The wet thud of clopping horse shoe against the mud soaked ground
had become a monotonous undertone to which his thoughts clunked
in his mind. The rain falling made no difference to his drenched
clothes, and he concentrated upon gazing blankly ahead, between
the two upright ears of his scrawny horse, at all of the
warriors, their mounts trudging along wearily.
Everyone around him was enthused with a love of war, songs of
bloodlust and violence cutting through the rain and wind
non-stop, sung in rough, hoarse voices, but he could not bring
himself to join with their so called 'heartening' songs, which
usually consisted of words such as cut, kill and destroy repeated
in a threatening sort of chant.
The current tune consisted of four words: 'Skirra, hitta, kuta,
taka!' which were Old Norse, and meant scare, hit, cut and take.
Pleasant, he thought, rubbing his forehead absently.
He had nothing to look forward to either, nothing to entertain
his dull thoughts with, for as soon as they dismounted and pulled
out their tankards of beer and spread out their blankets to sleep
on the harsh terrain, the drinking would begin. Of course the ale
and beer supplies had dwindled now, and the drunkard riots that
had taken place early on were virtually non existent, but the
gory legends the groups shared haunted him in his fitful sleep,
and he woke terrified of his own overactive imagination.
The reality of war was much harsher than he had expected. The
youngest of four brothers, he had become enthralled by his elder
sibling's tales of the comradeship and glory experienced in
battle, the pride when you watched the enemy cower before you,
the triumph of taking the treasures of the losing side.
He had imagined it to feel somewhat like what he had felt when he
had punched a boy in the face for insulting his sister, Finna.
Though Finna hadn't really cared about being called scrawny, his
sense of duty overrode his sense of fear, and he had decided to
teach him a lesson. The rush of adrenaline mixed with excitement
had whooshed through him, and he had hoped that war would be a
constant rush of the same emotion.
So as soon as he could, he joined the ranks and set off to defeat
the next set of usurpers. But he soon discovered fighting was not
to his taste. He could not bear the shot of pain that rippled
through a dying man's body, the striving for blood leaving him as
soon as he realised that the enemy were the same as him. They had
the same faces, the same expressions, just different beliefs. He
wondered if it was worth paying your life for.
The others jeered at cowards, and sometimes killed them off, so
he was careful to hide that his legs trembled whenever he was
called upon to fight. He was Ref, named for the fox, yet he could
not help but feel that he should have been named for the chicken.
He could just hear the potential taunts, and so he gritted his
teeth and slew the enemy as if they were crops being harvested,
trying to make himself oblivious to the fact that, unlike slender
stalks of corn, those he cut down screamed in pain and begged
piteously for mercy.
The ride continued, voices booming across the countryside, as if
to try and banish away the thick fog which had rolled in like
waves across the waterlogged fields. Ref was struggling to see
the riders only one horse in front of him, but it didn't bother
him. Perhaps the fog would hide his obvious discomfort.
They trudged on, and on, the fog so dense now that it was like
being surrounded by dirty grey blankets. Ref wondered if he could
slip away into the countryside and go unnoticed, but then thought
better of it. The Saxons knew their way around this place, and
should one find him, clearly a Viking, his chances of survival
would not be worth thinking about.
The songs had grown louder now, as if the group were desperately
trying to find a way to defy the weather, and the noise throbbed
in the centre of Ref's forehead, making him feel woozy and
What he wouldn't give to be at home right at this moment, sat by
a warm fire, with Finna and his mother, eating cheese melted onto
bread, feeling the cosy heat… heat?
Suddenly Ref realised he was feeling a lot warmer than he had
previously felt- in fact his skin prickled with warmth and his
nostrils were filled with a smell of burning flesh.
He gagged, his cheeks bulging as he tried to keep down the
nauseous reaction his body had thoughtfully provided him with,
and suddenly he noticed that the songs had turned into shouts and
He couldn't see a thing; the fog was too thick, and it seemed to
have grown darker. A shot of flame whooshed past him, missing his
legs by an inch. However, the fire had burnt away some of the
mist, and he could see dark shapes around him, still
undistinguishable, but most definitely there.
He wondered hazily what was going on, his mind a little fuzzy
with confusion. A roar startled him out of his reverie, and his
horse reared up in the air with a terrified squeak.
Ref stared at his mount in disbelief. The roar had been loud,
yes, but squeaking?
Then came the cry that shocked him to the core.
Run? Since when had the Vikings run from anything? Ref gulped,
and reined in his horse more tightly. All around him, people were
wheeling their animals round and galloping away, in a stampede of
panicking terror. He felt strangely calm, as if this was all a
foolish little game.
But then, with a frantic rear, his horse pitched him into the
air, and he tumbled to the ground, landing heavily on his arm.
He was surrounded by crushing hooves, which thundered about him
like pounding drums. This, coupled with the fire, lead him to
partake in a bizarre dance, as he ducked under a flame, wove
through hooves, and pushed himself out of the stream of certain
He made it out, by the grace of the gods, and, stumbling, he fell
into a muddy patch, and lay there, nursing his arm (which was
hanging at a rather unnatural angle) until the sound of hooves
faded away. The pain caused his vision to become blurred, for the
next thing he knew, a large shape that seemed to be fashioned
from shadows, reached down and picked him up. The world melted
into blackness, and he knew no more.
When he awoke, groggy headed and bleary eyed, the first thing he
noticed was that the pain in his arm had subsided down to a mere
whimper, and that he was lying on something extremely comfortable
and soft. For a moment, he shut his eyes again to savour the last
few moments of the dream he was sure to wake up from, and gave a
contented sigh. A low grumble disturbed him from his final moment
of peace, and he shot up, his fighting instinct still lingering
in his body.
He came face to face with a sleek, leaf green snout, that tapered
smoothly down to a rounded end. All his breath left him, as he
tried to regain focus.
What else could it be? He sat down in awe, though every limb in
his body told him to run, and trembled.
The creature withdrew, as if to give him a moment to recover his
dignity, and he took the time to take it all in.
It was huge- at least six times his size- and he shimmered green
all over his body, excepting two yellow eyes and spikes which ran
evenly down from the crown of his head to the end of his stumpy
little tail. The tail surprised him- the legends all spoke of a
great winding thing, did they not? - but this did not detract
from his fear. The dragon had opened his mouth a little, as if to
show off his four curved fangs and other oversized teeth, and Ref
saw a small whisper of smoke curl up from his tongue, as if he
had just set something on fire.
It was beautiful- there was no doubting that. His scales reminded
Ref somewhat of the stained glass windows they had smashed in a
church only a week ago. He had felt sorry to see such a heavenly
thing go to waste, and had had to stop himself from forlornly
gazing too long at the shattered pieces of colour littering the
floor, along with the dead bodies of monks and other innocent
The dragon tipped its great head to one side, as it looked at
him, and he had the strange feeling that the creature was
It opened its great cavern of a mouth wider, and Ref squeezed his
eyes shut, ready to be either slow roasted or devoured. He
couldn't say he had a preference over which death he received, he
just wanted it over and done with.
But the dragon laughed. As ridiculous as it might sound, the
creature chuckled deep within its long, snaking throat, and
blinked its yellow eyes at him. "I won't injure you, silly," it
told him. "I just wanted to ask you how you were feeling. Is that
Ref squeaked, much like his horse had done. The dragon spoke? Its
voice was like rushing water tumbling down a waterfall, and it
soothed him somewhat, but he still could not believe it. It spoke
in Old Norse too, which was strange, seeing as they were in
The dragon let out a huff. "Finished recovering yet?" it asked,
Ref gave a weak nod, as he couldn't quite manage words yet.
Perhaps this is all a hallucination, he wondered, but before he
could properly think about it, the dragon stretched himself out,
and settled down, propping his snout upon his scaly palm, curving
claws resting against his cheek.
"My name is Azar," the dragon introduced himself, in a pleasant
tone. "I believe it is said Fyri in your language. Call me
either, I have no preference." He looked at Ref expectantly, but
seeing that he still could not get past the lump in his throat
preventing his speech, he sighed. "Azar is Saxon for fire. Can
you tell me your name?"
Ref hummed in his throat to ease the pressure. "Ref," he croaked.
"He speaks! Thank the sky. Ref, eh? I believe that means fox.
Interesting. In Saxon that would be Todd, you know. Do you mind
if I call you that? I prefer it."
Ref shook his head. "Todd is fine," he replied. Not sure what to
say next, he occupied himself with looking around at his
surroundings. He seemed to be inside a large cave, lit by burning
torches to give a warm orange glow. It was surprisingly neat- a
small pile of bones in the corner slightly worried him, but as he
couldn't see any human skulls, he didn't panic. Small holes lead
off from the cave walls, which surprised him, as they were far
too small for the dragon to fit through. He looked back at the
dragon, who was watching him with unblinking eyes.
"Looked your fill?" he asked, his mouth curving up into a slight
Ref blushed. "I apologise for being rude," he answered, his voice
suddenly becoming very small as he realised just how vulnerable
Azar laughed. "I was teasing you, Todd. Don't worry, they're all
a bit scared of me at first, but it soon wears off when you
realise I'm a animatarian."
Ref gulped. "Others?" he asked. "Animatarian?"
Azar tipped his head to one side, and gave a low whistle. From
the holes in the cave appeared people, men and women, some young
and some middle aged. Ref stared in disbelief, not bothering to
worry if he seemed rude.
The dragon seemed to relish his reaction, and proceeded to
introduce each person. A young Saxon girl with two flaxen plaits
came forward shyly. "This is Aedre," Azar began, "It means river
in Saxon. Lovely. Picked her up from down by a river where she
Ref smiled cautiously, an uncertain smile.
Azar pointed out a dark haired woman, who held a young infant in
her arms. "May I introduce you to Brielle? I believe it means
strong in Irish."
"Ireland?" queried Ref. "How did you get someone from Ireland?"
"Oh don't ask me," the dragon replied, carelessly. "I just found
her in a horse cart with a dead husband."
Brielle flinched at the mention of her husband, and Ref noticed
her eyes were sorrowful as she looked at the child in her arms
who would never know its father.
Azar carried on, introducing a Norman man named Raoul, a young
boy, of whom the dragon proclaimed proudly was of pure Roman
descent who was called Aquila (meaning eagle).
By the end of the introductions, Ref was feeling quite
overwhelmed, and he looked at the group of them, slightly dazed.
"You saved all of these people's lives?" he asked, in a small
"Of course." Azar looked at him as if he was stupid. "I saved
their lives, and out of gratitude to me, they have continued to
live here to teach me about their culture and the language they
speak. When I am filled with enough knowledge to satisfy myself,
I let them leave."
The others nodded in agreement, all except for Brielle, who
continued to rock her child back and forth with the same grief
filled gaze he had seen her wearing earlier.
It was all very bizarre, Ref could not help but feel. Why would a
dragon want to learn about the culture and language of humans?
"Do you hoard gold and treasures?" he asked, images of caves
filled with sparkling coins and jewels filling his mind.
Azar snorted. "Hardly. That, my dear Todd, is a legend. No, I
hoard cultures and languages!"
Ref could hardly believe his ears. The dragon gathered languages
as if they were trinkets?
He rubbed his forehead wonderingly. Azar's expression suddenly
"You do realise that soon all of your culture and language will
be changed and twisted into one?" he asked, in an urgent tone of
voice, "Soon, the mere Vikings will be a myth, the Saxons will be
just pages in books, the Normans will be carvings on a
gravestone. I want to keep these memories, these snippets of
Brielle looked up, her eyes softening. "I think you are the only
person that cares about culture left on earth. All the men want
is some land to call their own, or money. What sort of world are
we creating for this child?" she asked, her voice heavily
accented, and she gestured at her child.
Azar nodded solemnly, and Ref felt suddenly as if he had
witnessed something inspirational, that would stay in his mind
for the rest of his life.
Azar had already had a Viking visitor, and had no further use for
Ref. So, early the next morning, he set off into the English
countryside, a small pack of food on his back and Azar's words
heavy in his mind. 'Remember to treasure your culture, Todd. You
can't hold on to it in the after life, but if you pass it on, it
will live forever.'
It would have seemed a bit pretentious and fake in any other
context, but Ref felt strangely moved. He had no idea where he
was heading for, or who he would find, but he knew there would
always be hope in his mind, for nestled in the cave with the
dragon were a rich abundance of memories, ready to be shared.