I have had many names. Each name a lifetime, a story unto itself. But the one I wish to tell is the first, when I still carried my birth name…
The young scribe stops writing. “Master, this story is beloved, well known. Might I document elements of your illustrious life that are not? Before you…?”
The boy blushes. Mentioning the Master’s impending death is tantamount to treason.
“Before I am Ascended?” the old man smiles, points to a water tumbler next to his bed. The rich food and wine on a nearby tray are untouched, indigestible to him now as sawdust.
The scribe leaps up to serve him, still red-faced, and the Master continues, “There is myth, and there is truth.” He sips the water and coughs, tasting liquid copper. Blood. The boy hands him a clean cloth that he drenches in blood and black clots before the fit ends. Death is closer still.
”I hope,” a deep melancholy almost chokes him again, “that knowing what really happened will save you all after I am gone.”
The scribe nods, not understanding, but wanting to be an obedient servant to the great man, perhaps the greatest his people has ever known.
The boy rereads the words drying on the lambskin vellum, then dips the quill into the precious black dragon blood for more.
…the one I wish to tell is the first, when still I carried my birth name, Ezaria. Eza for short.
When I was ten-years-old, my parents sold me to a slave trader…
“But, Master,” the scribe interrupts again, young enough to be impetuous, “your first name was Janar, and your sainted parents sent you to the now Ascended Master Canaris for training…”
“Boy!” the old man feels he is a toothless lion, but the scribe is still cowed. “This is the truth. Interrupt again and I will have you flogged. Now write.”
When I was ten-years-old, my parents sold me to a cruel slave trader, who fed me little and used me in ways a child should never know about, let alone experience. Many young slaves died in his possession.
But I was a survivor, fighting fiercely for scraps, exploiting the weakness of others. The slaver had me beat another boy into unconsciousness for the Arena overseer. He paid the slaver three times my parents’ take.
I trained hard and entered the Arena at fifteen, the perfect warrior forged by survival and a hurt that festered into burning, all-consuming rage. By the time I was seventeen, I was known as Eza the Slayer, famous for my skills, cunning and mercilessness. I had already killed more than a hundred men with my poison-tipped weapons by then.
The Day of the Dragon began like any other for me. At midday, the first round began. I wasn’t slated until the third, but the crowd chanted, “Slay-er! Slay-er! Slay-er!” My blood boiled, ready for the rush and release of the kill. Our mutual bloodlust was like love.
As I waited my turn at the entrance to the pit, a man on horseback bearing the King’s colors raced through the opposite archway. The heavens darkened; thick, black smoke coiled over the top of the Arena.
The crowd hushed as the crier pronounced the King’s order that all citizens return to their homes immediately.
The crowd’s confusion became frenzied panic when over the bowl of the Arena arose a giant dragon with a wingspan the breadth of the huge stadium. In a thundering whirlwind it hovered above the horseman like a giant bird of prey. It opened it’s fearsome maw, let loose a column of molten fire upon man and horse and reduced them instantly to ash. The dragon turned in a slow circle, spewing hellfire over the crowds as they clawed uselessly to get away.
I considered running. I was no match for this opponent.
But rage got the better of me. How dare this monster kill people whose adulation fed me?
I recalled the dragon slayer myths. They described an odious predilection all dragons have. A vulnerability. Though too abhorrent for those slayers to employ, I had no qualms about exploiting it.
I found a girl, young enough to still be a virgin, cowering in the slave stables. I forced down her gullet a year’s worth of a rare, potent poison I used to tip my weapons, then dragged her into the pit by her hair.
“Dragon!” I screamed, holding the whimpering, dying girl before me as a shield. “Are you hungry?” The creature ceased its firestorm and turned, its tail sweeping across the Arena floor like a battering ram. It leaned down, sniffing, doglike. I pushed the girl roughly toward it and ran for the arch to the interior gallery, looking over my shoulder.
The monster flung the girl into the air, caught her in its waiting jaws and swallowed her whole. It opened its wings, preparing for flight, but the poison had done its work—the creature was weakened and could not get off the ground. Soon it flailed drunkenly before collapsing, unconscious.
An easy kill now, I plunged my longsword over and over, deep into the dragon’s eyes. Before long, its breathing slowed, then ceased.
I had saved the Kingdom.
The Master stops. The scribe is troubled by this version. “Is it not better for our people to believe in the courageous savior rather than the hateful trickery of a slave-warrior?”
“No, boy.” His chest is tighter with each breath now, but he must say the words that have rankled in him like poison. “I fear I have failed this country.”
The boy recognizes the death rattle in his Master’s shallow breathing. He must know what a great leader he has been! “No, you saved us from ourselves, ended slavery and war, created a peaceful, harmonious country envied the world over!”
His vision is dimming, but the Master must reveal one last thing, his deepest fear.
“Our people are weakened by the virtuousness I imposed. Our nation is at risk as a result. There is no one damaged enough to sacrifice a young girl, no one violent or angry enough to defeat a dragon. And signs point to another coming, my boy, very soon.”
The Master exhales his last breath. The scribe, tearful and confused, looks out the window, wondering if he will see the Master’s spirit Ascending to the heavens.
Though only midday, the sky is twilight dark.
On the horizon a wall of black smoke approaches the city