On the Trail of the Blue Dragon
‘Um’m tellin’ ya,’ the drunken lad said. ‘Hew’s right ther’ befor’ m’eyes.’
The chronicler only got a few of these, but years of scurrying the most forgotten places in the world had granted him the magic ears. Any accents, patois, dialects, he could understand. Not that he knew the meaning of all words, but he had become quite good at reading gazes, inferring context and gauging the truth from the lies. A half-slurred drunken speech was no match to the sharp tongue of a savage tribe in the Lost Lands of Fire.
His gaze was on the drunk, but his mind was fishing for clues from those around. People were surprisingly quiet, eyes riveted in the shadows of their ale, suddenly more interested in themselves, than they had been in his stories of his past voyages. He had noticed; he had made a mental note. Maybe here, something was buried. Maybe here, they knew more about the Blue Dragon.
The drunken man went on, going into strange details of how the creature had eaten his roof and blew flames the colour of the sky, how he had taken captive his eldest daughter, promising him a pile of gold he never saw. He went on and on, but nothing seemed of interest, nothing seemed real. No, that man would not help him. There was another one though, near the window, that one kept glancing in his direction, rapidly looking away when the reporter caught his eyes. That one knew something.
‘Another drink?’ the matron asked. The portly woman gazed down at him, her furry brows bending out of shape, and her tone quite flat – suggesting he should think twice before answering. Of course it might have had everything to do with how many drinks he had bought the drunken man, encouraging him to talk. She was so big she could barely fit behind the kitchen counter, and her clothes were so dirty you would think she had just killed pigs with her bare hands.
‘No thank you,’ the chronicler said, getting his coins out. ‘Do you know where a man can spend the night, mam?’
She took the coins, eying him sideways, spat on them before wiping with her bloody apron and having a better look under the candle light. ‘There’s none of that here,’ she told him, sending him a glare.
He laughed the comment off and cleared his throat. ‘I meant, where can I find a room to spend the night? The sun is gone and I need a rest.’
‘Don’t think we got any rooms left,’ she grunted before cleaning a nearby table with a darkened cloth that he doubted had ever been washed.
‘Sure we have some,’ another rounded fellow from the other side of the counter spoke. His voice was hollow, reflecting some lack of judgement the matron didn’t miss. She glowered at him then went back to the chronicler.
‘It’s a hundred and fifty,’ she grunted.
‘A hund…’ the price was as much of a shock as the baldness that appeared at the top of the portly woman. ‘A hundred and fifty you say,’ he repeated, watching the matron’s scalp with both surprise and uncertainty.
‘There are other rooms in the land, feel free to go and have a look,’ she added, her tone lighter as she moved away to another table. She wasn’t the type to wait around until people had finished their meals – the matron would clean whenever she pleased, whatever the dishes, no matter who was there.
Perhaps this explains the cloth, he thought.
‘No, no,’ the other stocky man said, ‘the Mud Back Inn is closed for now I think –’ the matron sent him a glare that could have frozen the drinks around here. A silence settled. ‘Not that I know of, no, no.’ The man retracted and eyed down a glass he was wiping clean.
‘I’d really like to stay here,’ the chronicler insisted. He turned his head to the man sitting alone and spying on him from time to time, but he was gone. The chronicler frowned, his eyes sweeping the room. No one was paying attention to him anymore. Although he thought he saw a furtive glance from the matron, something subtle – but nothing escaped the chronicler’s eyes.
The back door of the tavern squeaked and a sliver of evening light came in with a breeze. The chronicler readjusted his cape and hat, and flew after the fleeting man. He ran almost; the closer he got to the door the louder the room returned.
Once outside, there was silence. There was nothing in sight but the Tipping Toe Woods not a few feet away, a few rocks here and there, and the warm light of a sun ready to say his goodbyes. The man had disappeared, vanished into thin air.
More intrigued than ever, the chronicler explored the back yard with caution. There was a big boulder, soft on the edges and large enough to hide a man. Walking discreetly, he moved closer, looking behind it, but there was nothing. Still, his mind wouldn’t rest. It was sensing something, something close.
He looked up, watching the sky, hoping to see once and for all the incarnation of a myth that hadn’t left him since childhood. He had seen that beast, that creature of wonder. He had seen him when he was not even six years old, riding the skies with a tail of blue and purple, spitting flames the colour of gems, petrifying the ones that dared looking up, all but him. The chronicler survived, never knowing why.
‘Don’t look for what you’re not supposed to find,’ a voice said from behind. A blow came to his head, hollow yet firm enough to send thunder inside him. He landed flat on the ground, right next to the boulder. He didn’t know whether it was his mind slipping away or his eyes deceiving him, but the rock started moving and dirt sprayed on his face.
Groaning, he turned and turned again, until he could raise himself up on his elbows. His head was spinning, yet he found the strength to lean on the rock beside him and get up. But as he did, he lost balance and fell back down.
It wasn’t because of his head, though – the boulder was alive.
Streaked with shiny rays of blue light, the rock opened like an egg. Flying past him, pieces of stone nearly broke his jaw and shoulders. What he was seeing cleared his thoughts like a slap of the wind. He winced himself back up, taking his hat off – ready to pray like a sinner in front of some holy light.
Swift as a snake’s tail, it wrapped itself around his legs, lifting the chronicler into the air like a skinned chicken. Blood flew into his head, making his eyes bulge. Panic only started now, when a foul smell slowly reached his nostrils.
A strong hand went for his hair, pulling hard enough to lift his face up. ‘Don’t you know the saying,’ the matron said. ‘Curious once, but never twice?’
She scrapped the skin out of her face and escaped from the body she had taken. Gone were the thinning hair and chubby cheeks, the dark apron and the heavy waist. Instead, a slender woman with hair the colour of gold appeared: her eyes lusting for a new flesh. ‘Chroniclers and whatnots are my favourite desserts.’
She licked his forehead and jumped on the scales of her blue dragon, eying her meal from over her shoulders before setting off into the sunset.
copyright© by Jane W. King, 2016-2018