Aphelion Issue 274, Volume 26
July 2022
 
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The Village of the Dragons

by Eric J. Krause


Pel pulled his cloak tight and ran to keep up with his mother. He loved this time of the morning. The sun had yet to rise and he and Mama were the only ones in the marketplace. It would usually stay like this for at least another hour.

Today, though, a strange man loitered in front of their shop. He had a short and scraggly white beard, a head of silver hair, and mud-caked traveling clothes. To Pel's surprise, Mama walked right over to the stranger and gave him a big hug.

"Jemz," she said. "It's been so long."

The stranger, Jemz, broke the hug. "Too long, Marcet. I'm sorry for that."

Pel thought he saw Mama wipe a tear from her eyes. "So what brings you back, Jemz? Certainly not an adventure. Not in this simple town."

Jemz made a dramatic gesture to the surroundings. "Trumbant? A simple town? Please, Marcet, even you must see the error of those words."

"Oh, Jemz, you know that's just another of your stories."

Pel couldn't keep quiet any longer. "Excuse me, sir, but are you a Traveling Talespinner?"

Jemz turned towards him. "Well, hello there, young one. My, you're the spitting image of your father."

Pel looked from the stranger over to Mama and back again. Pel knew next to nothing about his father since Mama refused to talk about him in anything other than fleeting comments. He'd died just months after Pel's birth.

"Yes, I am a Traveling Talespinner, my young friend. Very clever of you to pick that up so quickly. Take after your mother there." He gave a wink to Mama. "I must admit I don't know your name. You must be about ten years old, right?"

"My name is Pel, and I am ten years old. Did you know my father?" He glanced over at his mother to see if she disapproved of the question, but she watched the exchange with a slight smile.

"Pel, eh? I know where your mother got that name. Has she ever told you?"

Pel shook his head. "Did you really know my father?"

Jemz chuckled. "Quite the direct one, aren't you. Good quality to have, especially if you're being raised right."

Mama pulled Pel close for a tight hug. "I do my best," she said.

Jemz winked at her. "I always knew you'd make an excellent mother, I just always wished you'd be that to my children. But, alas, it was not to be. It's funny, when you get a group of Talespinners together, the stories are not of adventures and wars, but of lost loves. My contemporaries have heard your name quite often, my dear."

Jemz reached out and stroked Mama's cheek. As he did, his cloak fluttered open, and Pel saw the hilt of a sword. He didn't get more than a quick glimpse, but it was adorned with bright, shiny gems and had an elaborate carving of a dragon's head. Pel had never seen anything so beautiful.

"You fell in love with the road, Jemz. I could never compete with that."

"Too true, too true. But I still view Ritchart as a very lucky man, even with a life so short."

"Was that my father's name?" Pel said. "Ritchart?"

A look of genuine surprise came across Jemz' face, and he shot a disapproving look at Mama. "You haven't even told the boy his father's name? Marcet, Ritchart was a hero to so many. Why are you hiding that?"

"My reason's are my own, Jemz. Now, Pel and I have a lot of work to do. Unless you plan on helping, I suggest you find somewhere to go." Her voice softened a bit. "But please, Jemz, stop by tonight for supper. I'll make that beef stew you were always so fond of."

Jemz removed his hat and gave a deep bow. "I'd be delighted to sup with you both. I seem to remember where you live, and if not, I'll find it." He squatted to be eye level with Pel. "It is nice to meet you, Pel. And don't worry, I'll do my best to get your mother to let me spin a few tales. I am a Talespinner, after all."

He stood up and took a few steps back. "Until tonight." He gave a quick wave and threw something to the ground. A cloud of smoke engulfed him, and when it dissipated, Jemz was gone. Pel let out a gasp, but Mama just chuckled.

"Always one for the dramatic exit."

####

Pel heard the knock on the door, and none too soon. The aroma of the beef stew wafted through the house, making his mouth water and stomach growl. He pranced to the door and welcomed Jemz.

"Well, hello again, my young friend. Good day at the marketplace?"

"Yes, sir. Although I couldn't help but look forward to your visit. Mama says you are the best Talespinner in all the land. She says it's an honor that you would choose to visit us when you could make a purse-full of gold at any tavern."

Jemz smiled and tousled Pel's hair. "Just the chance to taste your mother's famous beef stew is payment enough. Besides, it doesn't sound as if you've had enough stories in your young life."

Mama walked into the main room from the kitchen. "You haven't started a story yet, have you Jemz? You know my rule. No stories until after supper."

Jemz kissed Mama's cheek. "Some things never change. Speaking of supper, I hope it's soon. The smell alone makes me almost weep for not having been back for so long."

"It'll be ready as soon as Pel sets the table."

Pel didn't need to be told twice. Before she had finished the sentence, he'd already dashed into the kitchen for the plates and forks.

####

Pel, Mama, and Jemz sat around the fire in the cottage's main room, each with a full belly. Pel kept glancing at Jemz, hoping the Talespinner would start a story, but it was Mama who broke the silence.

"Jemz, I've been patient long enough. You have a few questions to answer."

A smile crossed Jemz's face. "What sort of questions could you possibly mean, m'lady?"

"Well, for one thing, I haven't seen you in over ten years. You didn't come for either Pel's birth or Ritchart's funeral." Jemz opened his mouth to answer, but Mama stopped him. "Let me finish. Today you show up out of the blue, and you look different. I didn't want to be rude earlier, but you look 20 or 30 years older than you should."

Jemz cocked an eyebrow. "Are you finished now?"

"Answer those and we'll see."

"My age is the easy question. I'm still the same age as you, but my appearance was altered in an adventure I undertook a few years back. An unholy wizard zapped me with an aging spell, and though I found a wizard of the good sort to reverse it, he wasn't as powerful as his evil counterpart. He restored my age, but not my appearance. Therefore, I'll look like this for the next few decades until my actual age catches up."

"What kind of adventure?" Pel blurted out.

"Oh, my boy, many wonderful adventures." Jemz paused and glanced over at Mama. "But those will have to wait a few moments longer. I don't believe your mother will allow me to delay her questions any longer."

"Where were you, Jemz?" Mama asked.

"I sincerely apologize for not attending Pel's birth. An adventure, of course. I figured you'd forgive me on that. But missing Ritchart's funeral was inexcusable. I know it, and I guess that's why I avoided you for so long."

"But ten years, Jemz. I didn't even know if you were still alive. You could have at least given word with another Talespinner. You can't imagine how many nights I mourned for you. At least I had closure with Ritchart."

Jemz just stared into the fire. Pel wanted to scream at his mother. They had a real Traveling Talespinner in their very own home, and she was lecturing him so much he probably wouldn't even give them a verse or two.

"Why now, Jemz?" Mama asked.

The bard turned towards Pel. "What is the name of your town, boy?"

"Trumbant, sir."

"And what does that mean?"

"The Village of the Dragons," Pel said.

Jemz turned back to Mama. "Precisely."

"Oh, Jemz, there are no dragons. It's just an ancient word the town fathers took a shine to."

"No, Marcet, you're wrong. Not only have dragons lived in this area since the beginning of time, but there is one near now."

Pel's eyes went wide. No. This had to be just the beginning of one of his tales.

Mama shook her head. "If that were true, I'd have heard something in the marketplace."

"No, Marcet. This one doesn't want to be discovered. Not yet, anyway. That's why I'm here. The prophecies tell of one who will uncover the truth of the great serpent in the Village of the Dragons."

Mama rolled her eyes. "And what prophecies might these be?"

"There is a wizard far to the north who is world-renowned for his powers of divination. A few of my companions accompanied me." He reached over and tousled Pel's hair. "Learned a lot up there, I did. I'll be sure to share those stories sometime soon."

"What about this dragon?" Pel said. He didn't want to sound so eager, but he couldn't help it.

"No, Pel," Mama said. "You've been up late enough. We need to be in the marketplace early tomorrow. Say goodnight to Jemz."

Pel mumbled good night and moped off towards bed. Why did Mama always have to be so serious and uptight?

"Tell you what, Pel," Jemz said. "Hop into bed and I'll give you a bedtime tale." Pel perked up right away and sprinted the rest of the way.

Jemz didn't disappoint. He treated Pel to a tale about unicorns and dragons and an evil wizard. Pel hung on every word, and when the story was over he felt so wound up he didn't think he'd ever fall asleep. But as soon as his head hit the pillow, he knew nothing until morning.

####

The next morning, the marketplace had more gossip than commerce. After an all-night session, the city council had announced there was a dragon on the loose in the countryside. People were remarkably calm, which Mama took to mean no one really believed them. Pel didn't know what to think. His mother assured him it was all a big hoax, but both Jemz and the city council claimed it to be true.

"Doesn't look like we'll sell anything today," Mama said. "But don't worry. As soon as this nonsense blows over, everything will be back to normal."

"But what if it isn't nonsense, Mama?"

She smiled at him. "You've been paying too much attention to the great Jemz Pellic."

Pellic? Could that be what Jemz meant about his name? "Mama, is that where I got my name?"

She hesitated, then nodded. "Your father's idea. We knew Jemz would someday accomplish great things, so we agreed Pel would fit you. We both knew you were destined for greatness."

He gasped. "Greatness? Me?"

She laughed quietly. "When you have children of your own, you'll understand."

Pel sat there, trying to piece together what she had said, but he couldn't quite grasp it. Was there a prophecy naming him to greatness when he became a father? He wanted to ask, but before he could, a great commotion arose from the other end of the marketplace. He took a few steps forward, but Mama grabbed his shoulder.

"Don't get lost, Pel. We'll find out what's happening soon enough."

"Yes, Mama." Pel went back to their tent and sat down, but he made sure he still had a view of the happenings. Not that he could see much of anything this far back.

They watched people run by. When Mama saw someone she knew, she yelled, "What's going on?"

The lady, who Pel had seen but never met, yelled back, "The council spoke the truth! Dragon!"

Pel's heart sunk in his chest, but a smile formed on his lips. Jemz had been right. A true adventure was coming their way.

Mama sighed. "There goes business for the day." She glanced at the unsold blankets and cloaks lying in the back of the tent.

"Don't worry, Mama, Jemz is here. He knows what to do."

She frowned and patted him on the head. "Jemz is a great Talespinner, but he is no dragon slayer. He only came to get an epic tale."

"But maybe he brought some of his friends."

Mama shrugged. "I hope you're right."

The hysterics in the marketplace continued. Mama decided to wait until everything had cleared before heading home. The pathway in front of their shop was a virtual stampede. Pel tried to stay as calm as Mama, but both the panic in front of him and the thought of a real dragon right outside town made it difficult. To top it off, his fingertips burned. That had never happened before, and it kept getting worse.

"My fingers hurt, Mama."

Her eyes never left the crowd. "Did you lean on them too hard?"

"No. They burn. Just the tips."

She turned to him, her face pale. "The tips burn?"

Pel nodded but didn't say anything. She had never looked at him like that before.

"Pel, you run home. It looks like you have a clear enough path now. Don't stop for anything, and you make sure that door is locked."

He shook his head. "Not without you."

"Don't worry about me. You just get home and stay there. You hear me?"

Pel nodded and stood up. He stepped out of the tent and ran towards home. When he reached the edge of the marketplace, he found a safe spot and turned just in time to see Mama push her way to the front of the marketplace, where most of the commotion was. Right then he made his decision. If there was anything he could do to keep his mama safe, he would do it.

Pel picked his way through the crowd, not an easy task for his nine-year-old frame. Mama hadn't hesitated at all, so he lost sight of her long ago. His only hope was that he'd see her when he got out of the crowd.

It took some doing, but he managed to get through the sea of people. At the main entrance to the marketplace, he couldn't find Mama. Pel took off for the city gates, where she might have gone. Maybe he'd even get a glimpse of that dragon. As he approached the main city entrance, he found the iron gate up and the drawbridge down. Not only that, but the ever-present guards were nowhere to be seen. He mustered up all his courage and walked out onto the lowered drawbridge.

This was where everyone had gone. Jemz, the city guards, and even Mama stood out in the grassy plains. Then Pel saw it: the huge red-scaled dragon. He felt panic rise in his chest just at the size of the beast, but he managed to keep from fleeing.

No one noticed him as he ran out past the moat and found a large tuft of weeds to hide in. He knew why Jemz and the guards were out here, but Mama? Was she trying to protect Jemz? Didn't she remember he was a famous Traveling Talespinner? He could take care of himself. Pel wanted to run out and drag her out of harm's way, but that would cause more trouble than he wanted. He'd just wait and see what happened.

The dragon stood in front of Jemz, but the Talespinner looked unconcerned. The huge beast made some hissing and grunting sounds, but didn't attack. When it finished, Jemz talked.

"We don't want death and destruction, either. Do you have anywhere else you can go?"

The dragon made more of the same sounds, and Pel realized it was speaking its language. How could Jemz understand that? The answer must be a fantastic story. Pel hoped everything turned out okay so he could hear it.

"Maybe it was your land, but you've been gone for many years," Jemz said. "It is now a human kingdom."

The dragon didn't like that response. The guards all stiffened as they waited to see what would happen, but Mama remained as calm as Jemz. Pel's fingertips, which had cooled down, started to burn again.

"I know you won't compromise," Jemz said, "but neither will we. You can't defeat the entire kingdom. A powerful and proud dragon such as you should just move on. There are plenty of unclaimed lands for you to rule over."

To Pel, the dragon looked as if it were mulling this over. He almost thought the great beast would fly away, but instead it took a deep gulp of air and spewed forth a huge blast of fire. Pel gasped, knowing this would be the end of Jemz. An instant before the fire engulfed the Talespinner, however, it bounced off some sort of invisible barrier. Pel looked around to see who was responsible for this, and when he spotted Mama, his heart almost stopped. She stood with arms outstretched, deep in concentration. She had cast the shield. But how?

The dragon stopped its fiery assault and turned its attention to her. Jemz said something that fueled the dragon's anger, and it smacked him with one of its gigantic paws, sending him flying towards Pel. Jemz managed to right himself mid-flight and tumble to the ground for a soft landing. Once Pel realized Jemz was okay, he looked out and saw Mama had the dragon's full attention. His fingertips now pulsed an ugly shade of red, and the hurt went past his wrists.

"Pel, you stay hidden," Jemz said without looking at him. "Why aren't you safe in town?"

"I had to find Mama," he answered. "And my fingers burn really bad." He held his hands out in front of him.

"Good golly, boy. Wait there." Jemz ran to his side. "We need to help Mama before the dragon gets her," Pel said.

"Don't worry about her," Jemz said as he studied Pel's hands. The burning sensation now extended up to his elbows. "Your mama has been in much stickier situations than this." He lifted Pel's arms so they were pointing at the dragon. "You can help her. Just release your energy at that ugly old beast. You can do it."

Pel didn't understand. He flexed his fingers and tried not to cry.

"Believe me, Pel. You can do it, just like your daddy did. You have a gift. Magic is stored in your body. All you need to do is release it."

The burning had reached Pel's shoulders. His knees buckled, and the world started to go black. The only thing keeping him upright was the sight of that big bad dragon towering over Mama.

"You need to release the energy, Pel. Now, before it reaches your chest and melts your heart."

"I don't know how," Pel cried. Tears streamed down his cheeks, and the pain started to sink into his torso.

"Point your arms at the dragon and release it. Just do it. I know you can. Do it for your mama. Quick, the dragon is about to roast her."

"No!" Pel ran a few steps forward and pointed both arms towards the beast. Sparkling beams of energy shot from his fingers and caught the dragon flush on its side. The burning reversed itself inside of him until it ran down his arms and through his fingers. The beams faded to nothing, and the dragon dropped to the ground, dead.

Silence overtook the battlefield for a few seconds until Jemz proclaimed, at the top of his lungs, "All hail Pel of Trumbant, the mighty slayer of dragons!"

The town guards all let out a cheer. Even Mama was clapping. He had saved the day, even if he still wasn't sure how.

"Your father was a great sorcerer," Jemz said. "It seems he passed his gift down to you."

Pel looked up at the Talespinner. "Who was my father?"

"Not now. You need to go hug your mama. She looks both proud and worried at the same time."

Mama stood with her arms wide open. He ran to her at top speed, and she gobbled him up in her embrace. After a long hug, they turned back towards Jemz, but the bard was nowhere to be seen. Only a solitary wisp of smoke remained.

"He's gone," Pel said.

She nodded. "You get used to that with him. Come on, let's go home."

Pel looked over his shoulder and saw the town soldiers beginning the clean up efforts on the carcass of the dragon. Had he really done that? He looked down at his hands, but they looked the same as always. At least the pain was gone.

As they passed through the city gates, Pel looked up at Mama. "Will we ever see Jemz again?"

"Of course. He'll be over for supper tonight. I figure it's time you learned about the past."

"Really? You mean it?"

She nodded.

"Good, because you two have a lot of explaining to do."

She answered with a roar of laughter. Despite his confusion, Pel joined her.

THE END


© 2008 Eric J. Krause

Bio: Eric J. Krause lives in Orange County, California, just minutes from Disneyland. He is a substitute teacher when he is not trying his hand at fiction. Mr. Krause has had seven short stories published in five different online magazines (not including this story, of course).

E-mail: Eric J. Krause

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