GROWN FROM MAN TO DRAGON • by Megan Arkenberg

[He] is grown from man to dragon: he has wings: he’s more than
a creeping thing.

Coriolanus V.iv.12-14

I caught sight of them while they were still down in the meadows, far from crossing the river or scaling the cliff to my cave. It didn’t matter, of course, whether I saw them or not; I would do nothing to welcome them, set no meat simmering on the fire, sweep none of the chalky dust out from the cave mouth. They were not wanted here.

Nevertheless, they were coming.

They were soon laboring up the cliff, faces lifted towards me, and I could see their features distinctly. They were two I had never seen before, a man and a woman, both stained with blood and earth and soot. The man carried something cradled protectively in his arms.

It was happening again. My head swam with memories; Tristan, Brigid, Dwyn — training, fighting, dying. The day they left Maeve’s golden head at the cave mouth, her soft curls tangled around the crown she had died for. The night Fionn stumbled into the far cavern and died, without a word, in my arms.

The woman reached the top first. Strangely, she did not look like a queen, or a queen’s maid, or a queen’s guard. Her hair needed trimming, her clothes mending, her sword a good polish. Perhaps she was a mercenary, hired to protect the man and his precious bundle? But he looked every inch as ragged as she did.

“You are Ambrose?” the man asked. The woman had her sword drawn, almost but not quite aimed at me.

“I am,” I said. “But I cannot be of service to you.”

“Are you not the man they called Kingmaker, who took in orphaned princes and raised them to claim—”

“No,” I said sharply. “They called me Kingmaker, but the kings I made died. First it was the Woad Men, then the Stone Dwellers, then the Men of the Gray Sea. Of late, it has been Dragons.”

The man turned to the woman with naked unease in his eyes; she looked at me softly. “All Men die,” she said. “It is only you, Ambrose, who continues year after year.”

“Dragon blood.” I spat in the dust. “Their Elders learned to take human form — to spy on us, or kill us unexpectedly.”

“Or love us?”

I looked her fully in the eyes. “I am a product of rape, my lady, not love.”

“You can’t blame yourself,” she said. “Neither for that, nor for what happened to your kings and queens.”

“I don’t blame myself,” I lied. “But I won’t let it happen again.”

I retreated farther into my cave, where the firelight shone blue and red on the pale rock. There was a scuffle behind me, and a hideous roaring sound, and the woman cried, “Wait!”

“I will not help you,” I said, turning slowly. “I don’t know whose child you bring with you, or what kingdom he is to rule, but I refuse to watch him die.”

“And if he can’t die, Kingmaker?”

The man parted the silk cloak covering the thing in his arms. It was not a child but an egg, speckled black and gray and blue.

“It was my brother’s last request,” the woman said. “I was beside him on the field the day he took his death-wound. He asked that I surrender the kingdom to the Dragons, on the condition that I rule jointly with one of them until a suitable egg was found…” Here she paused, lowering her eyes. “To be raised by you, that it may one day take the throne.”

The man stepped forward and lay the egg at my feet. His eyes, I saw, were a brilliant slitted blue.

“So this is your Dragon,” I said, nodding to the man. “And this is your egg. Who was your brother, my lady?”

“Fionn,” she said. Her voice was steady, but tears glistened on her eyelids. “They call him the Peaceful, now.”

The man — the Dragon — went back to her side, and they stood hand in hand.

“Will you take the egg?” he asked.

I looked at it, lying lovely and peaceful at my feet, wrapped in a silk cloak that seemed all the more precious in light of the queen’s rags. I looked at the blood and ash on her clothing, and wondered what else it must have cost her to make this deal.

“Your name is Eireen,” I said softly. “He talked of you sometimes.”

She nodded solemnly. I bent and lifted the egg.

“I will raise this child,” I said, “in memory of him, and in honor of you. Both of you.”

“Thank you,” they said together, her voice harsh and earthy, his rumbling and smooth. They bowed as one and left the cave, a ragged pair of kings.

I held the egg against my chest for a long time, reveling in its warmth.

Megan Arkenberg is a writer and poet from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her work has recently appeared in the Lorelei Signal, New Myths, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. She also edits a small fantasy e-zine, Mirror Dance, and a historical fiction e-zine, Lacuna.

This story was sponsored by
Camilla d’Errico: A character designer and artist who dances on the tightrope between pop surrealist art and manga inspired graphics. Explore her paintings, characters and comics: Tanpopo, BURN and Helmetgirls.

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