, who had charge unflinching into battle and even stood unfazed by the dragon, now snorted in alarm and backed up so fast it nearly fell on its haunches.
Pain coursed through Morath, washing away the concern for his mount and bringing him to his knees as it drove deep into his bones. A scream ripped from his throat, drowning out the sound of his bones and joints popping, and the whinnies of the horse as it thrashed. Squeezing his eyes shut, Morath gripped the sides of his suddenly pounding head. Dragons never lied, yet Morath was certain death was at hand.
It seemed to go on forever before it finally subsided. Morath blinked his eyes open, trying to understand what had happened. Had he grown taller? It looked as if he gazed upon things from a greater height. And what he saw was in far sharper detail, the colors richer, than ever before. In fact, he didn’t even have a name to put to some of the colors.
“What happened? What did you do to me?” Though Morath was certain he’d asked the questions, he hadn’t heard his voice.
The dragon almost seemed to smile and her voice was clearer when he heard it in his mind, “I made you one of us. No longer will you fight in men’s wars, or be forced to return to the woman you were required to wed. You are free from those bonds.”
Shocked by her words, Morath looked down. His armor lay in a twisted pile next to one scaled leg. Swinging his head around on a long neck, he blinked at the huge, leathery wings folded against the dark scales of his body.
He turned his head the other way, searching for the horse. It stood next to where the saddle lay in the water. A twisted horn now adorned the middle of its forehead and large feathered wings rose from its back.
The horse looked at him with a greater intelligence than it had in all their years together as a quiet, voice in his mind said, “Thank you.”
Though Morath had never heard it before, the voice was familiar and he knew it came from the majestic creature that used to be his horse.
Morath swung his head toward the other dragon. “I don’t know what to say, or how to properly say thank you.”
“No thanks are necessary. You were worthy,” she replied. “Come with me, both of you. We do not live in this world. The Glen is nothing more than a doorway.”
Morath and the creature that had once been his horse both followed her into the trees. Only a few steps and they passed through what felt like a curtain of ice as it slid over their skin. And then, they were in another world. Morath looked on, stunned. Above them, an entire herd of horned, winged horses flew. Morath’s horse let out a glad whinny and leaped into the air after them.
“Your steed has found his new place, his new family. It is time for you to find yours,” the other dragon said.
Still reeling from the sights of the new world, Morath followed her toward a large group of other dragons that lay sunning themselves on the bank of a river. There were no regrets in his heart and not once did he think of the place he’d left behind.