Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Names of Things

So, it seems as though things may be moving forward in one direction or another. I came to a decision about moving back out to the property, and I’ll start moving over the next month. I’ll take a little time doing it, since I’ll have paid my rent, but I expect to be out sooner rather than later. Not least of all because I may have found the puppy I want.

Since I made my decision, I started looking online for dogs available in the area, researching breeds, etc. I’ve been loosely interested Newfoundland, Bernese Mountain Dogs, German Shepherds, Mastiffs and possibly a wolf/hybrid. Most of these are far, far out of my price range and I spent a little time looking at rescue sites as well. I really want to raise the pup myself, however, so my heart wasn’t into the rescue idea. However, through my search I discovered a litter that is 1/2 English Mastiff, 1/4 Fila Mastiff and 1/4 Newfoundland. Coincidentally, I also discovered what my top price is. Haha.

I emailed the breeder to see if they had any puppies left (they won’t be available until July 8th), and he returned my email promptly. There is only one male in the litter, which I’d prefer for practical reasons, (they’re much cheaper to get neutered), but I will wait until I have met the pups to make a decision.

Finally, I have to decide on a name. For quite a while now I have told people I want to name my next dog Metaphor. I had a classmate in my creative writing poetry classes who would always make statements like, “That’s not a baaad metaphor,” and I was endlessly reminded of someone berating a dog. “No! Bad Metaphor. Bad dog.” In fact, I was so enamored of the idea I was actually going to name the dog Metaphor Bentley, after the fellow. I am no longer certain. As a fantasy, it’s a great one. Realistically? I don’t know. We will see. It depends on whether the pup is male or female and how it behaves.

Names are important to me. I have named or supplied the names for all my family’s pets for ages. Between my own past pets and my parent’s we have had the cats: Midas, Bast, Moomba, Cheshire, Isis, Osiris, Athena, and Jasper. The dogs are/have been Topaz, Hero, Sebastian, Viola. I had a Doberman named Charlie Brown, but I didn’t name him, nor would have. I believe names are symbolic. In many ways the name we give something defines our expectations of it. That’s one of the reasons I have a hard time when people give ridiculous names to characters in games.

As you can tell, I am fond of mythological or literary names for animals. I would consider Prospero for a male mastiff or Hero for a female. (I couldn’t stand the last pup I name Hero, in some ways I don’t want to be reminded of it, but in others I want to reclaim the name, because I love it as a name.) Prospero is Shakespearean, and Hero, while also Shakespearean, stems for me from the poem “Hero and Leander” by Christopher Marlowe, one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries. Time will tell, and when/if I get the puppy and decide, I will share.

I am sure it comes as no surprise that I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about what names I would like to give my children should I ever be lucky enough to have any. I find it’s a lot easier to come up with girl’s names, which makes sense. After all, I want a daughter more than anything. It is much more challenging to give a child a name than a dog, or should be. I consider the meaning, the historical references I know, and the flow of it. I intend to name my children something that sounds good to the ear both as first and last name and first middle and last. (Though I am not certain a middle name is really all the necessary. Traditional, but unless there’s someone you want to remember, I have difficulty seeing the point. I will see what my eventual significant other thinks.) The names I like change over the years, of course, but the concerns remain. In fact, one of the many things I find appealing about Eden thus far is the way her name sounds. Should I never see her again, I will still seriously consider it a name for a daughter. It fits with my last name like a glove. I also really like the name Penelope. It sounds good, it’s a cute name and yet it is the name of a wise, good woman in Greek mythology. Penelope was Odysseus’ wife and stayed true to him in spite of all his journeys. On the opposite end, for comparison, as pretty as the name Cassandra is, I couldn’t give her name to my child. I would endlessly be reminded of the woman from the Iliad, who could see the future but was cursed to never have anyone believe her.

Time to go!

Enough words, goodnight.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Paradise Met

I have to remind myself sometimes, alright, often, that my tendency to understate things actually belittles my experience. It is very easy to respond to a question about my weekend with a shrug and, “It was okay.” It wasn’t just okay. It was actually pretty good. Good things happened. I enjoyed myself. To say otherwise isn’t fair to my weekend or me. It is a more subtle negative, but a negative nonetheless.

In spite of spending maybe 15 minutes on stage and 5 hours in/around the theatre for rehearsal Saturday morning, I didn’t mind too much. The most eventful thing I did in the time between the beginning and the end was to fetch a bag of ice for a girl who came down hard on her ankle. I finished reading The Sun Also Rises for the second time and briefly spoke with a woman in the play who wants to mentor a single young professionals group.

Our conversation was interesting, particularly due to its resonance with my current frame of mind. It was the second time that day that I heard my concerns echoed, albeit from two vastly different sources. A friend of mine who owns an organic food café told me about the astrological significance of the present. Apparently it is the best opportunity we have for growth, according to the stars. It is a time to break out of our cycles and move forward. Considering my recent feelings of being stuck on a carousel, it was an interesting coincidence.

The other conversation was significantly less spiritually oriented, which meant it was easier for me to discuss and listen. In the end however, it was the same theme. Our generation doesn’t want to work mindlessly without purpose. We don’t want to further the corporate machine unless we’re doing some kind of “good work” while we’re doing it. Kate, the woman I was talking, recognized that the business mindset in our town is driving away young professionals and she wants that to change. I hope she does start some kind of group, I would be very interested in attending.

At the end of the short rehearsal break we took for lunch, I walked up to a local café for a mocha. My path took somehow meandered through the Farmer’s Market, where a young woman selling flowers had caught my eye last weekend. We’ll call her Aeris for a brief moment before I reveal her name. Sure enough she was there again and though I didn’t linger, I was pleased to see her again. She is about my height, (5’9”) give or take an inch, with light blonde hair and a genuine, constant smile. I wandered by, got my coffee and wandered back through with a smile of my own that I shared with no one and everyone in particular.

After rehearsal I did a little personal writing, breaking the paradigm of my computer desk and moving the monitor and keyboard to the floor. It is a curious thing, but such a tiny way of arranging my world to suit me instead of vice versa is very satisfying. My guitar received a little attention as well. I played through Rufus Wainwright’s version of “Hallelujah” and Jimmy Buffet’s “Love in the Library.” I don’t often play covers, so it was nice to practice a couple.

At 6 o’ clock I met up with my friend Liz and we walked the couple blocks from her house to a new sushi restaurant in town, Big Tuna. Three of our co-workers were sitting outside when we arrived, so we joined them. They only served rolls, no nigiri or sashimi, but combined my two favorite kinds of sushi into one roll, so I wasn’t too disappointed. Cucumber and tuna? Thanks!

In spite of Liz’ several attempts to back out, after dinner I dragged her another couple blocks to the monthly ballroom dance. I don’t know many people as expressive as Liz is, so it quickly became clear that she was having a lot of fun. There were also several people from the play there, all much younger, but it was good to see them outside of the theatre.

I hadn’t been in the room for more than a moment when I saw my Aeris. She had changed into a simple, elegant black dress, and a pair of heels, but only stood out even more than she did in jeans with her hands full of flowers at the Farmer’s Market. I pointed her out to Liz. After I’d danced with Liz a few times and one of my students, I asked her to dance. Not only is she lovely and bright enough to notice in any crowd, she’s a very graceful dancer as well. Her name is Eden.

Liz left after an hour or so, as she wasn’t feeling great. She made sure to give me some pointed advice on how to win the girl before leaving. Since her advice was simply what I wanted to do and not something I had planned out, I took it. I made certain not to ignore the other people I knew or take too many of Eden’s dances, but I claimed a lot of them. When the night was over, I asked for her number, in the interest of dancing with her again. She gave it to me and we exchanged goodbyes.

Afterward, I went back over to chez Liz, where we drank sauvignon blanc and watched BioDome. I haven’t seen that movie in ages, but it still makes me laugh. I don’t know what makes good stupid humor and bad stupid humor, but there’s definitely a line out there somewhere. When it ended, I went home and slept until it was time to greet the new day.

Sunday was less eventful, but pleasant. I woke up early, since I only seem to be able to really sleep in when I don’t want to get up for work. I had breakfast with my dad and spent the rest of the day playing Civ V: Gods and Kings with a brief interlude of D&D that I wasn’t really feeling up to. I talked to my dad about moving back into the cabin, which is something I have been thinking about recently. I have to give my landlord thirty days notice, so I have to decide by the end of the week whether or not I am going to do so. Dad can use the help around the property and I think he gets lonely with Mom off in Arizona for the school year. I could use the money I will save when I don’t have to pay rent and will be able to get a pup of my own. I think it’s time. It’s been over a year since I last moved. Not sure how to deal with that. -playful grin-

It was a good weekend. Don’t believe me if I try to tell you otherwise.

Her name,
a bell ringing
‘gainst the song of the world
a cello, bow on its strings
a trumpet, calling out,
echoing on my tongue
the sound of a note
I had almost forgotten
I have been waiting to hear.

And a thousand words, goodnight.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

What Do You Live For?

When I write lyrics,
I feel like my words are trapped.

The line break there was completely unintentional. It was just one of those things that happens when you’re typing. Less intentional than a typo. More like a Freudian slip of a finger that got excited without being asked to, like a dog when you accidentally drop the word “walk” into a conversation he happens to be listening to. Perhaps I should apologize to my finger as I would a dog, No, I’m sorry boy, not right now.

The voice you hear right now isn’t quite my own. There are echoes in it, echoes of Neil Gaiman and Patrick Rothfuss. I am ok with this. They are echoes I want you to hear when I write, along with Orson Scott Card, a dash of Heinlein, and some trimmings of Hemingway. When I write lyrics, I want you to hear a little Collective Soul, a tea/tablespoon of Our Lady Peace, spiced with Rob Thomas and seasoned with Jason Mraz, Train, and Joshua Radin. Of course, I just want those things to bring out the main flavor. . . I want you to hear me.

My problem then, stems from two sources. The first, which may render the second null and void, is my favorite critic. The problem with him is that he’s just about as good for me as drinking too much the night before, or singing karaoke in a smoke-filled bar when I have to get up at 7 for work the next morning. He’s a pretty good critic, he’s had a lot of practice. He’s been following me around like a bad hangover my whole life. He needs to work out, he’s fat from all the negativity he’s fed on.

The second problem? I feel like my words are trapped. I run in this endless cycle of themes and words that beat their heads repeatedly into my haphazard rhyme schemes. Destiny. Fate. Shadows. Silhouettes. Moment. Me. You. Love songs written through the lens of fiction, folk and faerie tales, mythology. My critic is discontent. He says I can do better. He points at Collective Soul, Our Lady Peace, and Jason Mraz and says. Look at them. Look at what they can do with their words. I want to scream in his face, STOP FUCKING COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS. Somewhere, a skinnier, not-quite-malnourished wolf in the background whines discontentedly and paws his empty food bowl. It’s hard to remember to feed him with the other so demanding, so strong.

I haven’t always been hard on myself. I meant to write the opposite, that I have always held myself to these expectations that I keep failing to meet. The absolute of it ran into a wall at my sophomore year of high school. I remember how much I worked to study French. It only seems like work in retrospect, because I know I didn’t notice back then. It was just how I studied. How I met the goal set before me. I miss that sense of effortless effort. It just was, and it was just what I did and how I did it. It may have even been fun. I can’t remember, that part of the memory is obscured by the mists of passing years. I think it was. A lot of the things that grew up to seem like work were just things I did for fun to pass the time when I was young. I wrote my first attempt at a story when I was in elementary and middle school. Only once since then have I had an attempt at fiction break the page count record I set then. I love writing. . . but it isn’t so effortless now.

Perhaps it is simply the lack of practice. The drowning of imagination in the worry and care of being an adult. The attempt to slog a path through a bog of life that has never had a clear one for me. I am where I am now simply as an effort to survive. Career doesn’t have much appeal to me. Corporate life has much, much less. Where once we worked in tune and time with our bodies and the earth to make it through our days, now we cast ourselves into meaningless factories of information and profit.

When I write lyrics,
I feel like my words are trapped.
My life lacks purpose.
I need more meaning than God,
I need a higher goal than heaven.
I am still floating
or trudging or slogging
through one of the boggy sections
of the river of life.
The water is clearer than it once was,
but the day is still young
and the fog that rose from the cold night air
where it touched the warmth of the water
(or was it the warm air on cold water?),
that fog still lingers and I can’t see
even to where the river bends.

A purpose gives people a lodestone, a compass, a North. It is a north star, a guiding light. There must be more to being than simply being and more to a journey than a road that is both path and destination. If I am to simply be, than why be at all? Not being is unacceptable. The fog-ridden bog I am in feels like not being. I am like the plant I keep on my counter in my apartment. It is alive. It is strong. It can’t grow. It has fed on nothing but water for over a year. There is no soil for its roots. No nutrients. Just subsistence. Survival. That plant and I have a lot in common. We both want more. More. More. I want more.

A friend of mine went sky diving recently. I thought the idea of it would leave a bad taste in my mouth, the way the idea avocado and cheesecake does. It was one of those things I could never imagine myself doing. I don’t enjoy jumping off of high things. I don’t enjoy the battle inside myself between fear and action. She made her experience sound so beautiful, so freeing that I don’t know anymore. If the opportunity arrives, I may not be able to say no.

And secretly, so secretly, if the opportunity arrives, I hope it doesn’t come when the moment will be defiled by a private desire that my chute won’t open, that the next car will claim what I refuse to, that some terminal disease will steal me from the world early. That tiny dark voice is not me. It doesn’t belong to the man I am. It doesn’t belong to the man I want to be. But it comes from the dark forest into the clearing of my soul, and lingers on the edges. How I wish to walk further down the river, and be swept away from this piece of darkness inside of me.

The sky is blue. I am not sure I see it.
The sun is shining. I am not sure I feel it.
But out in the sun and sky is where I want to be.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The One, Twice and Never

“If you can find someone like that, someone who can hold and close your eyes to the world with, then you’re lucky. Even if it only lasts for a minute or a day.” - Kvothe, The Name of the Wind

I suppose then, that I must consider myself lucky. And I do. In spite of the loneliness, in spite of having a road to walk that doesn’t include her walking beside me, at least I had her, and have the memories of her. Call it nostalgia or halcyon if you wish, but I have known her, held her, and closed my eyes to the world with her.

I once wrote her an email with the subject line: Life is like a carousel ride. It seems as apt now as it did then. We chase ourselves in endless circles traveling up and down. Our lives repeat. We never reach escape velocity and come around to the place we were just a moment ago again and again and again.

It’s not just the emotions she owns but the memories themselves, the acts, the songs. There is no dancing on rooftops left in my life. It was the kind of gift you can only give one person, once. To do it again would make the memory cheap. And I can’t do that to her. Even if she never knew. I couldn’t do it to myself. I would know. I couldn’t do it to a future lover, because it wouldn’t mean as much to me and her delight would just be a lie to me. The rooftop was her dream. You can’t give another person’s dream away, especially if it came true.

It is hard on days like today to remember that I moved on. That we haven’t spoken in a couple years. When you’re lucky enough to find someone to hold and close your eyes to the world with, you don’t forget. You may not remember to remember, but she is never far from the surface, never too far away. It only takes a catalyst like a few simple but profound sentences from a novel to turn winter to summer, to melt the snow that has piled on the mountains of times you spent together and things you shared. Suddenly it all melts, all it once and your road washes out and your day is washed away in a deluge of run-off pouring down the path of least resistance , following gravity right back to her.

I will dry, and climb again, like a certain little spider in a certain child’s song. And I won’t regret, and I can’t, because I was lucky enough. Even if it was for a minute, or a day.

Words enough, goodnight.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My Corporate Desert

I look in the mirror and guess what I see
A baby blue eyed spirit who seeks your everything
My mind is chaotic, unless I choose to be free
Sometimes I just can't help myself, sometimes I just can't help myself
My mind is dangerous, that's who I'll always be
Hideous devastations, lifeless serenity
My abstract emotions, somehow, get the best of me
Lord take away my sorrow, Lord take away my pain
Erasing life tomorrow, ain't the motive to the game
My mind is dangerous, that's who I'll always be
Erasing life tomorrow ain't the motive to the game
- Life of Agony, “My Mind Is Dangerous”

My desk at work isn’t exactly what you would call personable. It’s more of a sparse grey plastic desert baking beneath the sun of fluorescent lights and the heat breathing dragon-snakes that make up the ventilation system. This pallid expanse is broken only by the inert flora of corporate life: a pencil here, a red pen, the dual glow of one matte and one glossy computer screen, a phone, a keyboard, a mouse only Shakespeare could adequately insult. A pair of headphones snakes its way across the landscape, breaking the monotony with a serpentine contrast of black on grey. The whole lifeless plateau rises from an nigh endless sea of thin carpeting colored perfectly to hide any detritus dragged in from the beautiful taste of freedom twenty feet and a foot of concrete away from me.

It’s difficult for anything to live here, which is why I am consistently the only fauna in the immediate area. Other creatures like me have given in to the fact that they spend more of their lives in this bland atmosphere than they do elsewhere and made tiny oases of their plastic deserts. I continue to hold on to the ideal, or delusion if you prefer, that there is more to life than this corporate self-nihilism. In the meantime, I drag an imaginary rake over the unyielding sands, keeping them simple in a Zen-like fashion. When the day comes to fill a box with my possessions and wander off to bigger and better things, I don’t want the trappings of this desert following me. I will walk out into the forests and mountains of the town I live in and leave all that behind.

The only evidence of life in this wasteland is a small pool of mint tea collected in the typical white cardboard container designed for hot beverages. Otherwise, I allow it to be so devoid of personality that it becomes a personality of its own. I am a nomad, and this is simply where I have set up my tent for the moment. There are better pastures in which to graze, and perhaps it is time to pull up the stakes and start seeking them.

It isn’t until you delve into the infinite cave of information that is my computer that you start to unearth a sense of humanity. And that’s the way I like it. A sparse, neat, trim external to complement the creative, somewhat chaotic interior. One monitor displays a neatly centered photograph of the inside of a stringed instrument, the way it would look if it were seen as a room. The other screen bears a simple calligraphy circle, a symbol for zen. It bears one of my favorite quotations, by Heraclitus, “No man can step into the same river twice, for the second time it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
In the end, my computer is simply what all computers are: digital filing cabinets. It is organized by folder, with the most relevant information the easiest to access. Yet by virtue of its content, it transcends storage and becomes a gallery, a symphony, a library of my work and the work of others. It is the pathway to the life of the mind, the escape from the aching corpse that hosts my intellect.

So here I sit, parched for a world in which my desk is the oak tabletop of a wine bar, the wire mesh outdoor seating of a café, hungry for a life that is more than subsistence, more than survival and more than the yoke of debt that hangs around my neck. I think it is time to move forward, to move upward, to move on. I don’t like deserts. I wouldn’t want to live in one. I don’t want to live in this pale grey plastic wasteland. It may be where I work, but it will never be home.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dragonbirth (working title)

I wrote the first 500 words or so of this effort a while back after I had a dream about it one day. I'm still working on getting through the content of the dream but since it was my first major creative writing effort of my 1000 words a day I thought I'd share it. It's sitting at 4,500 words right now, so 4000 of them were written today. Enjoy.
And a thousand words, goodnight.


Maric looked up at his brother. Kae had piled his armor and the contents of his backpack in a heap at the base of the cliff that loomed above them. The stone was course, brown and sheer. The tallest pine in the forest behind them didn’t rise halfway up its face. Kae had tied two lengths of rope around his waist and started climbing. He found handholds in what looked to Maric like flat stone. Maric wasn’t convinced this was a good idea. Wherever the secret entrance was to the Wyrmvale was, this was not it. His younger sibling wasn’t the patient type, however. When the road they’d followed ended at the cliff instead of the passage they’d expected, Kae had simply decided to make his own path.
The end of rope smacked Maric in the face, jolting him out of his reverie. “Tie it to your rope!” Kae yelled down. “Mine aren’t going to be long enough.”

Maric sighed and opened his pack to get his rope out. He made a poor knot around the bundle and tied it off. His brother started to pull it up and ten feet up it began to uncoil until it spilled to the ground.

“Maric!” he yelled, annoyed.

Maric sighed again as Kae let the end of his rope back down. He tied it off again, this time end to end and Kae managed to pull the whole length up. The older of the two was standing on an overhang barely worth calling a ledge and managed to tie off Maric’s rope on an outcropping that Maric would have sworn hadn’t existed before his brother found it.

“Wait until I get the second rope placed before you come up!” Kae shouted. Maric would be lucky if he made it up using the rope, he thought. He wasn’t sure how someone as lithe and well-muscled as Maric could be so clumsy. The boy could run all day, but could ruin a pot boiling water and had broken so many swords and snapped so many bow strings that Father had stopped giving him new ones after Gavin the blacksmith had threatened to go on strike. The castle guards joked that he had tripped on a brownie as a child and been cursed. Personally, Kae thought it was because when his brother took his nose out of his books at all he left his brain in them. As far as he was concerned, military books were a useful tool, but not nearly as interesting as fighting or listening to the soldiers at the castle tell war stories. Even dancing was a more enjoyable past time. At least then you could touch any pretty girl you wanted. Not that Kae had any problems with that, being a prince.

Maric, waiting at the bottom, was wishing at this very moment that he were sitting at home in the castle library. The book that had started this whole adventure was lying with a bookmark on a small table next to a huge, cushioned chair that threatened to swallow him whole whenever he sat in it. The chair stood in front of a fireplace large enough for logs the size of a quarter of a tree. It was one of his favorite places anywhere and without a doubt was better than standing at the bottom of a cliff hunting for dragon’s eggs.

“Are you coming?” Kae yelled down. Maric shook his head free of his wistful thoughts of home and grabbed the rope, tying the end around his waist in case he lost his grip. For the umpteenth time, he wished the spells in that old book were real. It would have been so much simpler if he could cast the levitation spell he’d encountered in its pages. He had asked Maltus, his father’s court wizard, but the balding mage had scoffed and called them fairy tales. Besides, he had said, if wizards could cast spells like that, they would be kings and not simple advisors. Not to mention that, if a wizard cast a spell that powerful, it would kill him outright. Everyone knew wizards drew upon the energy produced by their own bodies and thus were limited to whatever endurance they built over time. Maric supposed that was why the man ate and drank more than any of his father’s warriors, yet never seemed to gain an ounce.

Hand by hand, Maric pulled himself up the cliff face, picking up a couple bruises when his foot slipped and he slammed against the rock. The ground was so far down now that it seemed foolish to consider going any direction but up. So up he went.

Kae waited impatiently for his brother. There was more cliff to climb and he couldn’t start up again without the ropes to tie off for Maric. Even if it turned out that Wyrmvale wasn’t on the other side of the cliff, it would be worth it, just to conquer this challenge. A dragon egg or two would be the cream on top of the whole trip however. The minstrels would have to write a song about this adventure. It was the kind of glory princes were meant to achieve.

Maric, on the other hand wasn’t feeling very glorious. His boots seemed to reject purchase on the rock and the muscles in his arms and shoulders were screaming by the time he finally reached the ledge Kae was standing on. Kae helped him up and he saw that it was much wider than he imagined it was from his perspective on the ground. He sat down on the cool stone and panted as he looked out over the incredible view over the forest. “I hate you,” he breathed at his sibling. Brother was too nice a word at this point.

“You won’t hate me when we find a dragon’s egg,” Kae said optimistically. Maric just glared at him.

“If I survive to even look for one. Though I’ll admit, after this cliff, facing a dragon isn’t going to seem like much of a task,” he said, half-seriously.

“Wouldn’t that be incredible?” Kae exclaimed. His brother’s silence was telling.

“Don’t you have a cliff to climb?” Maric asked before his eyes suddenly widened and he grabbed his brother and pulled him down on top of him, almost rolling them both off the ledge. When Kae protested, Maric clamped one hand over his brother’s mouth and pointed with the other. Kae nodded his understanding vigorously and Maric released him as they both huddled against the rock face as a dragon flew overhead.

The dragon was a huge, black shadow against the sky and beat its wings only rarely as it drifted on a current over the forest much like a hawk or eagle. Maric found himself hoping that it didn’t have the same kind of eyesight as a raptor did. The two brothers often went hawking and it always amazed him how the birds could see such tiny prey from so high up. It would be nice if his first encounter with a dragon was not as its dinner. He watched in awe as the dragon’s shadow skimmed over the treetops and off to the northwest. The princes sat quiet and still until it disappeared from sight.
“Did you see that?” Maric hissed.

“No. I was too busy trying to stay on the cliff we spent all this time climbing. Some idiot tried to knock me off it,” Kae said sarcastically.

Maric ignored him. “I guess we’re in the right place.”

“You have that right.”

“Let’s get up there while it’s gone,” Maric urged his brother.

“What if it comes back while I’m climbing?” Kae asked.

“Just go!”

Kae nodded wordlessly and started to climb again. Two stops, two hours, more bruises and one more fifteen minute breathless period spent pressing themselves against the cliff face in an attempt to hide from another, smaller dragon later, they reached the top. The rim sloped down to a shallow caldera that spread out for miles below them. The sun, in spite of the horizon luring it away from its zenith, beat down on the cracked, dry ground of what had clearly once been the mouth of a volcano. Maric scrambled and slid down to the caldera floor, while Kay walked as easily and calmly as if it had been flat, shaking his head at his brother’s clumsiness.

“Now what?” Kae asked as they stood together at the base of the slope, looking out at the Wyrmvale. The valley was filled with rocky outcroppings of all sizes and gently bubbling vats of mud. The air smelled strange and heat rose from the ground as well as the sun.

“I suppose now we keep an eye out for dragons and nests. Hopefully we can find one separate from the other.”

The princes walked cautiously into the valley, weaving around rocks and avoiding the pools of mud. Occasionally they passed piles of bones that once belonged to various animals taken as prey by the dragons, but after half an hour they had yet to see anything that looked like a nest. Kae was getting frustrated and Maric nervous. Maric was beyond certain they were out of their league and had gone from the frying pan into the fire. Kae wanted to grab an egg, any egg and go home. His mind was on parades and songs and some of the younger serving maids at the castle.

Maric was about to give up when they rounded a particularly large pillar of rock and came face to face with a group of eight angry, poorly shaven men in rough leather clothing. They were arguing quietly in front of another, twenty foot cliff that rose above the rest of the caldera. A quarter of a mile along its arch, he could barely make out the entrance of a cave through the steam rising from natural hot springs. The men started and cursed as the two dirty princes came around the corner. Their clothes, which had once been hardy but fine clothes they’d acquired from their friends among the soldiers, were torn and ragged from the climb up the cliff.

One of the men gestured to the others. He was broad in the shoulders, but shorter than the rest, with a sword belted at his side and a buckler lashed to his arm. The men surrounded the boys, their hands on their weapons. The leader glanced around to check that the area remained clear of dragons before coming over.

“Who are you and what are you doing here?” he asked roughly.

“I am Mar. . .” Maric began, but stopped short when Kae surreptitiously stepped on his foot. “Marc,” he continued. “This is my brother, Ken. We’re from Odevar,” he said, naming the capital city, which was true enough. The castle sat on a peninsula that technically separated it from the city, but it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began these days.

“And how did you get here? We left guards at the tunnel and I ain’t thinking there’s another entrance we don’t know about.”

Kae spoke up, “We climbed the cliff.”

The men stared. Their leader thought about that for a moment. “Did you now? Then perhaps you can help us with a little problem we’re having.” He pointed toward the rock face before them. “Up there is the nest of the black dragon. The biggest, nastiest dragon there’s ever been, who we seen mating a month back. We’re thinking there’s an egg up there and none of my boys are brave enough to risk it. I think one of you just volunteered to go get it.”

Maric frowned. “Why would we want to do that?” he asked.

The man cocked his head toward Kae, and two of the other men grabbed him by the arms. Kae shouted and struggled and a third man hit him in the stomach. “Quiet, you idiot! Do you want to get us all killed?” the man hissed angrily.

“Would serve you right!” Kae said, though quieter.

Their leader looked amused. “And that’s why. You get us the egg, and you and your brother can go home. You don’t get the egg, and your brother can go back down the way he came up. Only hope he can learn to fly before he hits the ground.”

All eight of the egg-hunters laughed at this joke. Kae looked less than amused and struggled against his captors again. Maric, stood still, uncertain of what to do. He wasn’t a fighter and even if he had a sword, he wouldn’t be able to do much against eight men, especially if they had Kae captive. He was only good at running and studying. Military tactics and faerie tale spellbooks, whether they lead to dragon’s nests or not, weren’t going to do him any good in this situation.

“I’ll do it,” he said with a resigned sigh.

“But I’m the one who climbed the cliff!” Kae protested. The cliff to the dragon’s nest was not tall, but he was certain Maric would break his neck before he ever made it to the top.

Looking at the faces of the rough men around him, Maric could tell there was no point in trying to talk them into letting Kae do it. It wouldn’t have been right, anyway. Maric was the elder and had to do whatever it took to protect his brother. If that meant climbing a cliff and stealing an egg from the most vicious of dragons, he couldn’t let Kae do it in his stead, even if he had the skills Maric lacked.

“I’ll do it,” he said again, this time with determination. Kae surged forward again, but the men held him tight.

“Marc,” his younger brother began. At least he had the foresight to remember not to call him by name, Maric thought.

“It’s okay, Ken. I’ll be fine.”

“You’re going to get yourself killed.”

The short, stocky man interrupted. “If he gets himself killed, then you can go get the egg. In the meantime, GET GOING,” he cried quietly and forcefully. “It’s not like there ain’t dragons waiting to sniff us out, you know?”

Maric nodded and turned to the cliff. One of the men stopped him and handed him a pack with straps. “For the egg,” he said. Maric took the pack and pulled the straps over his shoulders as he looked at the ridge rising above him. The rock was pock marked with many holes that would make it easy to climb. He breathed a sigh of relief. Slipping the toe of his boot into a good spot, he began to ascend. The rocks were sharp and the going slow. By the time he reached the top his hands were ragged with small cuts and the cuffs off his already filthy clothes stained with blood. He peered over edge as he reached the top, making certain nothing waited to eat him at the top. The nest was empty, so pulled himself up and looked around.

The top of the cliff was hardly what he would normally consider a nest. Piles and piles of cracked and scorched bones littered the ground like sticks in a forest. Maric had to step over some of them, large bones that belonged to some kind of animal he had never encountered. He hadn’t thought there was anything that big that wasn’t a dragon, but its skull was huge and round with strange tusks curling from either side of its jaw. If there was anything he knew at this moment, it was that he did not want to meet whatever was big enough to carry this thing to its nest and make a meal of it.

In the center of the nest was a puddle of the bubbling mud. A single black-shelled egg rose about a foot and a half from the ooze. Maric glanced at the sky to make certain that its parent was not in sight then approached. It was warm to the touch and heavy as he lifted it from the mud and slipped it into the sack. After he had settled it on to his back, he looked around again, double checking for signs of dragons. A tiny shape had appeared on the horizon and Maric started in horror. It was coming back.

Maric ran to the cliff’s edge and clambered over with agonizing slowness. “Dragon!” he shouted. It was all the warning they needed, but it didn’t come soon enough. The ground shook as he scrambled down the rock face and the air reverberated with an angry roar. He instinctively tightened his grip as about halfway down the stone shook again and black talons as long as a man is tall gripped the ridgeline and an immense scaly black head appeared above him, mouth gaping wide enough to swallow a cow whole. It looked straight at Maric and he half-climbed, half jumped the rest of the way down. The egg-hunters and Kae stared at the beast in shock.

“Are you crazy?” Maric yelled at them as he ran toward his brother. “RUN!” he screamed. The men shook their heads clear as the dragon pounced down from the cliff top with only the slightest effort, filling the clearing with his body. It seized the closest man in its jaw and flung the corpse to the side as it came after the egg. Their purpose forgotten, the rest of the men fled, leaving Kae and Maric to their fate. The princes, free of their captors, followed close on their heels.

“This way!” Maric called to his brother, dodging around a boulder and making toward the cave he had seen earlier. Kae followed. A wave of heat blew over them as the dragon belched a vast, seemingly endless volume of fire after the fleeing men. Two of them screamed briefly as they were caught by the flame and incinerated. When the flame stopped, the midnight-scaled behemoth turned his head as if searching. When it saw the brothers, it paused as if to breathe again, then stopped.

“Why isn’t it cooking us?” Kae yelled to Maric as they ran. It seemed like the thing to do, and Kae probably would have done the same were he in the dragon’s. . . shoes.

“It can’t without hurting the egg, I think!”

“Oh, thank the Lady of Luck for small blessings.”

“Yeah, and remind me to have a chat with her about the rest of our luck today.”

“At least we aren’t prime rib like the others back there.”

“Not yet, at least.”


The Lady of Luck, it appeared, wasn’t done with them yet. As they grew closer to the hot springs near the cave, Maric suddenly tripped over something sticking of the rocks and crashed to the ground, skinning his already wounded palms. The egg on his back smashed heavily against his spine. Great, another bruise, he thought. The something moved as Kae came up behind him and suddenly there was a much smaller dragon between them. This one’s scales were reddish-gold, and shone in the fading light of the sun. It’s head was the size of Kae’s well-muscled torso and it hissed at them, unsure of which was a bigger threat.

Kae froze uncomfortably. There was an oversized dragon coming up somewhere behind them and a quite large enough dragon keeping him from running from the first dragon. This wasn’t as easy as fighting men, especially since he was totally unprepared for it. His armor was still at the bottom of the cliff outside Wyrmvale, since he didn’t think he’d have much use for it when it came to dragons. He hadn’t planned on finding out whether or not he was right.

The dragon Maric had tripped over turned on the prone prince as he rolled over and scrabbled backward on his hands and feet until the egg came up against a boulder behind him. It bared its fangs and made to strike him and as it did, Maric’s panic turned to calm. Strange words in a strange language came unbidden to his mind and he heard himself speaking aloud, though he had no idea what the words meant. The air grew heavy around the three of them and the heat more intense, in spite of the setting sun. Sweat poured from Maric’s brow as the air seemed to sink into his bones and then the dragon before him disappeared in a flash of golden light that blinded both princes. From the angry roar of the black dragon and the crash as it collided with one of the many formations of stone in the area, it too had been affected.

As they blinked the spots away, it became clear that the dragon was gone. A naked young girl with long, brilliant red-hold hair about the age of six stood in its place. Kae goggled at the scene. “What did you do?” he asked in a loud, confused voice.

“I have no idea,” Maric said, blinking at the girl as if she might go away with the spots. She blinked back at him. “I didn’t do that.”

“I heard you! I saw you! You did that. You used magic. You turned a dragon into. . . a kid.”

“I didn’t! That’s impossible!”

“Impossible things don’t happen, that did!”

Before the argument could continue, the black dragon roared again and they heard the flap of its wings as it took to the air. “Oh, for the love of the Lady,” Kae swore.

“Let’s get moving,” Maric said.

“What about the girl?”

“Bring her, we can’t leave her here.”

“She’s a dragon!”

“She’s a little girl! Come on, let’s go!” Maric shouted impatiently in Kae’s face.

“Why do I have to carry her?” Kae complained.

“Because I’m carrying the other god-damned baby dragon. MOVE!”

As they ran, Kae swept the child into his arms. She clung to him instinctively, her small arms tight around his neck. Kae noticed in passing that she was strangely warm. It was all he had time to notice as they ran around the edge of a particularly large pool of steaming water. A moment later, a wave of uncomfortably hot but not scalding water washed over them as the black dragon landed in the pool. Maric stopped as Kae ran past. Kae turned to look at his brother and Maric shook his head and waved him on. Kae slowed as if to stop and Maric yelled at him.

“Go! Keep running. Get to safety. I’ll buy you some time and follow!” Maric yelled. Kae thought he said something about get to the cave, but couldn’t hear it clearly over the dragon’s roaring. Maric had the dragon’s egg out in front of him now, keeping the black dragon from attacking or breathing fire. He was backing away slowly, talking to the beast as if that would make a different. Kae kept running, going full speed. He couldn’t see a cave through the steam and falling darkness, so he headed for a copse of trees that he could make out in the distance.

Maric didn’t have time to look back to make certain his brother had made it to safety. He had seen the cave entrance only a few hundred meters from the pool the dragon had landed in and keeping the egg between the two of them, was making his way toward it while never taking his eye off the monstrous creature. The behemoth stared directly at him as it seemed to be considering a way that it might get him without harming its unhatched young. It seemed to be thinking, the idea of which disturbed the young prince greatly. He almost jumped out of his skin when it spoke in the same strange language he had heard when something, he refused to believe he had done it, had turned the other dragon into a little girl.

“You can’t escape, insect. Return my daughter to me and I will kill you quickly.”

“Uh,” Maric said eloquently while he collected his thoughts and rearranged his entire paradigm of the universe for the second time today. “No. I don’t think so.”

“Where will you go? The hunters you came with are dead. They could not escape me either and could not have saved you if they lived.”

“I didn’t come with them, but as I see it, not giving you your egg is keeping me alive. So I think I’ll just keep it.”

“If any harm comes to her, I will rend you. Slowly.”

“If any harm comes to me or my brother, I will break it.”

“Your brother? The one who ran like a coward with the little one. You are a fool, human, thrice over. For coming here, for stealing my egg, and for bringing a child.”

Maric thought it was curious that the dragon thought that the girl had been with them the whole time, but didn’t really have the luxury of time to figure it out just then. He decided to try another direction as he continued slowly working his way back toward the cave. Another 150 meters.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

The dragon rumbled and for a moment Maric thought it was going to risk cooking the egg along with him. The sound continued and the creature’s jaws didn’t part, so it took him a second to realize that the dragon was laughing.

“Do you think I am a fool, human, to give you power over me? Call me your doom, your death, your last vision. Do not think that I, who have lived centuries and killed more of your kind than you have ancestors, will succumb to pathetic wizard’s tricks. I am the free one, the unchained one, the greatest of my kind.”

Maric filed that information away in the back of his mind. Apparently dragon’s names were useful things to know. The cave was only 100 meters away now, and getting closer. The dragon was stalking him, taking one step for every ten he shuffled. Its long neck kept its snout so close to Maric that he could feel the heat of its breath. Maric was surprised at his overall calm, since it was likely the worst situation he had ever been in, or likely to ever be in. 50 meters.

The dragon roared suddenly as it came to an abrupt stop as its nose beat against an invisible force. “NOOOOO,” it screamed, taking a deep breath and bathing the world in bright orange light. Maric blinked as the world turned dark again, surprised to find himself uncooked. In fact, he realized, he hadn’t even felt the heat of the flame. Whatever magic this was, he was ok with it, but not going to test its limits. He turned and ran for the cave.

“They can’t protect you forever, insect,” the dragon threatened cryptically. “I promise you, I will have my daughter. And I will have your corpse like a battered doll between my jaws when that day comes.”