She stood at the top of the cliff, tall and proud.  Her face was made to be caressed by a lover, full red lips, honey blonde hair, and bright emerald eyes making her look soft and feminine.  But the tilt of her chin and the hardness of her eyes showed her inner strength.  Nothing moved around her but the wind as she gazed over a valley as green as her eyes.  The black trench coat she wore flapped around her thin, wiry frame as tendrils of her long hair lashed against her face.

It was cold at the top of the cliff, but she ignored it as she stood unmoving, her gaze fixed upon a point on the horizon.  Soon enough she could make out a tiny black speck that steadily grew larger and the form of a falcon could be made out as it drew closer.  Passive, she followed the bird with her eyes as it flew closer to her, wings spreading out and back as its talons stretched forward, aiming to land next to her.

But in mid landing the bird changed.  Talons lengthened to become legs, wings stretched to become arms, and the beak retracted to become a very human face.  Instead of a raptor landing next to her, it was a man.

“Immerald,” he greeted her with a nod.  She stared at him silently for a moment, before the corners of her mouth turned up and she smiled at him.

“Jakkor,” she said, opening her arms to him.  Returning her smile, Jakkor stepped into her arms and they embraced.  After a long moment they separated, and she took him in at arm’s length.

The years hadn’t changed him much, she noted.  His eyes were the same; deep pools of amber that any woman would be glad to drown in, his hair was slightly longer, it dangled in his eyes but it was still the same deep mahogany of years before.  His six foot frame carried his lean build perfectly; his face was strong and rugged, making him look like a western movie star with the cowboy boots, white shirt, jeans and denim jacket he was wearing.

“You look good Jakkor,” she commented.  “The years have been kind to you.”

“And to you Immerald,” Jakkor replied as he took in her white tank top, black leather pants and trench coat.

Silence prevailed on the cliff top as they turned to look over the valley.  Enjoying each other’s company as the setting sun tinged the land red.

“You heard his call?” Immerald asked, breaking the silence and looking over at Jakkor.

“He’s dying, isn’t he,” Jakkor more stated than asked, his eyes never straying from the sunset.

Immerald kept silent.  “If he dies, the land dies with him,” he continued, finally turning to face her.

“So, then, do we,” Immerald replied with a nod.  They looked back over the horizon.

“Funny,” Jakkor mused.  “I’m facing my own death, and I am no longer afraid.”

“We must go,” was all that Immerald would say.  Stepping away from Jakkor, she strode towards the cliff face, motioning him to follow.  One after the other, they stepped off the ledge and instead of the sound of two bodies striking the ground, there was a whirring rush of flapping wings as two falcons soared up over the cliff and off into the blood red sun.

***

The doe grazed peacefully by the stream.  The sun cast patterns on her hide through the leafy branches of the trees surrounding her.  A cool breeze blew downwind, masking the scent of the predator in the cave a few paces upstream.  Two eyes glowed ruby red in the shadows as it watched its prey.  Suddenly the breeze shifted, carrying the carnivore’s scent to the doe.  Her head shot up, looking for the danger around her.  She found it when her soft brown eyes locked onto malevolent red ones.

Both were frozen in a moment of time before a large, scaled talon shot out, catching the doe as she leapt for safety.  A frightened bleat cut short accompanied by a growl, followed by the crunch of bones echoing from the depths of the cave were the only indications of any struggle within the meadow.

A few moments later, the dragon stepped out of his cave to wash the doe’s blood off his talons.  The dragon’s hide was crisscrossed with scars, and his wings slightly tattered, testifying his age.  He stood on four legs as thick as tree trunks supporting a massive body with an elegantly curved neck and nobly sculpted head.  Watching the swirls of red in the clear water, the old dragon grunted as stepped to the side to settle on the grassy bank.  Closing his eyes, the dragon sighed and listened to the day, waiting.  Before long the soft scrunch of feet on grass could be heard.

“Greetings Old One,” said a voice once the footsteps stopped a respectful distance away.  The dragon opened his eyes and looked at the speaker.

“Human,” he growled in greeting.  The hooded woman smiled and looked around the empty meadow.

“Am I the first for the Council?” she asked.

“If not for your kind we wouldn’t need this Council,” growled the dragon.

The woman sighed as she settled herself next to the old dragon on a small boulder.  A slight swishing of fabric broke the natural silence as the woman adjusted her skirt and cloak.

“My people are not all bad Ancient One,” she said, raising her emerald green eyes to meet his ruby red despite the darkness of her cowl.  “Do not condemn us all for the actions of a few.”

The dragon’s voice rumbled as he spoke.  “A sorceress should have more control over her people, especially one who is the daughter of the Ancients.”

The woman’s gaze traveled over the meadow again.  “The people’s minds are filled with what they need for themselves, not each other.  They have forgotten the old ways.”

“I thought you said not all people are bad,” said the dragon.

“They’re not.  Some still remember,” she said with a smile.

Woman and dragon waited in silence.  The sun was high before the first Council guests arrived.  Midday saw the meadow filled with all sorts of creatures; satyrs, elves, dwarves, sprites, unicorns, some of the smaller dragon kin, and a few night dwellers.  All were Elders of their kind, creatures who had lived hundreds, thousands of years and were the oldest and wisest that their species could boast.   Once he could see that all the Elders were assembled, the dragon began.

“This council has been called to decide our fate,” he called. “The humans are driving us, killing us slowly by taking our lands.  We dragons are prized to prove a knight’s valor and Unicorns, you are hunted for your horns. Most of our young do not live to maturity because they are hunted.”  The red eyes traveled over those assembled.  “We are dying.”

The council erupted into a frenzy of conversation, accusations, shouting matches and all over chaos.  The woman seated next to the dragon kept her peace, as the only human representative, if she spoke too soon she was liable to have been torn to pieces by the agitated creatures surrounding her.  Listening as intently as she was to the chaos around her, she never missed the sound of another approaching her.

“You’re late,” she murmured, not taking her eyes off the still squabbling council members.

“Apologies Immerald,” was the reply.  “I came as swiftly as I could.”

“Not fast enough Jakkor,” Immerald replied as he sat down next to her.  Despite the agitation of the creatures around them, his arrival did not go unnoticed.

“Elder Azmodaus!” a deep gravelly voice rang out above the rest.  The buzz of excitement died down and all turned to the source of the voice, a wizened old troll named Muckluck.

“Yes, Elder Muckluck,” acknowledged Azmodaus.

“You say the humans pose a threat to us?” Muckluck pointed an accusatory finger at the two lone humans in their midst.  “So why do those two attend this council!” he demanded with a rumble.

“May I, Elder Azmodaus?” asked Immerald respectfully.  The great dragon nodded his head to her, knowing that it was only through her words, the words of a child of the Ancients that those assembled would believe she meant no harm.

Standing from the boulder, Immerald smoothed her skirts before stepping forward.  Pushing the cowl of her cloak back, she opened her arms to include all the council as she spoke.

“Council Elders, some of you know my companion and I, but many do not.”  She paused. “My name is Immerald Archaine, and my companion is Jakkor Lastod.”  Excited murmurs broke out among those assembled as the family names of herself and Jakkor were recognized as belonging to two of those rare bloodlines that could trace their origins back to the Ancients, the ones who founded and created the world itself.  Immerald heard the recognition in their voices, and smiled to herself.

“We are the Arch Druids of our order,” she continued.  “And as you know, we druids have been tasked by the Ancients themselves to observe, record, and guide the rest of mankind.”  Her gaze swept across the clearing.

“Once our hold upon our people was strong, but many are forgetting the Old Ways.  They covet power and money over knowledge and harmony.” Closing her eyes momentarily, she gathered the courage to say what came next.  “We no longer have sway over the leaders of the people and our numbers are dwindling as well.”

Silence prevailed over the meadow, until a unicorn mare, so old she was more the color of a faded moonbeam than fresh fallen snow named Moonstar, spoke.

“The Druids were set forth centuries ago by the Ancients, to be headed by the Elders,” she whispered, her voice carrying surprisingly far across the clearing, “We gave you the knowledge to guide your people; your order was thousands strong.  What happened?”

“People fear the old ways Elder Moonstar,” replied Immerald.  “They began killing my brothers and sisters, fearing them to be evil witches intent on causing them harm.”

“So our last hope among the humans has failed?” was the whispered inquiry.

Immerald’s fair face showed the depth of her pain.  “There are only a handful of Druids still practicing.  The rest are dead or have renounced us in order to stay alive.”

A centaur, the youngest creature at the council, but still old enough to boast much grey hair in his once dark coat and mane.  “So we are to allow the humans to drive us off?” he asked, his voice deep and sure.

“No Elder Thunderstorm,” Immerald replied, motioning for Jakkor to join her.  “Jakkor and I have met with the other elders of our order, and have come up with a plan….”

Advertisements