A Fantastical Tale.
Magic is all around us, all the time. Few have been able to find it on their own though, as we learn from a young age to dismiss such fantastical things as make-believe. I know of a place - not too far from where I live – you wouldn't believe could exist in today’s world. Follow me my dear reader, and I'll introduce you to a world you never thought possible.
Deep in a large wood, lies a village. The village is so deeply hidden in the woods, it isn't shown on any map of the realm. The surrounding towns outside of the wood, have long called it an enchanted wood, or fairy forest, depending on if they have young children.
The village in question was never named, as it was never recognised as existing. The villagers who live there call it The Last Village. As you know there are plenty of villages dotted around the countryside, but this village is the last magical village in the land.
Long ago, most of the magic folks, the witches, wizards even a couple of old warlocks had integrated themselves with general society, hoping to prosper in secrecy. This village isn't entirely populated by such people, many are indeed normal everyday people, with the exception that they believe in the seemingly impossible.
The village however is locked in despair. One of its inhabitants is a witch as old as time. Her name is Narcissa Aziza, and she shows no mercy to the villagers, using them for sacrifice, punishing them if they cross her in even the smallest of ways.
She might be the very embodiment of evil, but no man could look upon her without falling deeply and maddeningly in love. Though she had seen thousands of years pass, she herself had never aged. She appeared to be nine-teen years old, the age at which she had stopped both growing and ageing. Hair as black as the night sky falls to her waist in thick, smooth waves. Her skin is as white as fresh snow on a bright winter morning. Deep brown eyes that penetrate to the very soul of whoever falls beneath her unflinching gaze.
The village itself is not very big, maybe twenty little cottages, an ale house for the locals and a post office that doubles as the corner shop and stocks everything one may need to live comfortably. All of the cottages have large back yards, which they use to grow various vegetables and herbs, or keep small numbers of livestock. People here live off the land, and trade or sell all they can't use themselves with each other.
It is a lovely way to live, and no-one ever goes without anything. Everyone knows each other, as is common in small communities, and everyone is provided for in the kindest and most thoughtful ways. Even the ale house distills its own brews, and no-one would change a thing.
There is no doctor in the village though, the original inhabitants relying on the local wizard to provide remedies for their ills. None of that these days, Narcissa cruelly kills anyone sick or lame, unable to work. They serve no purpose in her village. The only influence over health she has, is fertility rates. No one is infertile in this village. Chances of conception are triple the normal rate.
Despite Narcissa's frequent attempts to make the entire village submit to her, they stand firm in their distaste of her, only waiting for an opportunity to be rid of her forever. This was going to be sooner than they thought now. Narcissa spent the morning torching the small crops people had planted, to show her displeasure in the people's independence. People are crying out in despair at her action, and many fell to her dark magic as they attempt to save their food source.
Everard Blaise had heard their cries as he was walking nearby in the enchanted woods. He isn't looking for the village, but couldn't help his desire to help the pained villagers. He enters the village square and follows the sounds of the terrorised villagers. He immediately recognises Narcissa and steps forward to block her path.
'Out of my way you fool! Can't you see...' Narcissa fell silent as she gazed upon the man before her.
Everard is taller than any normal man ever seen, he has a willowy build, which he conceals beneath long loose robes of midnight blue. His hair is brilliant blond, falling thickly to his shoulders, surrounding piercing, electric blue eyes. Compared to Narcissa's black, Everard is no doubt the light.
'Narcissa, it's been so long since I saw you last, I thought you had perished.' He called to her with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes.
'What are you doing here Everard? Don't you have dragons to chase?' She called back mockingly.
'I am here to free these people from your tyranny. You have no place here Narcissa, There is no place for black magic in these times.' As he finished his speech, he stood taller than ever and glared wide eyed at the dark witch before him.
The blue sky over head darkened quickly and thunder rumbled above the village. The villagers hurry into the ale house - the only building large enough to accommodate them all – keen to be hidden from the terrible atmosphere outside. Narcissa laughed, not understanding the power she was up against.
She moves forward, towards the new face in town, and the second she came close enough, Everard grips her arm with strength no-one would believe possible of such a thin fellow. She struggles against him to no avail, watching the darkness grow deeper.
A deafening crack explodes overhead, the accompanying flash blinding the watching villagers. When clarity returns, the sky is blue once again and Narcissa stands, frozen in place, a long piercing shriek emitting from her open mouth. As the villagers watch, she seems to collapse to the floor, much like the controlled explosions you see in densely populated cities.
Eventually the scream fades away and the villagers come out of the ale house to find only Narcissa's black dress on the floor, in front of Everard. They applaud and thank him. They wring his hand in congratulations and go quietly back to their work. Everard looks at the surrounding village and deciding that he could settle there, looking after the people of the village, so long mistreated by his old acquaintance, and be happy.
So using his extraordinary senses, he set out to find the place Narcissa had called home. A short walk from the main village square brought him to a crumbling wall, that must once have been enormous. Climbing carefully over a section of the ruinous wall, he found himself in the derelict courtyard of an old castle.
The air was permeated with electricity and magic. It was clear that this was the place he was looking for. The courtyard was littered with the bones of Narcissa's sacrifices. Black magic had scarred the whole place, and Everard walked slowly around, muttering under his breath bringing the rotted plants and grasses back to life, flooding the dismal courtyard with colour it had long given up on.
Once the plants were restored, and the courtyard looked less like a barren wasteland, he set to work on a new set of incantations, and this time, the bones time had forgotten, and all of the black magic relics disappeared, leaving the courtyard pristine. He moved inside the ancient castle, and in no time at all had removed all traces of Narcissa from her lair, and granted it life. Made it his own.
Natural light now streamed in through the old stained glass windows, bottles and jars lines the shelves on the old stone walls. All manner of insects were left to roam the castle freely, and the door was for the first time left open for the villagers to seek help from the castle's new inhabitant.
The once dark castle, filled with dark magic and a dark witch, was now filled with good, clean and pure magic. Such was the change Everard created.
Our tale is not yet over dear reader, rather just beginning. For only a few months after our dear Everard liberated the villagers from Narcissa, he embarked on another adventure that would once again change the lives of the villagers.
For the first few months of Everard's stay, he introduced himself to all of the villagers and began to provide for the needs of everyone. He made medicines and cures for all the ailments the villagers came to him with. If someone had what we know as an incurable illness, Everard used magic to cure them.
While our doctors struggle with understanding and curing these tragic diseases, little do they know, in the depths of the enchanted woods is a man who can cure all with a roll of his eyes and a flick of his tongue.
After a while, as the world continued around the woods, Everard had completed most of the work that required immediate attention. He decided now would be the best time to resume his search for the thing he was looking for when he first stumbled upon the desperate village. He wouldn't leave them unaware though, they had come to rely on him, and took comfort in his protective presence in the village. He called for a meeting in the square.
'Now everyone is here,' he began, smiling around at his villagers. 'I wanted to tell you that I will be going on a trip tomorrow morning. I am going to be searching for something that will benefit us all and I shan't be travelling far. If any emergency arises, that cannot wait for my return, come to my castle, and call for me three times. I will hear you, and return.'
The villagers no longer feared for their safety, they knew Everard was there for them, and they nodded and grinned along with the wizard. They moved off to their homes and began their own preparations for the following morning.
As the wizard was leaving the village that morning, the villagers waited for him with gifts to aid him in his journey. They provided water and bags for carrying things in, they gave him food supplies and tools to help him on his way. He of course didn't need any of these things, but he smiled and thanked his way through the crowd, knowing they had given him everything they could to show their support.
Everard travelled for two days before his path took him into the dark shadows of a large, long abandoned fortress hidden inside a forest, entirely different to the one in which his village was set. This place was frequented by the general population, they liked to pose in front of the old fort for photographs and take baskets of food to eat perched on the broken battlements.
What they didn't know about these historical ruins, was that underneath them was the real treasure. In the trees on the out skirt of the fortresses walls, was a huge rock rising out of the floor. In the side of it, was the mouth of a deep, dark cave. Everard followed the caves path deeper, feeling the floor slope down, taking him further into the bowels of the earth.
The passage was wide and large, the walls scorched black by some unknown heat source. The air was stone cold now, what ever had caused the heat, had long since gone. The black cave eventually gave way to a series of underground caverns, and here our wise wizard stopped for a minute.
He looked around the maze of tunnels, listening intently for some clue as to which way to go. He nodded decisively and headed even deeper into the earth, eventually stepping into the largest of all of the caverns. This cavern was scorched black everywhere. The floor was charred, as were the walls.
Bones littered the floor, both animal and human, this was obviously the lair of a great and dangerous beast. In the far corner sat a pile of rocks that had also been heated to the point of total blackness. It was this pile that interested Everard.
He approached quickly, not wanting to waste any more time, and frantically started digging through the pile. He scattered blackened rocks across the cavern, and smiled to himself when he found what he was looking for.
After hundreds of years searching, even while he was looking after the village, he had been researching, there in the middle of the rock pile sat a huge bluish white egg. The egg was as big as the wheels of the long haul lorries – the kind with eight-teen wheels - found on the motor ways of the country. I was perfectly round and had pure white spikes protruding from its surface, pointing to the sky.
Everard bundled it carefully into a bag, lined with feathers to protect it from breaking on the way home. He quickly left the cavern, feeling wary, though he knew the dragon's lair was long since abandoned. He hurried back to the village and though the journey to the cavern had taken him two days, he made it back in only one.
On his return he greeted the villagers and hastily made his way to his castle to take care of the important cargo he carried. Once there he made sure to open up the ceiling of the dungeon, running below the back of the castle, exposing it to the night sky.
Once the dungeon was open and exposed to the outside, he placed the egg in the centre of the dungeon floor, and muttered a swift incantation under his breath. Dragon eggs are special you see, they can lie for many hundred of years without hatching. The lack of its mother's warm breath upon its shell had kept this one intact, and on the wizards command, the shell began to crack.
It rolled around the floor as the tiny beast within struggled to free itself from the confines of the shell. After a while – no more than thirty minutes – the little dragon was free. He stood up on unsteady legs looking around him with interest at his new world. He pounced around the dungeon like a puppy learning to hunt, and eventually stopped at Everard's feet sneezing plumes of fire and smoke.
'I will name you Haku little one, for it means Lord, and you shall be Lord of this place and all its inhabitants.' The wizard told the little white dragon affectionately.
The baby dragon was bound by the rules of magic to serve the one who named it, and little Haku was instantly the pet of Everard. He was three feet tall, and pure white. His wings had the slightest bluish tinge to the edges and no matter what he was doing, he always looked majestic and proud.
Everard cared for the dragon until it was big enough to fly out of the dungeon and hunt for its own sustenance. Through Haku's adolescent years, he helped in the village during winter, ensuring everyone had a warm fire going to fight off the cold. He became celebrated in the village, and was always an important guest at barbecues in the summer.
Everything changed when the great white dragon reached adulthood. Where he had once protected the village and its people, he now endangered both the villagers and the village itself. It was not a malicious act, Haku only ever wanted to protect, but he was simply to large to be of any use now. The smallest flames he blew, to help warm people in the winter or cook in the summer, were too large to do anything but burn and destroy what ever they came into contact with.
Little by little the beloved dragon that had been the heart of village life for fifty years, fell out of favour with the villagers. They complained every day to Everard who felt their despair and vowed each day to find a solution to the problem.
Haku sensed that the village feared him now, instead of the adoration of his younger years, and knew time was short. Dragons are wise creatures, and often understand things beyond our capabilities.
One winter afternoon, when Haku's attempt to help the villagers stay warm resulted in half the village's cottages being burned to the ground, Everard knew what had to be done. The owners of the cottages were now exposed to the harsh winter, and that was the fault of his beloved pet. He was decided. Even though it broke his heart, he would have to put an end to the pet he had searched for throughout his long life.
The bond between a dragon and his master is a strong thing. Haku almost felt Everard's decision, and without a moments thought, took off into the sky, intent on preserving his life. He flew in a wide circle above the woods, causing some strange rumours in the surrounding towns, and began to descend upon the unsuspecting villagers. Within the hour, every building was nothing but ashes.
Everard, knowing what had happened rushed to the village, and found his 'pet' sitting beside a pile that broke the kind wizards heart, more than the knowledge that he would have to put an end to his beast. Haku had gathered the villagers and slaughtered them, leaving them piled in the square. He was sitting contentedly beside the pile, devouring the young and old alike.
Muttering quick and quiet incantations, Everard moved unseen behind Haku, and made short work of stilling his beating heart. As Haku took his final, sighing breath Everard shed a tear for his beloved pet, and for his faithful villagers.
The night was lit up briefly, as Haku's body shone brightly, and burst into flames. The fire burned hot and fast, leaving nothing but a dragon shaped scorch mark on the paving below. Then he was gone forever, and Everard was alone once again.
That is the end of our tale dear reader, I just hope you always remember, magic is always nearby, and while it can bring us happiness for a while, it can also bring us great pain. The Last Village is no more, and its inhabitants are beyond the veil. Everard remains in his castle, loneliness and misery making him bitter. So remember my tale next time you are deep in the woods, search for the clearing shaped like a dragon.
© Copyright 2016 R A B Bradbury. All rights reserved.