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 screams.
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 death.
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 people.
The dragon tipped its great head to one side, as it looked at him, and he had the strange feeling that the creature was examining him.
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 so bad?”
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 England.
The dragon let out a huff. “Finished recovering yet?” it asked, impatiently.
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 smile.
Ref blushed. “I apologise for being rude,” he answered, his voice suddenly becoming very small as he realised just how vulnerable he was.
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 was drowning.”
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 voice.
“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 became serious.
“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 cultures alive.”
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.
© Copyright 2016 guitarplayer. All rights reserved.