© Marny Melino
A Tale of Sacrifice
She was a lovely young thing, a virgin, and the Summer Queen. Wearing a crown of blood red flowers, fragile dragon tears, Llyrean moved among her court. The people greeted her gladly. Because of her, the village would survive another season without fear of attack by the deadly dragon who ruled the skies in their region.
The steady beat of the drums and the sound of the pipers tuning their pipes invited the villagers to dance. Llyrean was pulled into the center of the circle. The mayor offered her the traditional mead in a gold, jewel encrusted goblet, the one treasure of their village. She shook her head, not wanting to dull her senses.
She spun away from him. Her feet stamped the rythmn of the drums as her body swayed to the subtle music of the pipes. She twisted and turned, inviting the other maidens to join her in The Dragon Dance. She undulated erotically as the others followed suit. She was the dragon's head. The last girl in the line was the dragon's tail. She shook her head in joy, caught up in the moment and the excitement of the coronation, forgetting the reason that she had been chosen.
While the villagers applauded her dance and called for more, her grandmother stood in the shadows watching, knowing that the pleasures Llyrean enjoyed now were small compensation for her life.
When the dance ended she faced the ancient cart adorned with garlands of dragon's tears and silver elf bells. The solemnity of her fate struck her and she stopped in mid stride, suddenly afraid. The mayor handed her the goblet of mead again. She was expected to drink the honey wine and joyfully step into the cart to meet her fate. Llyrean had always believed that her destiny held more than the village where she'd been born, more than the life of a crofter's wife and childbearing companion, but she'd also believed that her fate did not include becoming a meal for a nasty dragon.
The blacksmith grabbed her hair, pulled her head back, while the mayor poured the mead down her throat. It was a bitter brew, drugged with vervaine and poppy seeds. No wonder the others she'd seen had gone blythely to their fate! She tried not to swallow, but it was swallow or drown. In moments her head swam and she was easily loaded into the ox-drawn cart, her hands bound to iron rings set into the sides of the cart.
The village elders, garbed now in white robes took up torches, lit them in the bel fire, and began a solemn procession out of town. The forded Fyre Creek, the icy tumult that tumbled out of the mountain where they were taking her now. Wyvern Peak, a place of horror and sacrifice. It was here the dragon came when he awaited his sacrifice. The trail up the mountain to Dragon's Perch was steep, winding back on itself as it climbed the mountain in serpentine fashion.
The sky was lightening with streaks of pre-dawn gray when they reached the plateau. A single post was set in the ground on the windswept mountain top. The villagers worked quickly, nervously untying her bonds and snapping shackles about her wrists. The mayor kept a lookout for the beast. The elders were alert and ready to run at the first sight of the monster.
A sudden gust of wind caught at her gown as the shackles were hooked to the ring at the top of the post. Had she been shorter, she would have been hanging by her wrists. As it was, she strained to maintain her balance on her toes as the iron bit into her flesh. As the pale dawn of her last morning on earth brought color to the sky, she was alone.
But not for long. A shadow circled the plateau, becoming bigger as the lord of the skies spiraled toward her. If, Llyrean decided, she must die, she would not go as some simpering weak female with only fear in her heart. This creature with his appetite for virgins would feel the lash of her tongue before she died!
His vast leathern wings kicked up dust and gravel that bit into her flesh. She had to turn her face to protect it. When Llyrean looked at the monster whose meal she was about to become she lost all fear. Truly, he was terrible to look at! He was huge with a mouth that could easily take her in a single bite! But he was also beautiful!
His body scales were a deep shimmering green that changed colors as the sun hit them. His eyes were like deep blue gems. He rested on his haunches studying her as she stared at him. His tongue flicked out every now and again and he cocked his head.
"You are not afraid," His voice was a rich, melodic baritone, "You have spirit."
His words startled her. "And you are a horrible bully. Are you going to kill me now or take me off to your lair to hurt me at your leisure?"
His laughter was more startling than his voice, "Do you think I take your village's maidens to eat?" He shook his head, "Alas, I have no taste for human flesh, virgin or otherwise. Most of your kind die of fright before I even land."
"Then why do you demand this sacrifice? What do you do with the maidens who are brought here?" She tried to slip out of the shackle unsuccessfully. Instead, the edge of the iron bit into her skin deep enough to draw blood.
The dragon rose and stepped closer, "Don't hurt yourself, Dear Heart. I will free you if you promise not to run."
"I have no choice, do I? If I return to my village my grandmother will be disgraced and they will expect you to burn their crops and steal their cattle. They will kill me themselves to escape your ire."
A deadly razor-sharp talon reached for her, delicately lifted the chain and cut through the iron with a single snip. "Better?"
"Thank you," She rubbed her wrists to get the circulation back, unsnapping the shackles and letting them drop.
"Can you sing?" The dragon lowered his huge head until he was at her level, stretching his long neck out and shaking his spikey mane.
"I adore music. Will you sing for me?"
"What happened to the other girls you took?"
"Those that didn't die of fright or run away I freed. If you will stay for a year and a day I will free you too," There was a mournful loneliness in his voice that made Llyrean pity him. "I give them jewels and take them to villages that are far from this place and your village's shameful bargain."
"I can sing," Llyrean murmured softly. She began to sing one of the ancient bardic songs her grandmother had taught her. The dragon closed his eyes and sighed happily.
When she stopped singing he opened his eyes and actually smiled, "Do you tell stories? I love stories about the heroism of your kind. If you tell me a story I will tell you a dragon tale. You must not run away! Won't you stay with me for a year?"
Llyrean could feel the threads in the fabric of her destiny binding together in a firm pattern, "Only if you go to the village and tell them you will not take any more sacrifices. If you do that, I will stay with you forever."
Her words set him back on his haunches, "Why?"
"Why not? You are a part of my destiny, Dragon."
Later, mounted on the dragon's shoulders and clinging to his spikey mane to hang on, Llyrean was flown to the huge cavern where he lived. A side cavern was full of rather dusty furniture. Sunlight filtered through a vine covered opening half way up one wall. It was in desperate need of cleaning, but her grandmother's cottage was half the size of this place. This was to be her living quarters and she marveled at the treasures within. She turned and found the dragon gone.
She bathed in a hot geothermal spring and washed several of the dusty gowns she'd found in the room, including the simple frock she'd worn to her coronation as Summer Queen. She wrapped herself in a fairly clean blanket and let the heat from the cave dry them.
When the dragon returned he carried a haunch of venison in his mouth. He set it before her, "I did not cook it in case you do not prefer it well done."
"Did you eat?"
"Wouldn't it be courteous to share a meal together?"
"I fear you would not enjoy sharing a meal with a dragon, Dear Heart. We are not the neatest of diners."
Llyrean let her imagination show her a dragon's meal and shuddered. Then she asked a question she'd been wondering about since he'd told her he did not eat virgins. "Why don't you eat humans?"
"I did have a bite once, quite by accident mind you, and found the flesh bitter and very fatty. I have never acquired a taste for it. Besides, it gave me heart burn."