Silmavalien was the name of a girl of about thirteen. She lived in the small village of Treas in the rich land north of the proud city-citadel of Kranah in the kingdom of Silrah. One late summer afternoon she sat in the village square with the rest of her family, tired, hot, and exhausted after the hard work of gathering the harvest in the summer heat. She had taken a dip in the river, and the cool wetness on her skin caused her to nearly shiver. She waited expectantly for the traveling bard, who had arrived in Treas only an hour or so before, to begin his tale.
The bard, whose name was Gahnva, swept his gaze over the crowd. Then he raised his arms and began to recite thus:
“In the obscure shadows of the past there lingers an ancient dread, ready to spring upon and devour the ignorant, known as Dragnor by some, or The Devil to others, or Maalok, or to yet others as Satein. To the Dragonriders, however, this King of Demons was honored and revered as Vïnra, the Soul of Fire. They worshiped him, glorified him, ruled and fought in his name, and even burned those of us who did not please them upon his awful altars. The souls of these victims will never find peace through all eternity because of this dark act of the Dragonriders.” Sorrow and anger burned in Gahnva’s eyes as he surveyed his listeners. Silmavalien had heard tales like this one before, and she waited expectantly for what would come next. Her brother’s wife fidgeted by her side.
“At one time,” Gahnva continued, “a certain city known as Truse was ruled by a king whom the Dragonriders highly honored: King Ris. While he was a young prince, Truse was ruled by his kind and noble father, Ken the Wise. During this time, Prince Ris came upon an emerald dragon egg while hunting in the woods. Immediately, he was captivated by its hellbound power and life.”
Unfathomable sorrow and grief burned in Gahnva’s gaze. “Alas! Sorrow was conceived that day, for dragons are not the glorious, majestic, sympathetic, and beautiful guardians of chivalry their witch-riders portray them as, but rather powerful, leering, frightful demons of Dragnor, who revel in the suffering of others. From that moment on Prince Ris became ever more corrupt, but he retained the favor of his people for the few among them who were not witches of some degree were enchanted and blinded by the spells of the demons and their puppet sorcerers.
“Then, in time, Prince Ris, whose green demon Kris was now full-grown, grew tired of waiting for the throne and power of his father. He poisoned the good King Ken, who was struggling against the power of the demons over his beloved city of Truse, and ascended to the throne. He ruled for many years, the dragon-demons and their witch-riders defending his kingdom as only supernatural powers can do. Evil wealth and riches of hell poured into Truse, and her foul Dragonriders conquered many cities through the most despicable of means. King Ris tortured and burned all who opposed the demons by whom he had been enthralled and corrupted. Only a witch-king could have committed the least minority of his atrocities.”
A mixture of terrible grief, hate, and disgust was now graven in the face of Gahnva. “Truse became a mighty empire, and at the height of his hellish glory and arrogance Ris resolved to make the noble, wise, and beautiful Princess of Eragos, the only neighboring kingdom which had resisted Trusan intrusion, his queen. Her name was Valiena.
“There had been few before, and none since, Valiena who were so beautiful, so wise, so noble, or so courageous as she. When King Ris attacked Eragos and cities began to fall left and right before her, it became clear to Princess Valiena that it was desire for her that drove him and that only if she offered herself to him would Eragos be saved from his destruction and tyranny. Valiena told her family. She assured them that she would be taken regardless, but only if she went of her own free will would Eragos remain free. Finally, with much wailing and tears, her father and mother, the king and queen, allowed her to go, but all of Eragos mourned her, and her mother and father soon died of grief, leaving the young but honest Prince Tor, her brother, as king.”
A tear gleamed on Gahnva’s cheek. “King Ris took Valiena, but was divinely prevented from further terrorizing Eragos. Instead, he terrorized his new queen, the brave Valiena. However, she was not left long at his mercy nor was he long permitted to continue tormenting those who resisted evil, for the High One looked with compassion upon Valiena’s brave suffering.
“He sent his son, with an army of the angels of light, to overthrow the demons of Truse and bring Valiena to his palace in the heavens as a reward for her courage and love. The demons of Truse had no power to resist the forces of the High One. King Ris was killed and all his witches and his demons with him, and Valiena was rescued and brought to live among the angels of the high heavens. Those who had been enchanted were released and the slaves were emancipated, but Truse was leveled and her very stones crumbled to dust before the fury of the armies of light.”
At that everyone breathed deeply. Simavalien’s brother, who was a mere few years older than she, drew his wife, Kriela, half a year younger than Silmavalien, to his breast.
Kriela leaned against his chest. “Oh, Varkul,” she sobbed, “That would be so awful.” She shuddered.
Varkul rocked her gently. “That’s fine. There are no dragons left. After the common people were released from their frightful bondage they killed every Dragonrider-witch and every demon-dragon in their midst. We can now live our lives in freedom, free from the bondage and fear of Dragnor.”
Silmavalien rose to her feet. “That must be where the ‘-valien’ part of my name comes from. I am proud to be named after Queen Valiena.”
Kriela looked up from her husband’s arms. “It is a name to be proud of, Silmavalien. I like it very much. I am so glad Valiena risked so much, even to everlasting agony, and underwent so much, even to the frightful abuse of demons so that others, ourselves included, could be free. And I am also so glad the High One had compassion to save her from all these horrors and the people whose Queen she had become, too.
Silmavalien agreed. “It was a brave and noble thing for her to have done. We are all indebted to her as our everlasting queen.”
Varkul and Kriela exchanged a whisper below her. Varkul glanced up and said, “It is also so great of the High One to care enough about us, mere mortals, to send his army to deliver us. I wonder why. At any rate, through the valiant sacrifice of Queen Valiena and the undeserved compassion of the High One we can lives our lives in freedom. From this day onward, I swear by my honor that the memory and service of Queen Valiena shall be neglected no more!”
At this, Kriela stepped out of Varkul’s embrace, even as he scrambled to his feet. Silmavalien stood still, not knowing how to respond.
Kriela held out her hand to Silmavalien. “You were named in honor of Queen Valiena. Will you join us in our mission to ensure the the honor of her royal highness is neglected no more, dear sister? We would be so delighted.”
Feeling awkward, Silmavalien stammered, “Of course. How could I not, when she bought my freedom with her pain?” She did not understand why, or even what, she felt like.
Her brother and his young wife inclined their heads. “Of course, Silmavalien. How shall we begin our service?”
“I –” stammered Silmavalien, “I don’t know. I suppose we might start with helping others like those who were here and heard with us to remember her. To keep this memory alive by nourishing it and talking about her.”
“Just what I was thinking!” exclaimed Kriela. “Oh, Silmavalien, this will be just great. Will you now speak to Noren about this? If he agrees it is worth it, as we may well hope, perhaps we shall then build a shrine to the honor of Queen Valiena.”
“Of course,” said Silmavalien. “How could I not?” She was betrothed to Noren. Their fates, their futures, their decisions were indissolubly bound together. Gathering what exuberance she had in the heat of the afternoon, she bounded off to find Noren.
Finding the fifteen year old boy was not hard. He was sitting under a tree, getting some leather ready to be cured. He looked up with a smile in his eyes. “Hi, Silmavalien!”
Silmavalien sat down close to him. “Hello, Noren. I’ve been thinking about the story we just heard today.”
“Oh?” asked Noren without glancing up from his work. “What about it?”
“It’s – it’s interesting,” said Silmavalien. “Especially the part about Queen Valiena.”
At this Noren did look up at her. “What did you find so fascinating, honey?”
“How the young princess gave literally everything up – her earthly happiness and her wellbeing in the afterlife, too – to save her people from the same. That’s just …”
“Incredible,” Noren finished for her. “And then the High One delivered her and her people by marriage. That, too, is amazing. Why would the High One care? Why would he even notice?”
Silmavalien nodded. “Very. We should remember, honor, and serve the High One of all creation and the courageous, noble, and loving Queen Valiena.”
“You’re right,” Noren replied. He seemed to be concentrating on his work and Silmavalien, feeling more awkward than ever, did not push it. Finally, after a few minutes, he spoke softly. “If they exist. We don’t actually know that it is true. It seems too … incredible … to be real. It’s fascinating.”
“Yes, it is,” said Silmavalien. “… Real things can be incredible too. And often are. What if it is true? What if we chose not to honor our deliverers who so nobly save us from our awfullest enemies? Who would deliver us, then, and why should the High One let us ascend into his heaven? Would we not rather be left for Dragnor and the demons? Who would send us good things and long lives and deliver us from our enemies and oppressors?”
“If you put it that way,” said Noren. “I don’t know what they would like.”
Silmavalien hung her head. “Well, if I were Queen Valiena I should like to be remembered and thought about, to begin with.”
Noren nodded, looking into her eyes. “What could be worse than being forgotten by those for whom you would sacrifice all? By the very one you love.”
The bard had gone that day and Silmavalien lay in her bed, shifting uneasily. A squeak pierced the night. She tensed.
Then there was silence, and Silmavalien could hear the beating of her own heart and the rhythm of her breath. For some reason, possibly due to her own tenseness, she found it extremely irritating. For a long time she waited, lying on her elbow, consciously controlling her breathing.
The shrill squeak pierced the night again, this time higher and clearer than before. It rang in Silmavalien’s ears and she found it intensely irritating and a little painful besides. It made her want to squirm. It resembled the screech of unoiled steel scraping past unoiled steel. It continued on until it passed from her hearing.
Silmavalien’s heart beat frantically. She was excited but not afraid and she felt weak, weak as she had never felt before, and yet, for some reason, she felt as if she had always been this weak. Totally confused she sank back into the straw mattress and sought sleep.
Overpowering desire startled her back into alertness. Something she had secretly desired all her life was so close. It was as if an essential part of her that was yet indescribably more and other than herself was about to touch her, or else was within her reach. A new weakness, that was yet present from her first, least articulate memories, held her back, stood in her way. Held by such desire, yet in the midst of such weakness, she felt helpless and desperate. Just beyond her lay all the meaning of her life, all her heart’s desire, and yet she had no strength to reach it, to stretch out her hand and touch it.
Her voice soft and strained, Silmavalien sang:
All I desire is with you to be
Yet I am without any power
To reach out, I to you, you to me
Desperate and helpless, call out to the Higher
All then perfected, outside and the Inner
Silmavalien sat up in her bed, rocking restlessly. She felt like all her life her heart had been a still, quiet valley in which dwelt a few silent forms of life endlessly seeking something wider and more. Now, all that was gone in a chaotic whirlstorm of confusion and emotion. Would it shatter the walls enclosing, and sheltering, the little valley of her heart? Would it shatter the valley itself? When it was gone, would enemies pour through the broken walls and lay waste all that she was or desired? Or would it let in the Higher, to totally transform and fill her?
Wrestling with her emotions and fears, a soft thump on the floor behind her startled Silmavalien. She twisted around and first beheld the white light of the silver moon streaming through her window and flooding her room with pale and colorless yet strangely beautiful soft and white luminescence. At first all in her room seemed to be just as she had left it.
Then, Silmavalien saw that her shiny white oval had fallen to the floor. Then she saw it, just a few feet away from her, shinning softly in the moonlight and riddled with a webbed network of thin, inky black lines.
Cold, icy fear surged through Silmavalien. Even her heart seemed to stop beating. She did not think. She did not move. She did not hope or guess. She waited, yet with neither patience nor impatience. Fear annihilated all else.
Then, the shiny white oval split, revealing its true nature.
A few feet away from Silmavalien, on the clay floor, sprawled what could only be a dragon. A long, thick, clumsy tail uncurled itself on her floor. A thin neck, but nonetheless short against both the body and the head, supported a large, awkward shaped, rough and squarish-triangular head. Large, bulging eyes glowed a dim minty color and whirled slowly. A spiny ridge ran down from the forehead to the nose, where wide nostrils flared revealing molten depths which seemed almost to glow with dark red slumbering flame.
The dragon splayed four stumpy legs out around its body and looked too thick and clumsy to properly walk on them. The claws were a pale color, faintly transparent. Rather too small, much-crinkled, crudely shaped wings were splayed around the contrastingly lithe body. Everywhere the skin shone white in the pale moonlight.
Though Silmavalien thought that the dragon was despicably ugly and even repugnant to look at, she felt a certain strange thrill of excitement as its birth. She felt strangely affectionate and drawn to it as, overpowered by its hunger, it twisted around and began to eat its egg-shell. She felt its hunger and helplessness in herself. Despite its ugliness, the dragon fascinated her.
When the dragon had finished its egg-shell it twisted back around and creeled mournfully. The plea touched Silmavalien’s heart. She recognized it! She knew it, from the very bottom. All fear and reluctance suddenly gone she reached out and touched the dragon.
The instant her fingers touched the dragon’s skin icy fire coursed through that contact into Silmavalien’s blood, bringing with it both burning, excruciating pain and a strong sense of pleasure, which, mingling into each other, made the whole sensation even more unbearable. The dragon screamed a piercing screech which hurt her ears.
Silmavalien tried to draw back from the contact, but found herself unable. She had touched a dragon hatchling and already their hearts and souls were uniting, becoming one. Their minds were linked. Neither of them could do anything to that anymore than Silmavalien could revoke the fact that she had, of her own conscious will, touched. Her heart was already melting and breaking so that it could truly bond to the dragon’s. Perhaps that is why dragons are born so ugly; an attraction to something based in anyway whatsoever upon beauty cannot serve as a foundation for such a bond.
Slowly the pain melted away. Silmavalien lay beside the dragon, conscious of his name though she could not remember learning it. Minth. Unbearable ecstasy of joy, excitement, and wonder flooded her being. She drew Minth into the mattress with her and kissed his ugly head. Joy and love surged through her.
Silmavalien’s eyes fell on the dragon and she loved him. The beat of her heart harmonized with his. The rhythm of her breath merged with that of his. Their whole bodies vibrated with the same force and energy as they stared into one another’s very different eyes, the one having dark brown irises and black pupils, the other a dim, pale minty glow. They were so different and yet they were so close and the differences served not to separate them but to draw them closer together. It was wonderful, impossible, totally new.
Silmavalien smiled and drew Minth close to her breast. She kissed him on the nose and stroked the smooth skin on his neck and shoulder. The unbearable, inexplicable, unbelievably wonderful had happened to her. She was freed and bound. She had been born with Minth, but she still felt quite confused. Perhaps, indeed, it was now that Silmavalien felt more confused than ever. A dragon. The dragon. Minth himself was with her. She loved him. She wanted him. She wanted to be with him. She wanted things she knew she had never wanted before, but what it was she wanted she did not know. She had been instantaneously thrust into the wide new world of the undiscovered and the unexperienced and of another being’s emotions, experiences, and personality.
One thing Silmavalien did know. She and Minth were indissolubly bound together. Bound by love, bound by joy, and bound by desire. Their very lives, too, were joined. She felt his breath and his heart beat in her even as her heart beat in him. Without putting into words or knowing how she understood that they were already bound by a bond stronger than fear or death.
Acceptance, love, gladness, and quiet marvel filled her heart. This was the foundation on which all truly wholesome bonds are set. The fear, the terror, and the panic of just a few moments before seemed to have no place at all in the whole world and all the worlds. Indeed, it was very nearly forgotten in the love and goodness of their bond.
In time Silmavalien sank into a soft doze, not really all that akin to sleep, as she lay about Minth. Desires and images such as she had never known before and can hardly be described flooded her dream-consciousness. New emotion and new being flooded her mind. Here I will do my best to translate the song that she heard in that dream, the song that told of and was told in the language of this new world which was opening upon Silmavalien. Others may be able to do better; here is my best:
Swift and fiery, wind immortal,
Running beyond all mortal sight,
Now made one, undying in unity eternal
Beyond the everlasting fire and light.
Before the worlds were born
This was and is a world of its own;
Only those to love forsworn
Know this world to which no eagle has flown.
Now see and behold, lo!
This world more deep than eyes may see.
Come and find what no mind may know
Where all may dwell and as one be.
The streams here are pure and clear.
The winds are born with a flame living.
Never can one come to the end of me here.
There is fulfillment and yet no end to the seeking.
Come and find all your desire
To be made one ever closer.
Soar on winds of fire,
Fly beyond all you ever were.
This is where your heart can learn to fly;
These are the lands of true flight
Where there is no end or limit of beauty and sky
And you can race flame, soar on light.
This where you may run
As fleet as deer;
This where you will soar to the sun
Find there is no fear.
Swim through the rivers,
Ride upon the crest of the waves of the sea.
The winds here are stronger
Than all you can ever be.
Yet there is no harm;
Even pain will be life in love.
Find only peaceful charm,
Join the joy of all winged life above.
Do what you cannot do.
Race the wind swifter than you.
Find her in your heart, too
In strangest ways all your desires come true.
So the song went on, telling of and told by that world where everything is stronger than oneself and yet nothing is impossible, the world of fiery winds and tides and rivers and healing and the joy of love incarnate. Silmavalien did not understand the half of what she heard, but she knew that she and Minth were together in a way that more real and intimate that she had ever imagined. She knew her life was changed forever. She no longer was, and yet she was just beginning to be.
“I love you, Minth.”
Excerpted from DragonBirth, Copyright © 2014 by Raina Nightingale
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Dragon Song: Poem for DragonBirth
Excerpt from DragonWing (Book Two)
Excerpt from DragonSword (Book Three)