Cool water slipped off my fingers, the scents of many flowers and herbs permeated the air, the sweeping trees rained their falling blossoms on the water and my hair. I smiled, and waded deeper into the cool pool I sought solitude in. This place was healing to me, welcoming after the trial I had just faced. I was clad in nothing more than a light flowing white linen gown, a bathing gown reminiscent both of my Grecian ties and my elvan heritage. I was not modest tonight, I feared no intrusion, and the gown in question scarcely covered my breasts and back, though its skirt was long. The woods of this place had a way about them…rarely did any intruder unwanted by the grove keeper reach their destination unharmed. And so I sank into the pool, breathing in the scents of the place.
As I lay, I braided the night blooming jasmine into some fallen wisps of the flowering weeping tree, and added in sprigs of the herbs nearby, to form a long rope. I was careful with my choices, and it was rare that I took of the plants of this place. I never did so for pure pleasure; I planned to use this rope for a couple who had a handfasting soon to come. And I sang in my native Elvish language to the grove, softly thanking them for sheltering me once again.
A soft chuckle floated through the back of my mind, a rough dusky Irish brogue, and I sent a smile back where it came. My deities usually watched me here. They rarely saw me at peace. I finished my song of thanks, and the rope with it, but started singing again. I was unusually vocal tonight, and I hoped to craft something of it. The works I made here were always unique amongst all their fellows. But I must have slipped asleep in the water, because my song was cut off mid-note when I was jerked awake by the sense of someone unknown approaching me. I was alone unarmed, unarmored, and effectively naked in a pool of water.
My first response is to always assume that anyone unknown may need defended against. It took me a fraction of a second to realize my disadvantage, another second to catch sight of movement shining purple-black in the trees, and one more to leap out of the water towards my traveling cloak, hung on a branch about fifteen feet away and containing my short thin traveling knife. I reached half the distance before I was greeted with a huge pair of gaping jaws full of fangs and erupting in a rather deafening roar.
I cried out, waking myself up again. I was covered again in blossoms, the water was still. I was disoriented, and so could not read the patterns of the wind…had I not just woken up and gotten pretty soundly put in my place by a rather large dragon? I shook my head, trying to clear it, dismissing it as an odd dream-in-a-dream. It was clear that the rest I would find in this grove had passed, and so I sat up, moving to stand. I was halfway upright, water streaming down my chest, arms, and back, when I heard footsteps. “The same direction as the dragon in my dream…strange.”, I thought. No sooner had I become aware of that fact did I realize that also like the dream, I was at a distinct disadvantage…and that this time, I couldn’t move. I was frozen, as if I’d been turned to stone or blown glass, staring at the space in the woods next to my cloak. “Wha…what? This is my grove, this shouldn’t’ be! This doesn’t happen!“ I was starting to get distinctly nervous. The footsteps had stopped, and I felt watched.
Suddenly I could move. I felt like those waify little helpless princesses in little girl’s bedtime stories, held under a spell by an evil sorceror. But this one intrigued me…the presence was unknown but not evil. Paranoid though I still was, my reasons for moving slowly revolved around not wishing to give away the location of my only weapon, which this person was unfortunately closer to than I…but it gave me the ability to read what I felt. I didn’t know whether or not to trust my senses, but this one didn’t radiate the animosity many others had. I was confused…and curious.
As if in answer to my thoughts, I felt a smile, and a gentleman emerged from the dark under the trees. Not as tall as I’d expected, but certainly much taller than my five-foot-two self, I was greeted by a striking male, lithe and trim, pale with flowing black hair, in a remarkably beautiful twilight colored robe concealing a dusky grey set of pants and a smooth tan shirt. He was smiling, with his eyes and not his mouth, and his eyes…I turned pink, in both slight embarrassment and indignation. They were the same eyes as the dragon from my dream. It had to be another leg of the same, I’d wake up soon. Oh gods I’d better wake up soon, with what I’m wearing!
He chuckled at me, the same chuckle I had heard when I entered the grove, revealing how long he’d watched me-that wasn’t a god of mine at all!
“Ye know…were I to hurt ye, I’d’ve done so already. An’ I’m not lookin’. So ye can stop tryin’ to hide yerself.” He spoke tightly, as if despite his amusement he was irritated and attempting to conceal it. He extended a hand, offering to help pull me out of the pool, but I backed away. I didn’t know who he was, and if this was real and not simply more of a dream, he was good enough to confuse my mind without touching me. Who knew what he’d do to me if he DID?
The attempt at self preservation failed utterly. I retreated too fast, and slipped on the pool’s bottom. It was merely a sort of water moss, but it takes care to tread soundly on: it is slippery. I fell backward, which would have been highly dangerous: the pool was surrounded in sharp rocks. He leapt for my hand, caught it, and yanked me back in the other direction. I yelped, thinking how ridiculously I’d sounded like a kicked hound, and thumped onto his chest. It disoriented me-people are not supposed to be that HARD!-and by the time I’d gotten my senses back in order I found that I was lying on the sweet-grass staring up at what looked to be a concerned pair of deep black eyes. I fought to get away, but only for a second. I didn‘t have much energy and I was still woozy from the impact. Slamming my head into his chest had felt like slamming my head into a brick wall. He touched my forehead, surprisingly gentle, and instantly I relaxed. I stared, highly nervous despite his effect, trying to fight the flashback that threatened to consume me. The last time that I had been on my back with a stranger I had been bound to a table, long needles thrust into my veins, cut apart and open like the frogs for dissection in middle school science classes.
He watched me for several minutes as I tried to control myself. I was failing. Hyperventilating, sweating, my temperature rising, and whimpering in my fear, I almost felt the binds and needles and knives again, and I started to see more of the memories and less of my grove. I could hear my screaming in my mind and it threatened to bubble to the surface. His eyes went wide with first shock and then understanding, and to my utter incomprehension he started stroking my hair. It reminded me of my lover, waiting for me back at home while I was here, healing so far as he knew…but I felt no obligation despite the similarities. Wait…what, how…those were memories! He shouldn’t be able to see those!
The hands at my hair helped me calm enough to keep my control, provided me a distraction, and his lip twitched in what could have almost been a smile. “Aye, they be memories. An’ I can see ‘em.” His voice was harsh, hard, rough by nature, but it softened at my surprised sputter at him hearing my thoughts again. “An’ I told ye…ah won’t hurt ye. Ah came to speak with ye. An‘ if I weren‘t real, yer trees wouldn‘t be wailin‘ at yer blood.” He nodded at my arm, which I had cut, presumably on one of the rocks that lined the pool. I looked behind me, and indeed…there was blood in the water, dripping from one of the rocks on the opposite side of the pool. I must’ve cut it while falling. He moved his hand over my arm, and I felt a brief searing pain. I winced and whimpered in surprise at it, and stared at him now in shock than out of fear. My arm looked as if it had never been cut, excepting a fine white line where it had been. What…why had he healed me? What would I be expected to owe? I was newly reminded of the wet clothing I was wearing, which could barely be called as much. He smiled and shook his head, amused again it seemed, and moved his fingers moved over my forehead to lie over my brow. Images branded themselves to the back of my eyes.
I saw a woman singing, smiling, braiding foliage in the pool. Her hair had pooled around her, bright red curls floating on the water. I felt an admiration of the beauty of the place, and murmured in a language long forgotten, and I saw her fall gently to sleep. I stayed there until her sleeping song was close to finishing, and I shifted shape. I looked down to see smooth purple-black scales, felt a large long body with a sliding tail behind, and I felt quick movement as the woman woke, eyes startled and wide with fear. I cursed softly but unspoken in the same forgotten language, and I turned quickly and roared at her as she leapt from the pool to get to her cloak. I quickly put her to sleep again, saw her fall to the ground. I shifted again, and looking down I recognized the robes worn by the man sitting next to me. His memories…he could do that?
I saw him pick what I now recognized as me up, place me back in the pool where I was, trace fingers over my forehead to alter my memory. He cleaned his tracks well enough to hide them from my first glance, retreated back into the dark of the trees…and I felt him smile as he spoke words to wake me. “Ye know the rest.”
I gasped, coming back to myself, and stared at him. The images were not the only thing that he had shown me. I felt what he did, heard what he did…the memories included vivid sensations as well. “How…how do you do that? I thought I was the only one.”
This chuckle was becoming far too frequent for my liking. “It be the nature of our kind.” He helped me sit, bringing me to eye level with him. I looked at him, suspiciously wary. “Our kind? I am no dragon.” He smiled at me, the kind of smile that an elder gives upon hearing an unknowingly foolish statement from the younger generations, rearranged himself to mirror my seating. He slowly reached to take my head in his hands, courteously accounting for my paranoia, now that he understood. I still didn’t trust him…but it didn’t do to think of battle in a neutral ground where spilt blood is forbidden. I allowed it. He merely leaned his forehead against mine, and whispered, “You will be.” He closed his eyes, and while I was confused, and now doubted his sanity-I was no dragon, and how can one’s species be changed? and that is what it seemed he implied-I followed suit.
Once again, I was rewarded with images branding the back of my eyes. Not as complete as the last, these were broken flashes. Soaring dragons, scales glinting in the sun, fellows traversing the grounds nearby the watcher. Apparently these ones were pack creatures…not like many dragons of lore I had heard. The place was beautiful…I had thought my elvan kind were lovers of beauty, but this…this put my elvan-home to shame, made it look like a town of poorly made thatched huts. I gasped as I watched…it was beauty almost painful to see. I felt a deep and swelling love for the home which could only have been his.
The flashes changed. Brief images of war, screaming, blood of kin, pain, grief. And then another…of fear, pursuit, the pain of flesh and muscle being ripped and bleeding…consciousness flickering, but then the sight of safety reached. Crying, the pain of the loss of one’s beloved home, of trying to create another fast enough, despite being broken.
I gasped again, and I looked at him wide eyed. My emotions were a turmoil even without what I had seen…too many homes I had lost to such things, and I relived the agony and feeling of betrayal mixed with compassion and sympathy for him. No one should have to live through that…I had hoped, futile though such hope is, that I would not find that any others had. The last echo in my mind was that of a scream, but I felt impressions of skill, tastes and sights of patterns of talents I had thought long gone, or indeed had never known. The sense of hope, a sight of potential…hope that his line and arts could live on, that his breed did not need to die. “I can teach ye.” I heard him in my mind this time. “Yer one of my kind long gone, I can smell it in yer blood. I can teach ye…if ye ask.”
He released me and drew back his hands, but only after tracing his fingers over my third eye yet again. “Jeweled one…”
“What did you say?” I eyed him sharply. I was protective of my names and picky about those who I would allow to give them to me, and I could have sworn he had just done just that. My gown was now half dry, which meant it concealed enough of me for me to consider myself decent, and we had stood. We were now several paces apart, I wringing out my hair, him watching me…now with an impish, almost feline grin about his face. “Oh, nothing’...” He turned to leave, and looked back at me. “I’ll be watchin’. An‘ ye‘ll come.”
“Don’t be so sure.”
He merely smirked at me, half bowed, and backed silently out of my little grove. Five minutes later I saw a large dark form take off in flight in the near distance. I couldn’t help feeling like he was laughing at me from the sky, daring me to take him up on his offer.
I shook my head in exasperation. “Fucking Irish. Fucking men. Fucking DRAGONS. He didn‘t even tell me his name!” I huffed out loud to myself, fairly sure that I was now alone…and not caring if he heard me. I finished braiding my wet hair, whipped my cloak and hood around me, and headed the small miles home.